How to Transition from School Life to "Real" Life

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

You’re done.

All your schoolwork is in. Your academic evaluation is complete and your Degree Manager, blessedly green. You’ve taken a long nap and celebrated with a doughnut, coffee, tea, Chick-fil-A sandwich, or a vegan, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie.

Now, dear reader, this is when you commence panicking.

You have been thrust from the shelter of “school life” into “real life,” and you suddenly realize that you are not prepared. At all. And you have no idea what you’re doing. About anything.

Breathe. I come bearing good news! It need not be this way. Mostly what you need to successfully weather the transition is an attitude shift. (Thankfully, those are free.)

Considering this is a culture in which we ask each other coaching questions like “How do you feel about that?” despite our best efforts not to turn into our coaches, here are some questions to ponder:

  1. What makes college life not real life?

  2. Did you ever work before you graduated?

  3. Did you ever make any big decisions?

Real life begins as soon as you are created.

There isn’t a practice life, pre-life, or rehearsal life. While you were in college, that was real life just as much as your current graduated life is. It was different, of course. Maybe you had fewer responsibilities or less time to sleep, but that’s all it was: different. Graduating means moving on to a new stage and that can be scary, but it’s no more real than your life yesterday and the day before. Instead of looking at graduating as starting life, think of it as continuing, except going into this new phase you are even more equipped than before!

How’s that for an attitude change?

So, real life is something you’ve been living this entire time. But what about anxiety over finding a job and making massive life-altering decisions and solving the horrible conundrum encapsulated in the two words “what now”? Again, breathe. If you’re like most Unbound students and alumni, you’ve worked before. You might even have your own business, hold down three jobs, freelance, or baby/pet/house/grandparent sit. You have at least some idea about how to find a job and make money. In other words, you have skills! Pat yourself on the back and now go out and use them. If you don’t feel like you have the know-how to find a job, seek out a mentor, take advantage of local career counselling, or Google the basics.

As for making big decisions, you’ve done it before. You decided what to major in, what school to go to, and to do it all with Unbound. That’s a hair-tearing decision if there ever was one. You’ve likely made a bunch of other important decisions in your life too, so you don’t need to panic over making some more. You’re experienced, plus you can always turn to your coach, parents, pastor, mentor, or any other experienced adult you trust for additional help and guidance. You just need to ask.

Another important mental shift comes with approaching the “what now” question. You don’t need to answer that question all at once, nor do you need to plan out your entire life and career fresh out of college. You can try if you feel so inclined, but God has a way of making His plans supersede your own anyway. That’s not to say planning isn’t important; by all means, plan what you want to do after college, preferably while you’re still in college and the question isn’t yet breathing down your neck, but you don’t have to figure out the entire course of your existence within a week (or even a month) of graduating. Instead, seize opportunities as they come, stretch yourself, and be willing to take on jobs that may not be your ideal right now but can help you get to where you want to go.

Moving on from one stage of life to another is enough to produce mild panic attacks and chocolate binges, but re-framing can help ease the transition. Remember that just because you finally earned your degree does not mean you need to have your life figured out in the next five minutes. Most people don’t. So take the time to celebrate and do what you’ve been too busy to do while studying, like read that book sitting on your night table or check out that hiking spot your friends keep mentioning.