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Setting Out into the Real World

"Just realize that no one has any idea what they're doing. That's the secret to adulthood. We're all just figuring it out as we go along."

Even though life may look a little different post-Vanderbilt, get social with us by connecting on social media.

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Explore the insights and advice from recent young alumni below.


Everyone’s trajectory is different, so be wary of comparing yourself to your peers. Some people will go to grad school, some have amazing jobs, some might have negative job experiences yet post amazing things on social media. No graduate’s next steps are better than another’s—they are what they are! Be proud of what your next steps are, no matter what they are. ’16

Sometimes life may throw things at you, and you may begin to second guess your decision. It happens to the best of us. The important thing to remember is that you made the decision for a reason, and it is and will be worth it. 16

Prayer, faith and meditation have been THE most important aspects of my life which have kept me grounded even when transition has been difficult. 15

Weekends can be more fun than in college. Weekdays are horrible. ’16

Just go for it. If you’ve done the work, the transition won’t be so bad. If you know no one else in the area, try to find a roommate or join Facebook groups that will help you at least find some people to start out with. And if that fails, you always have coworkers! 17

Find a way to build community. Life after college can be super lonely when all of your best friends are in different cities. Stay in touch any way you can because those

relationships are important and they are having many of the same experiences as you. At the same time, you need to start building community where you are, because as great as your friends are, they can’t fly in every time you need them. Start with your new coworkers. You probably won’t click with all of them, but you will click with some. If you’re a super extrovert you can even try meeting strangers. Just don’t be alone. It’s not good for your mental health. ’16

Give yourself six months at minimum to settle in before you start evaluating how much you actually enjoy your new city and what you’re doing. Just like college, the first bit can be quite the whirlwind and therefore not appropriate to assess just yet. ’16

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and recession. Go easy on yourself. (It’s easy to tell this to other people, but harder to internalize for ourselves. Seriously, please take this to heart, set low expectations, and even if you’re just getting through each day, that is more than enough. ’20

It’s weird going from living with all of your friends within five minutes to everyone spread out across the country. Especially if you’re moving away from family/friends. Make time to call/text your friends and family. Explore your new city. Finding friends can be hard—a roommate can honestly be so helpful for both your budget and your mental health. Give yourself some grace as you adjust—I swear it gets easier. ’19

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—postgrad life can be really tough at the start. You’re starting from scratch with pretty much everything. My advice––don’t compare yourself to everyone else’s Instagram. If YOU are happy with yourself, don’t let Social Sally’s post about clubbing last weekend make you feel bad about staying in bed with Netflix for 12 hours straight after a tough week. ’16

Make friends in your new city as quickly as you can. A social group makes all the difference in feeling at home. ’17

Travel while you can!! If you have time before starting your job, go explore the world because unfortunately you’ll be tied down for some time after. ’17

Don’t feel weird about reaching out to people that you kind of know and seeing if they want to hang out. They’re probably just as lonely as you are and will be so happy to hear from you. ’15

Remember when all of the adults kept telling you that growing up is not so easy? Well, they weren’t totally wrong. No one gets excited about buying new tires for Christmas. Finding ways to treat yourself every now and then will really help you stay positive and ensure that you’ve got something to look forward to. While saving and budgeting is important, set aside the money for a monthly treat––a movie or a sushi dinner can be a great way to self–care! ’16

Find something in life you really enjoy and invest into it, whether it’s time or money. This will be an anchor in your life whenever things aren’t going well in other areas. ’19

Life after graduation is going to feel weird at first. You’ve spent nearly your entire life with the identity of a student and for most of you reading this, that may no longer be the case. It’s a huge shift. For example, no longer are your closest friends right across the hall from you or a short 10-minute walk away; you have to put more efforts into maintaining your friendships. But, on the plus side, no longer are you staying up late worrying about papers and final exams. There are highs and lows to this transition and just learning to embrace all of those emotions is a step in the right direction. You’ll eventually have a sense of security and identity in this new chapter of your life. ’20

Living alone can be pretty difficult, especially now with COVID and the extra isolation. Make sure that you find a community wherever you are whether it’s through a hobby, religious organization, work, etc. Having a group of people you can spend time with and a local support network is something that is very important, especially if you are living in an area where you don’t have family or friends already. Find ways to stay busy and keep your mind active. ’19

Lean on your support system. It is very hard to have your friends spread out all over the country and have to essentially start over. You will eventually be able to rebuild a social group through work or grad school, but it’s OK to take some time to regroup with family or close friends before putting yourself out there again. ’18

No matter how much you think you are ready for the transition, you really aren't. And that is OK! You and your friend group will all be having different experiences post-graduation, so don’t compare yourself—everyone learns differently. Give yourself the space to change your mind, take care of your physical and mental health, and embrace the learning process. ’18

Try to stay in touch as much as possible. Monthly phone calls or FaceTime go a long way. ’21

Moving to a new city and having your life completely change overnight can be hard on your mental health, and it could continue to be hard for years. Lean on the people who love you and get a therapist who you like. ’17

Get out of the U.S., get out of your usual social circle, become an outsider in some way and learn from it. ’18

It’s quiet and lonely compared to a college campus. Stay in contact with people. Once you get some cash, get a hobby/invest in your hobbies. Money is magic. ’18

Be kind to yourself. It’s not an easy time and even if you’re really excited you’re bound to get homesick or sad that college is over and the real world is hitting. It’s completely normal, and as you settle in to your job and city it’ll fade. Making friends is harder but you just have to put effort in. Make friends with co-workers, go to workout classes or other classes you’re interested in, play club sports. Getting a dog really helped me feel not so alone. Make choices that will make you happy and have a good mental state. Find a balance of having the lifestyle that makes you happy that is affordable. Take care of yourself, stay active. Work will get crazy but make time to take care of yourself and you’ll be much happier. And always remember, there’s nothing wrong with going back to your hometown. ’17

Find an interest or two and stick to it, maybe find a Facebook group that does it in your area. Take walks and schedule things to look forward to during the weekend. ’20

Make sure you get along with your roommates. Especially in a place like NYC, living quarters are tight so your friendship needs to be even tighter. There is no “new housing assignment” next semester. You could be stuck with them for a while. ’18

Know yourself. If you like to be alone, live alone. If you thrive around others, get roommates (pick carefully). ’20

You will need to take initiative and make a concerted effort to form relationships after college. You will no longer be forced to live entirely with people your own age and life-stage, so you will need to seek those people out. Pick up a new social hobby, like rock climbing, that will allow you to meet recent grads in a laid-back setting. Reach out to your local Vanderbilt Alumni Association chapter to see if they have any resources for recent grads. If you are religious, church and small groups are a great way to make friends. Seek out churches with a dedicated young professionals ministry and a large population of recent grads. ’20

Learn to love that alone time and quiet that voice of FOMO. And if you’re really struggling, learn to ask for help and consider seeing a therapist. This is a truly tumultuous time in your life, and if you know that you are consistently unhappier than you’ve ever been before, there’s no shame in finding a professional that will listen to you talk and cry and obsess. Everyone needs a little extra support from time to time, and this will probably be one of those times. ’15

Get used to spending time alone with your own thoughts. Ponder who you want to be and how you want to arrive there. Find hobbies and outlets for social, physical and intellectual engagement. Get out of your comfort zone and learn something new about yourself. ’16

You won’t get everything right the first time, and that is ok. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from parents or other more experienced adults in your life. They can offer you practical advice and wisdom that only comes from true experience. ’16

There aren’t as many extracurriculars after college, so you have to work a little harder to form a sense of community. Whether it’s an intramural sports team, weekly volunteering, or a social group, make the effort to work an activity into your schedule early on in the transition. ’18

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. I took a job at a climbing gym, and now I’m hooked on recreational climbing! It’s so much fun and I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t taken a chance. ’15

Make sure you seek to find community. It will take time, but that is such an essential part of transitioning out of college. It will also take longer because you will not be able to see them as much as your friends at Vandy because of work and living farther apart, but find friends. It will make life much more enjoyable. Also, note that your definition of fun may change. 17

Just realize that no one has any idea what they’re doing. That’s the secret to adulthood. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. ’15

Practice grace—give yourself grace when your expectations are not met or you perceive a situation as a failure. As Vanderbilt students, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the best learning experiences come out of situations in which you were not perfect. ’17

Once a month I write down goals, and once a month, on another day, I reflect on how the goals are going. It’s nice to split my goals into small chunks like this so that they don't seem too daunting. ’16

Set up a monthly professional development one–on–one with your manager or another mentor at work. You’d assume those conversations would happen naturally, but carving out specific time for it allows you to set goals with someone more experienced and measure progress on them on a consistent basis. ’17

Make sure you always have your basics covered before you try for more. Don’t overstretch yourself until you have a routine established, at that point you’ll be itching for more! ’17

I set small deadlines along the way to the larger goal. I have occasionally used a web software called Trello to track my progress towards a big goal. ’18

Write down your goals and put them somewhere you’ll see them. ’20

Have a meeting with your boss about growth within your job. I did this within the first few weeks so that my boss knew I was hoping to grow within my position. ’16

Have a side hustle. Something that helps advance your career that is unrelated to your current job. ’18

Read a book like What Color is Your Parachute? that will help you make a personal mission statement and identify some of your key weaknesses and strengths. Get started! ’15

Write down your goals and make plans or timelines to help you achieve them. It is OK if you are not working toward your goals all the time (we all need a break!), but have a plan to keep yourself accountable for your growth. Stagnancy is not it and investing in yourself is the best form of self-care. ’18

I tell other people my goals and how I plan to achieve them. They can give feedback and encouragement and hold me accountable. ’20

Every night in bed before I hit the hay, I make a to-do list for the next day. When I wake up, I know exactly what I need to get done and can get started right away instead of puttering around the kitchen asking, “What the heck should I do today?” ’18

Set small goals and work toward those goals. Don’t be afraid of failure—success will come in time! ’21

Success doesn’t come easy, but you should never be miserable (for too long) trying to achieve it. By this, I mean that you’re going to be stressed and tired and busy sometimes, but it’s worth it. When you’re stressed and tired and busy all the time … rethink your goals and see if there isn’t a better, more pleasant way of getting there. ’20

Tell someone else what you want to achieve and when you want it to happen. External accountability is hard to find, so you may have to create it. ’19

Write down your goals, then work on breaking them out into actionable steps. Put those steps on a tentative timeline, or even on a physical calendar, and push yourself to take action when the time is right. ’16

At the start of each month, I make a few simple, achievable goals. For example, I’ve gotten really lazy about working out, so one of my December goals is to work out four times. Then maybe my January goal will be five times. Basically, I make mini goals that add onto each other until I get to the main objective. Plus, the repetition really helps turn goals into habits. ’16

It’s all about discipline. You can’t really trust motivation by itself––there will be so many times when you’re just not motivated. It’s difficult, but just force yourself to take the steps that are necessary to reach your goals. ’17

If you’re moving back home, it may sometimes feel as if you’ve taken a step back, but you haven’t. Especially with everything that’s happened during this pandemic, not only is it OK that you moved back home but it’s also smart. The biggest piece of advice I would give is to set and keep boundaries. You’ve lived on your own for the past four years and have learned a lot about yourself (what you like, what you dislike, what makes you feel safe, etc.). Don’t let all of that growth and self-discovery go to waste just because you’re back home with your parents (given certain family structures and power dynamics, this may be easier said than done but find what works for you). ’20

Moving home is a wonderful financial option, and it can definitely provide some mental/emotional stability as well. Make sure to communicate with your family members and set boundaries as needed. It is different living with parents as an adult. It may take some adjusting and reminders for all parties involved. Block off time to spend by yourself or out of the house so that you don’t feel like you’ve lost your independence and privacy. ’18

It’s OK. You’re not a failure, or a loser, if you have to move back in with your parents. Not everyone gets a cool high-powered job in NYC or into the graduate school of their dreams on their first try. It happens to WAY more people than you think! Regroup, reorganize, make a plan, and enjoy the free food while you can. YOU WILL BE OK!! ’16

I think it’s important to set boundaries with your family during this horrible time. Everyone is going through their own personal version of this hell, and I believe we’re treating one another with less kindness, compassion, and empathy as a result of our own individual turmoil. Our parents will always think of us as kids, and I wish I had sat down and had a real conversation at the beginning of quarantine about my boundaries and expectations. Communication is key! ’20

Enjoy your parents! Enjoy the money you save, develop a different relationship with your family. Honestly a great thing even if your home is not in the best place (I moved back to Eastern Kentucky). You will really appreciate the time with parents later on. ’18

Take this time to sort out your goals, identify what will make you feel fulfilled, and enjoy the time you spend with your family/loved ones. ’18

Set boundaries and expectations if you’ll be living with your family. You’re an adult and should be treated as such but still need to respect the others in the house. Discuss how things will work with your family. Will you be eating what they eat and helping cook, or will you be on your own for meals? If you want to have someone over, how will you navigate that? If you stay out late just make sure you come in quietly and lock the doors behind you. It’s not awful living at home; you just have to figure out how to coexist. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not meeting new people because you have your family as a safety bubble; when things get weird you can just stay home with them. Resist doing this all the time and still go out and do the things to make friends and meet people that you would if you didn’t live at home. I know moving back home can be frustrating, but you’ll be saving money most likely, and it’s also nice to be around family. I didn’t realize how much I missed mine until I lived away for years, and coming back home was so nice. ’17

Enjoy family time, as it is valuable. Family is not just the most important thing; it is the only thing. ’21

Moving home is wonderful right after graduation. You have some time to wind down and evaluate your future without paying rent and without having the huge stressors of living on your own. At some point, if you find yourself feeling miserable, dependent, and socially isolated there, maybe it’s time for you to move on. ’18

Don’t freak out if you don’t have a job lined up after graduation. You’re NOT a failure! I was so self-conscious while I was living at home and searching for a job, because I felt like everyone was judging me. Looking back now, that wasn’t true at all. AND now I have an amazing job that I absolutely love. You just have to trust that things will work out exactly how they are supposed to. ’16

Show gratitude toward your parents, especially if you’re living with cheap or no rent! Help out around the house, buy groceries, etc. ’17

Take this time to save! Once you move out, it gets so much harder to put away money. ’17

The Vanderbilt Alumni Association is incredible. Through events and other offerings, I’ve stayed in contact with most of my class who live in NYC in addition to meetings dozens of new ’Dores who either graduated before me or went to one of the professional schools. ’16

Regular Zoom calls, FaceTime, SnapChat, sending TikToks back and forth. Basically whatever we have time for at the time. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort put into staying connected. ’19

We schedule a biweekly FaceTime to catch up and talk! Also never underestimate the power of just a quick text “hello” or a funny meme. ’18

I call people sporadically whenever I have a long car ride or am going for a walk. Surprise phone calls are usually welcome and, even if the person is not available, you can usually set up another time for you both to connect. ’19

Regular video calls, tagging each other on funny memes, collaborative Spotify playlists, COVID-friendly socially distanced visits when possible. ’18

My close friends from VU have a Netflix party session once a month and we FaceTime right before we watch the movie. ’16

Virtual sport game viewing parties. ’19

Staying close with my friends from Vanderbilt was extremely important to me. I made it a point to pick two days out of the week in which I would intentionally and purposefully dedicate time to my friendships. On those designated days, I would choose a specific friend to check in on (this could be through a FaceTime call, a regular phone call, or a conversation via text). In a post-COVID-19 world, my friends and I have even begun discussing doing weekend meetups throughout the year. Everyone is busy so it’s important to find a way to stay close with your friends that works with your schedule and lifestyle (as well as theirs). ’20

Group chats, writing letters, organizing fantasy basketball leagues, and just sending the occasional text from time to time. ’19

During COVID, we found ways to stay in touch online with groupchats, games, and movie nights. ’19

Coordinating vacations together and making time for each other virtually or in person helps to maintain strong ties. ’18

Some of our GroupMes are still active. Everyone having Zoom and being cut off from IRL friends helped a lot with reconnecting. The only way you’ll stay in persistent contact is to make a routine—champagne Fridays, book clubs, and game clubs all work. ’18

Habits are powerful things, so make habits that involve your friends. I play games over Zoom with some and send weekly or monthly encouraging texts to others. I may not be the best at maintaining friendships, but I think I do better when I make my friends part of my regular routines. ’19

I hate to say it, but social media. Instagram is great for seeing what friends are up to and feeling like a part of their lives without having to directly talk all the time. Make an effort to check in every few weeks to catch up and say hi. FaceTime is great, and visit when you can! Know you might lose some VU friends and that’s OK, it’s normal and you’ll make many new ones in life after school. ’17

I have been able to keep in touch with dear friends by letter, which has been such a happy experience. ’20

Share weekly highs and lows! Life might get too busy for a regularly scheduled FaceTime and you’ll probably be all in different time zones, but you’re never too busy to send a text once a week. Then when you do have time to meet up or call, you’re still clued in to each other’s lives, and it’s so much fun to hear how everyone else is navigating post-grad life. ’21

To this day, we keep our Secret Santa tradition alive around the holidays and mail gifts to each other and open them over a big Zoom call. ’18

Call/voice chat. A small group of friends is a lot easier to keep up with than a large group, but that just depends on the individual. I never really spend that much time out, so I do not mind more alone time. ’21

Create Facebook or iMessage chats with your different friend groups. Keeping up with a group is easier than keeping up one-on-one, because between everyone in the group, there will always be something going on. ’20

I created a GroupMe of Vandy in Atlanta people that I knew (2017 grads mainly), and then each of those people added others that they knew. It’s a great way to have people to do stuff with. ’17

I write letters to my friends! Yes, real letters with envelopes and stamps. It’s a great way to update friends on what you’re up to, without the awkwardness of a random text about yourself. Plus, everyone loves getting a letter in the mail! ’16

Texting is great, but nothing beats a good old-fashioned phone call. ’16

Big fan of the telephone. ’16

We schedule biweekly Skype chats! It’s great to chat and catch up. Also, if you have a long walk to or from school, use those walks to call people to stay in touch. ’18

Go to Homecoming your first year, and FaceTime friends or call them when you have the chance. I like to call people on my commute home from work! ’17

Make an effort to go to homecoming your first fall after graduation. You’ll know the most underclassmen and they’ll be so happy to see you again! ’18

Keep telling your friends happy birthday, and wish them happy holidays. Don’t forget about them! There’s Facebook, Snapchat, all kinds of social media to stay connected. ’17

Download InkCards and send people you miss cute (and affordable!) cards with pictures of you living the high life at Vanderbilt. ’16