I graduated college. Now what?
May 28, 2006 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Okay, so I graduated college. Now what?

Bear with me, this might get a little long. I'll provide a cheat sheet at the end:

So, I graduated college two weeks ago. 4 year program with a degree in English and Philosophy. Now what? I'm working a crappy job that pays incredibly well, I'm moving to Brooklyn and I'm completely unhappy.

I've always been the kind of person who needs goals. Without a goal, any work I do is meaningless. And proctoring tests for elevator repair persons is, to me, completely meaningless. I've maintained an interest in economics and, let's get down to it, I'm something of a bleeding heart liberal. I wanna fix the world. Not that I expect to do it alone, but I don't mind lending my weight to the cause.

Okay, I'm getting to the point: I want to do good work. I want to work hard and feel like it means something. I'd rather push papers at Global Exchange than at Wal-Mart. But I wonder if I'm getting ahead of myself. My real question to the good guys and gals of AskMefi is: What'd you do after you graduated? Am I getting too worked up? It's hard to switch gears from "College Dude" to "World Citizen". Any advice or tales of post-grad woe and cheer are appreciated.
posted by GilloD to Human Relations (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Keep your library privileges as long as you can.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2006

Travel while you still can. Though, if you've already got a job, it might be too late.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:31 PM on May 28, 2006

First impression is yeah, you are getting a bit too worked up. It's only been two weeks and it's a huge amount of culture shock: graduation, new job, moving - you've got a lot going on.

Here's something that might help, and I think you're already working down this path mentally: Look at work (or at least the job you have at the moment) as a means to an end, not the end in itself. I'm sure you don't want to proctor elevator-service exams forever, but you can do it for a while (a year, say) to build up your resume and sock away that incredibly well-paid salary. Spend your time outside of work figuring out what makes you feel happy or fulfilled, and figure out the steps to get there. You don't have to get there next month, or even next year, and you don't need to do it in one leap. Make your time outside of work fun and fulfilling, and look at your paycheck as giving you the tools to enjoy it. Donate some of that newfound cash to a cause you believe in, and give them your time as well. You may find your path through volunteer work.

Take advantage of having a job that doesn't take a lot of your energy and that you're not emotionally invested in; there's plenty of time for that down the line. Read books for pleasure instead of for a test, or don't read if you don't feel like it.

But above all, take your time, and don't panic about any of the choices you have made or will make. Nearly everything you do can be undone, or redone.

(Wow, sorry about the lecture there.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2006

Hey, gillod... I'm soon to be in a similar boat (graduating next december with a CS degree). I'll do job interviews just to get a feel for my options, but I'm currently planning to go to Taiwan to teach English for a year, mainly to learn mandarin and try to put a large dent in my college loans, then do the peace corps.

Nick Kristof also had a column last week offering advice for young people interested in seeing the world and making a difference. The two service options he named specfically were volunteering to teach English at the schools for girls in Pakistan that were founded by a Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani anti-rape activist that he knows personally (for info, see http://www.4anaa.org/ ), and New Light, an anti-trafficking org in India ( http://www.uddami.org/newlight ). I'd personally kill to help out at the pakistani program, if airfare to Pakistan weren't $2000+. But its on my long term todo list.

Anyway, I've browsed the askme archives before for responses to similar questions, and the most common advice seems to be to travel. Teaching english abroad is one common way to satisfy that urge (the best pay seems to be in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the Middle East). There's other answers to your question, of course; this is just what I've researched the most myself.
posted by gsteff at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't really disagree with anything Sweetie Darling said, but I'm moved to give slightly different advice. Ahem:

We can't tell you what to do with your life. You'll have to figure that out. Meanwhile, don't blow all your money on a trip around the world— people on AskMe seem to like to advise that, but not me. You've got a job that pays the bills, so pay the bills until one day you're suddenly struck with a thunderbolt and you know how to proceed. If you really hate your job, and you can think of a better one in the meantime, by all means change jobs. Just don't do anything "spontaneous" that's going to inevitably make it harder to accomplish your goals once you figure out what they are.
posted by Hildago at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2006

Perhaps of some interest:

How Should I Prepare for Life After College Graduation?
posted by scarabic at 2:14 PM on May 28, 2006

You might checkout this website : http://www.idealist.org/

You should also start volunteering in organizations that interest you. This will get you the experience in the areas that you are interested in to then start getting paid for doing what interests you.

Great book "do what you love and the money will follow" - title says it all.

IMHO, blow the bank and travel the world, you only live once.

posted by JpMaxMan at 2:46 PM on May 28, 2006

Response by poster: I would LOVE to travel some and I've viewed my job as a means to that end. I think what I'm more largely concerned about is ending up in a job that's satisfying. I'm deathly afraid of ending up as 9-5er just for the money. I feel like I already wasted some excellent opprotunities in the past and I'd like to start seizing the day.

In fact, I think I just kind of hit the nail on the head there: I sort of feel like maybe I should have racked up some more internships or used all that free time I had to volunteer more or work more and I realize that. Now, I don't want to keep letting life slide under my feet. I wanna break my back doing good work. It's easy to say "Oh, I'll take a year in Brooklyn and listen to rock 'n roll and take drugs and then clean up", but that's completely an excuse.

But this is all good advice and I appreciate it much.
posted by GilloD at 2:51 PM on May 28, 2006

Response by poster: And I should note that "Blowing the bank" isn't quite an option as after student loans and rent/security etc, there's no real bank left to blow. About 400$, negative 100 of which is next month's rent!
posted by GilloD at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2006

I just graduated a week ago today, and it hasn't really sunk in yet for me. Maybe because I'm going the gradschool route instead of the job route? Also, I'm still surrounded by all most of my college friends, so it's not really that different.

The only (maybe) useful advice I received over the last year that worked for me was this: don't sweat the whole plot when you're working on the intro. Focus on picking a direction that makes you happy, but don't assume you'll have to follow that path slavishly. You can always readjust later and head in a direction that makes you happier. Most people didn't imagine their current career at age 22 and single-mindedly pursue it until they got it, so you shouldn't feel like you have to set a 20 year goal right now.

Pardon the snark, but all I could think of when I first saw this thread was Fight Club.

After I graduated, I called him long distance and asked, "Now what?" He said, "Get a job." When I turned twenty-five, I called him and asked, "Now what?" He said, "I don't know. Get married."

Same here.

A generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is the answer we really need.
posted by heresiarch at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2006

In retrospect, maybe I was supposed to think of that quote and I'm being totally uncool by calling an obvious ref out? Minus 50 cool points for me.
posted by heresiarch at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2006

Go join the Coast Guard. Go rescue people for a living.
posted by frogan at 3:50 PM on May 28, 2006

Just remember: law school is not the answer to your sense of unease and lack of direction. You wouldn't believe how many people end up very unhappily practicing law (or, in some ways worse worse, unhappily paying off law school loans while not practicing law) because they couldn't find any better answer to your current dilemma.

Frogan's idea isn't a bad one: check out Officer Candidate School for the various services-- after 12 months of serious full-of-tough-goals traiing you could be commanding dozens people doing important things in the nation's defense. (But remember that Coast Guardsman are being sent to Iraq regularly and would be heavily involved in any other military actions against / concerning non-land-locked countries; it's as much a military service as the other branches.)
posted by MattD at 4:40 PM on May 28, 2006

Your first year is a throw-away year. In my opinion. Do whatever makes you happy, and learn a helluva-lot about what you hate about working. After a year (or two?), it will be more clear.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2006

Okay, I'm a little new here, and I think i've seen this posted before but my recommendation would be to teach abroad.

I graduated Univ. with a degree in Graphic Design, moved to NYC, and tried to get a job at a start-up, about 6 mo. after 'the bubble' burst. Not a good time for that profession. Blah blah blah, I ended up in Seoul. I taught English for a year (good experience for an English major), and afterwards traveled Asia for 7 months (China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, India, Malaysia).

After coming home for a few months to no job, and quite a bit of culture shock, I returned to Seoul for another year. The first time I saved to travel, the second time I saved for an engagement ring, and start-up money for a new business (I am getting married in June, and in the works to open a clothing boutique in ATL).

I think Teaching abroad is good for quite a few reasons:

1. Your teaching kids and/ or adults a new language and providing a service the nationals can't.
2. For Korea anyway, they provide round trip airfare, apartment, job, and bonus.
3. You are paid semi-well, about $2,000 a year, with living costs quite low, about $10-15 a day (ALL meals included).
4. I have heard that you may be able to defer some collage loans, but I'm not sure about that.
5. You don't have to pay US taxes on the money you make, as long as you are paid in foreign currency.

Depending on where you go, you can teach private lessons, for around $35 per hour/ per person. In Korea it is illegal, although most teachers do it, but I know in Japan it is legal, and some foreigners only do privates.

Finally, going abroad can also be good because it can give you different perspective about who you are and where you are from. It's a good way to see where you are and where you want to be. The experience that traveling in foreign countries provides is un-matched, no matter who you talk to, and doing it when you young is by far the easiest. You'll probably end up staying in hostels or other places that you won't want to do once you get past a certain age.

Anyway, teaching abroad gives you a goal - travel, and can also offer insight into your future. If you want more info you can message me, I think? Like I said, I'm still new.
posted by savagecorp at 7:56 PM on May 28, 2006

You're asking for a goal, which is difficult for an outsider to provide. The most important thing is to do SOMETHING. Things will get more difficult in the future; you will add responsibilities--a spouse, a family, a mortgage, a car payment, etc. Now, you can do what you want and have very few reprecussions. You need to decide what's important to you. If you really want to help people in the third world, open a business in Peru. If you want to feel good about your job, teach english in Mongolia. You CAN do it. You just have to pick a targe.

Also, the advice on taxes in a previous message is incorrect. US citizens pay taxes on worldwide income, regardless of the currency in which that income was earned.
posted by limagringo at 8:13 PM on May 28, 2006

You could always run away from home (in the best possible sense of the phrase): check out Delaying the Real World, a Twentysomething's Guide to Seeking Adventure.

Cheesy title, but it looks like it's got a lot of recommendations for interesting ways to spend the first rootless post-college years -- teaching, volunteering, or doing good-works sort of jobs abroad or at home.
posted by hazelshade at 10:26 PM on May 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't worry so much. I just graduated a couple weeks ago as well, and I'm working dumb jobs just to pay the rent as well.

Now, I already worked out a plan for this year during the fall, and solidified it in the spring—for me, this is a year off, during which I'll take the GRE, apply to graduate school in journalism and rack up clips/journalism job experience. I have the day job to pay the rent and the monthly gig with a local magazine to pay other expenses and get me clips/experience. I, too, did too few internships during college—only one, actually, and that was just last semester. So now I'm making up the difference.

That's my story. I realized last fall that I really wanted a year off before I did anything else. The past 18+ years of school really wore me down.

Now, what do you take away from this? Mainly that there are many other Class of 2006 grads out there who aren't necessarily on target quite yet, but who are slowly figuring out what they want to get out of life and how they're going to get there.

You honestly don't need to know everything yet. Just don't travel abroad by plane—it costs ridiculously much, and you don't have that kind of money at the moment—and stay calm. Keep working during the day, and work on your hobbies and interests in the evening/on the weekends. Get a feel for your neighborhood. Find a few people to hang out with, and start searching out night spots. You'll worry less if you have a drink from time to time.

Settle into the non-collegiate existence. Then slowly try to figure out where you're going.
posted by limeonaire at 10:54 PM on May 28, 2006

Can anyone offer a comparison between Japanese/Korean/Chinese teach-English-abroad programs and Teach For America, in terms of the experience? I am a recent (yesterday) grad as well, and I'm finding myself in more or less the exact same situation. If the job hunt doesn't take off for me, I think I'll be applying to some of the above programs. I have friends who've done both, and they all say they loved the experience, but I'd like some more information before throwing myself into this.

Thanks for the Delaying The Real World link. The "promote a book" nature of the site leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but some of the stuff they're writing seems interesting.
posted by Alterscape at 5:15 AM on May 29, 2006

You can have jobs that involve travel - Up With People is hiring. You could also be a volunteer English/Spanish teacher at The Peace Boat, which travels around the world from Japan to do peace & understanding work (all you'll need to pay for is a ticket to & from Tokyo, and visas; all else is provided for.) My friend just returned from such a gig and she had the time of my life; really enlightened and openminded.

Seems to me that you're into experiences that involve travel and making a difference in the world. Try looking at Go Abroad, Transitions Abroad, and Taking IT Global.
posted by divabat at 5:22 AM on May 29, 2006

Do you have a time plan? Do you have to stay at this job for so many months or years?

If you need to stay at the job, I will second volunteering. There really are some neat programs and you can spend outside work time and energy for those causes (I used to volunteer teaching literacy, at the end of a day from a dead end job it was a great experience).

What about the Peace Corps. Be careful in that you will realize that realistically, you will not be changing the world but you will gain a new perspective from living and travelling in another country.

You will also be paid (a small amount, but 200 dollars/month) and at the end of the time you can use that money to travel - go to any country that interests you, you may never have that time or money again.

Many volunteers return to try internships, volunteer programs, short term jobs.

You can defer loans while you are in the Peace Corps.
posted by Wolfster at 6:49 AM on May 29, 2006

I would suggest you figure out what makes you passionate. Teaching and traveling abroad are good, experience expanding things to do. But there are many others. A few to think about:

- Get involved in the world of environmental economics (this could be writing articles, working for Forest Re (came up with a derivative product to reforest the Panama Canal watershed), or working in academia

- Get involved in renewable energy - there is lots of need for smart young people to take on our energy generation issues.

- Poles are melting, polar bears are drowing. Do something about it.

- Net impact is another place you might look at; they are an organization deeply involved in social capitalism, helping smalll and medium size business do the right thing(s).

- Ashoka is another, and does a lot of fantastic work in developing countries.

Please feel free to email me (email in profile) if interested. I work in the clean tech sector.
posted by zia at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2006

Minor derail concerning taxes. "If your tax home is in a foreign country and you qualify under either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test for the entire tax year, you can exclude up to $80,000 of your foreign income earned during the year." Lots more here.
posted by dmo at 10:22 AM on May 29, 2006

I had talked to my accountant upon returning home, and he said that as long as you lived in the foreign country for the taxable year, and got paid in foreign currency, that I didn't have to pay US taxes.

I did pay Korean taxes, but since I'm not a citizen, I just got them back.

I'm not an accountant or anything, but it seems strange that you would have to pay US taxes even though you didn't work in the country. May be I'm skirting the law, but...

"if you are a United States citizen or a resident alien who lives and works abroad, you may qualify to exclude all or part of your foreign earned income. "

From the same site...

"Some taxpayers may qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, foreign housing exclusion, or foreign housing deduction, if ... [you] are physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months."

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion - Who Qualifies

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion — What Qualifies?

It may also depend on what country you go to, and what kind of treaty the US has with said country. I know US & Canadian citizens working in Korea get bonus's and pensions back but others like UK and NZ don't.

* As for the differences in teaching in different countries you'll need to do some research on that. It usually depends on pay, bonus's, vacation, etc. Then you need to decide where you feel most comfortable. I was going to go to Japan for my second year, but even though the pay is higher, cost of living is much more, than Korea, so you end up making less. BUT Japan IMO has the cool factor. Taiwan is also a good option. I know a lot of Foreign teachers go to Dave's ESL for help. There are forums and such where you can post questions, opinions, etc.
posted by savagecorp at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

There have been plenty of good suggestions here, but I feel I should put a word in for the pure travel option. I lived out of a backpack for the best part of a year after graduation, and it is something I doubt I will ever regret. Nothing beats the feeling of freedom that comes from heading out overseas with nothing in particular to return to, no timeframe, and no limitations other than how long you can possibly last on your savings. That kind of approach to travel is, I think, something you can probably only ever do at a time like this, before careers, partners, children, mortgages and the desire for more security & creature comforts get in the way.

I believe, also, that employers are generally understanding of the gap year phenomenon, and can often respect the practical abilities of somebody able to negotiate their way around "wild & exotic" countries, with all of the difficulties & challenges that this can entail, so it's not like you are killing your chances of ever landing a good job & permanently signing up for the slacker brigade.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:25 PM on May 29, 2006

Response by poster: UPDATE!

I figured I'd let you guys know what happened. I moved to Brooklyn with two of my friends, I got a terrible job that pays pretty well and I've been having an okay time. I've been packing away the bucks to do some traveling early next year; I have friends in Africa and I've been in discussion with a few friends about taking off to Europe to see some old roommates.

My biggest problems: My job kind of sucks. I'm someone who came from an extremely creative, very comfortable college existence and now I stuff envelopes and file all day. I left all of my friends back home or at college and I've found it hard to make reliable friends in NYC.

My biggest, uh, plusses?: Live music! I'm a big record nerd, so being able to be in NYC and see my favorite bands every week is a huge, huge plus. I started volunteering with City Harvest which has been really fulfilling. Good food, great movies, blah blah. I've been unhappy without being sad, I guess, and that's something new.

Life in the last few months has just been extremely difficult. I was dating a girl who went to Ecuador for a few months and met, well, just about every boy there. With no one in Brooklyn to really fall back on, I just kind of collapsed inwardly for a few weeks. I'm mostly over it, but it still hurts. Also: The general aches and pains of growing up. Bills and bug infestations and angry co-workers and a 9-5. But all of that said, it's been a pretty good time, too. I have trouble talking about because it's not a good time, per-se, but it's hardly a bad time, either. It's like an 80%, but that last 20% is so significant. I'm a social creature and doing all of these really wonderful things mostly on my own has really taken it's own kind of toll. And the job market is criminal.

As for my future? I feel a lot better having established a sort of homebase and having a more than fair amount of expendable income. I'm looking into grad school again because I can't keep working a job like this for, well. For another day, but you know how it goes. Traveling will be nice, I'm totally looking forward to that. I just have to hope everything else kind of falls into place, I've kind of stepped up my social game lately and hopefully I'll have a few more people to pal around with.

Thanks, guys!
posted by GilloD at 7:00 PM on November 26, 2006

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