How to adult: A guide to post-college life for new grads


It’s college graduation season, which means thousands of young people will soon start their foray into the real world.

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So here are a few tips to make your transition a little easier (disclaimer: there’s no one “right way” to be a grown-up. We’re all still figuring it out, too. Just do your best).

MONEY

A big part of graduating college is taking on bills and costs that your parents may have been helping you with during school. This can be anything from rent and car payments to phone bills and food. But budgeting can be overwhelming -- a good tip from MoneyUnder30 says instead of allotting certain dollar amounts to each spending category, figure out what you have left over to spend after you’ve paid all your bills (and after you’ve put some aside for savings) and use that as your “fun” money.

One of the easiest first steps you can take to making a budget and sticking to it is downloading a personal finance app (Mint is a good one) to help you track your spending. This way, you can categorizing your spending and see where all your money is going.

If you haven’t already, it’s also time to start saving. There are apps that can help with this, too! Digit is a great tool that can help you save money without even realize you’re doing it. It’ll take small amounts of money out of your account every so often, and before you know it, you’ve got a serious savings account. If your bank allows you to automatically transfer money, it may be a good idea to set up a certain amount of money to transfer from every paycheck.

Mint says to abide by the 50/20/30 rule when it comes to spending: 50 percent of your money should to go essential monthly expenses like rent, utilities, transportation and groceries; 20 percent goes to financial priorities like your savings account or student loans; and 30 percent should go to lifestyle choices like gym memberships, eating out and shopping.

If you’ve got a full-time job, you’ll likely have access to a 401K. Check out what your company matches, if there is a match, and contribute the full amount. You’ll be thanking yourself later.

Within six months of graduating (in most cases), you’re obligated to start paying off your student loans. If you can afford it, try to pay more than the minimum monthly payment, and see if you can consolidate or refinance your loans. Here are more tips for beginning to pay off your student loans.

This also may be the first time you’re filing taxes on your own. It can be daunting, but there’s plenty of help available online. If you don’t know your status, you can use the IRS’ filing status tool to find out. You can use an app like TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxSlayer. You can even get help for free if you make $54,000 or less. Here are more tax filing tips from NerdWallet.

CAREER

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  • Use a simple font, like Times New Roman or Helvetica, and stick with a small font size, preferably between nine- and 12-point.
  • List your most recent jobs first. If this is the first job you’re applying for after college, you may feel tempted to include jobs you held in high school, but only include them if they’re applicable. If you’re applying to a law firm, they may not care if you waited tables at your hometown country club every summer of your teens. Also, employers usually don’t care about your GPA on your resume.
  • Make sure your email address is professional. Use your full names or initials only -- you don’t want your future boss to email hotmama99@gmail.com or iloveteddybears@yahoo.com.
  • Identify your accomplishments instead of simply describing your previous jobs and internships.
  • Keep it short and sweet and simple. Make sure you’ve represented yourself well, but nobody wants to read a four-page resume filled with bright colors and graphics.
  • Change your resume and cover letter based on different jobs you’re applying for. Certain experiences and accomplishments will mean more in different positions or industries. It’s extra work to tweak your resume every time you send it in, but it’s worth it.
  • In your cover letter, don’t just regurgitate your resume. Convince the hiring manager why the company needs you, and list specifically what you can bring to the role. Use examples that you may not have had space to elaborate on in your resume. Use personal anecdotes if possible (i.e. I’ve loved eating Oreos since I was a kid, and that’s why I want to be the Chief Oreo Officer at Nabisco).

So you’ve gotten an interview. What now? According to CollegeAtlas.org, first impressions are most often determined by how you dress, act and walk through the door. Also of importance is the quality of your voice, grammar and confidence. 

Some more tips:

  • Wear classic clothing (65 percent of hiring managers say clothes can be the deciding factor between two similar candidates) and shy away from looking overly trendy (unless you’re applying for a job in the fashion industry).
  • Make eye contact, smile and have good posture. Don’t fidget too much.
  • Do your research on the company beforehand and come with specific ideas for things you can bring to the position. It’s also good to come with questions for your prospective employers.

Alright, you’ve landed the job. Let’s talk about work etiquette, since it may be your first time officially in a workplace. The workplace for millennials is often a fairly casual one, but there are still a few good rules to abide by:

  • Introduce yourself! There’s nothing worse than working somewhere for a long time and then suddenly having to work with somebody who doesn’t know who you are, or only knows your name from email.
  • Dress well. Read the mood at your office -- is it mostly casual? Do people wear jeans? Look around, and mirror that style. If you have to ask yourself “is this work-appropriate?” you probably shouldn’t wear it. 
  • Make connections. You may not work at your first job forever, but the connections you make there can last a lifetime.
  • Keep it professional, but be friendly. It’s OK to want to immerse yourself into the “social group” at your office -- but do so carefully. Make sure people know that you’re there to work first, but you can say yes to happy hour every now and then (just don’t be THAT person who drinks too much at a work happy hour -- people will remember). You spend eight or more hours a day with these people, so it’s great to develop personal relationships with them as well. Just keep it professional, and stay away from getting romantically involved with anyone in your office.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be too proud to admit when you don’t know how to do something, or if you’ve forgotten something from training. Your managers and coworkers understand there’s a learning curve!
  • Human resources is a great resource. They can help talk you through all these grown-up things you may not be familiar with, like enrolling in health insurance and investing in your 401K.

HEALTH

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Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You’ll quickly figure out that your college schedule won’t really work if you’re in a typical nine-to-five job. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 and 25 need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, so give yourself a strict bedtime.

The transition from college to the real world can be hard on you emotionally and mentally, as well. Your workplace may have an employee assistance program that can provide help with mental health, and you can check to see if your health insurance covers therapy or counseling. Even if you’re not feeling particularly stressed out, simply talking through your day-to-day life with a professional can be life-changing.

PERSONAL

Anybody in their post-grad years will tell you: making friends after college is hard. You’re no longer living next to people with your same age or thrust together in classes with people who share your same interests. You actually have to seek those people out now. A few ideas for making friends in adulthood:

  • Volunteer. There are plenty of ways for you to get involved in your community depending on your interests. Most communities have areas to volunteer with children, animals, education, the environment...the opportunities are often endless. And you’ll meet people there! Here’s a list of volunteer opportunities in the Austin area.
  • Join a social sports club. If you’re athletically inclined or trying to find a new skill, social sports clubs are a great way to stay active, have fun and meet people.
  • Use an app or go online. Check out Bumble BFF or similar friend-making apps to match with others in your community (sure, it can be awkward at first, but it can work!), or join Facebook or Meetup groups based on your interests.
  • Adopt a pet, if you feel you have the time to devote to one! Here are some great places to adopt a pet in Austin.

Remember that nobody has all the answers to figuring out this whole “life” thing. Just do your best.

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