Do These First: 3 Things Every Grad Should Prioritize After College
You have your diploma in hand. You’ve packed up your college apartment. You’ve said goodbye (for now) to some of your closest friends. Maybe you’ve even squeezed in a fun road trip or jaunt across Europe.
There are so many facets to the post-college transition. Managing money. Adjusting to that first job (or landing one). Finding friends. Navigating family dynamics. Moving to a new city . . . or back home because you have no money, job, or friends and living with your parents feels like the only option. It’s normal to wonder, What should I do first? Here are three action steps to put at the top of your priority list.
1. Map the Land: Consider Place
When I started a new job (in the field of college ministry) 13 years ago, a wise person advised me to “map the land”—to gather information about the campus, the students, the opportunities and potential obstacles—similar to the 12 spies going into the land of Canaan to scout it out before fully entering it (Numbers 13). Understanding my context proved to be an invaluable step in discerning what type of ministry to launch on campus.
Mapping the land is important any time we begin something new, whether that’s a move across the country, the start of our first job, or even a return to our parent’s home after college. And it can be especially helpful if you’re discerning between two job offers or trying to decide where to land after college (which can be even more important than what you do). Here are some “mapping” questions you can ask:
What is the place like? Is this somewhere I will thrive as a young professional?
Where will I find community? Are there good churches in the area?
What’s the culture like? Will it be a fit? (You can ask this about a corporation, a new city, or even your parents’ home.)
What opportunities and obstacles exist?
If you’re already settling in to your new location (or back home), you can still apply these questions to your current context. They may lead you to discover that your situation is not a fit—and it’s likely not too late to make a change if needed.
2. Break Bread: Choose Church and Community
One student of mine, David, applied the questions above when he was deciding between two job offers. He weighed the hiring packages, the growth opportunities within each company, and the locations. In the end, he took the offer in the city where he felt he would have the best opportunity to build community, grow spiritually, and find a gospel-centered church. The chance to “break bread” with others—to have an actual meal with friends as well as enjoy the sacramental communion meal at a church he loves—outweighed the benefits of the other job offer. David has no regrets.
No matter where you land after college, you need friends and fellow believers if you want to stay faithful; you need to keep in the habit of breaking bread. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:24-25). In the chaos of the transition, you may be tempted to forgo church or the effort it takes to find new friends, but these are the very things that provide stability in a dynamic time. You may be overwhelmed, tired, or not convinced it matters, but I urge you to pursue new friends and find fellowship, even if you’re not feeling it. Decide that it’s a priority now rather than putting it off for later.
Reach out across your relational networks to ask others to connect you to friends and churches in the place you land. For example, Allison, a recent graduate who just moved across the country a few weeks ago, emailed, “Do you have any Philly people I can connect with since I do not know very many yet? More God connections are always a great thing! Plus, I would love to hear your church recommendations.” And then the day after she moved she made her way to Center City to check out a church. She decided that church mattered even before she moved, and she voted with her feet when she arrived.
When we force ourselves out of bed or off the couch to prioritize church or pursue community, we exercise faith and increase our opportunities for finding the nourishment that fellowship and sacrament (and literal shared meals) provide. We need to break bread; we need the church, and the church needs us.
3. Know the Condition of Your Finances: Manage Your Money
When asked “What’s the most important thing to do first?” Janna—an alumna who successfully transitioned—not only mentioned finding a church, but also managing finances and bills. If you want to manage your money, first you need to understand your financial situation, obligations, and goals. As the book of Proverbs instructs, “Know the condition of your flocks” (27:23). In an agrarian society, shepherds diligently kept track of their animals because their livelihood depended on it. They looked for disease, managed threats, and took tender care of livestock. Attentiveness to their herds had present and future implications. The same is true for finances today. You need to know what’s going on.
Some of us would rather live in denial or avoidance than actually take an honest look at our financial situation. For example, I know a recent alumna who stopped opening her mail because she didn’t want to deal with the bills she couldn’t pay. The stack kept piling up until a friend said, “You need to open those and deal with them.” In contrast, I met with a senior who showed up at our one-on-one meeting in April with a printout of her college loan information. She wanted the hefty payments to factor into her post-college budget.
Like taking a road trip, if you know where you are in your finances and where you want to go, you can pick the best route to get there. Unfortunately, there’s no GPS for financial faithfulness, but there are some great tools out there, like DaveRamsey.com and YouNeedaBudget.com, to help you get started. Taking stock of your situation and expectations (like when loan payments start), making a plan, and choosing to live on a budget all honor God. Also, you set yourselves on a positive trajectory that has incredible potential for your future financial situation—something I wish I would have considered more seriously as a recent graduate!
One “Bite” at a Time
It may be overwhelming to think about these priorities, let alone put them into practice. There may be days you agree with recent graduate Devon, who described his first year out of college as “the biggest beast [he’s] ever had to go up against.” So how do you defeat the beast? Similar to “eating an elephant”: begin “one bite at a time.” Put first things first. Understand the big picture, but also pursue faithfulness little by little, day by day, one “bite” at a time. What may feel insurmountable right now will eventually become less overwhelming as you plug away, prioritizing what matters. But you still need to take that first bite. If you’ve been putting off something you know you should be doing in order to thrive after college, now’s the time to go after it! Like right now. Do it!
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.