A letter from a 2021 graduate: what life is actually like after college

Shaelee Haaf and Shaelee Haaf

Ah, so graduation is coming up in a few weeks. This is it, you’ve done it, congrats on getting through one tough part of life. I remembered feeling so relieved that I would never have to turn in a 10-page essay or take another exam again.

As my final moments as a student came to a close, a question kept running through my head: What’s life after college like? My guess is you’re probably wondering the same thing.

Well, almost a year after I stood in your shoes, I can offer a tiny window of insight (tiny being the key word, because I am still figuring out a lot for myself). The list of things I could tell you would end up being longer than a CVS receipt, so I’ll try to keep it to the main points.

Work & Career

I was fortunate enough to secure a job right after college at a Toledo newspaper called The Blade. I work on the digital team to manage the website, social media and produce multimedia content.

Although having a journalism degree and some experience gave me a baseline to work off of, I can say with utmost confidence that I did not know what I was doing, and really, nobody does. Nearly everything I do now was something that had to be taught — and let me tell you, that learning curve is steep.

I’ve been at The Blade for almost a year now, and I still have bumps in the road every other day. But I’ve become better at managing them and learning how to take critiques in a non-personal way.

You will make mistakes, that is a certainty, and your managers know that. It’s expected, but you are an investment they’re willing to put time, effort and money into.

Social Life

One of the nice things about working regular hours is that work stays at work. There’s no going to 16 hours of classes followed by 8 hours of homework. At the end of the day, you simply get to go home.

Except, there’s a catch. There is literal home work. I cannot stand a messy living space, so I find myself constantly cleaning. And I have to eat, you know, to stay alive, so I’m plagued every night by the dreaded question, ‘what’s for dinner?’ After a few months of this, I noticed I became tired much more quickly. What used to be 2 a.m. bedtimes turned into 10 p.m. nights, and I’d appreciate a canceled plan or two.

In terms of my actual social life, I struggled with severe FOMO in the months that followed graduation. Half my friends moved to Cleveland and I had irregular work hours, which threw a wrench in every single plan. I certainly do miss the close proximity of friends on campus, not to mention the opportunities to expand my social circle.

Yes, it is true, making friends as an adult is tougher, but not impossible. Just as it was drilled into our heads as freshmen, I’ll reiterate it once more: get involved. Instead of campus fest, check out the community you live in.

I started taking martial arts classes again recently, and this was the first time I made new friends in years. Branching outside my current friend group is an exciting prospect for me. It’s helped me cope better with my social anxiety about the transition to the real world.


A concept that I am still having trouble grasping is that everything surrounding money takes time and patience and planning. I like to think that I have a handle on the planning part, but I know that I am not always the most patient person.

I have a lot more bills to pay as an adult, plus you don’t get that sweet refund every semester, so managing my finances takes more mindfulness.

For someone my age, the most significant thing I did for myself was building my credit score. All throughout college, I paid off my card in full every month and never spent more than I could pay for. Doing so took some weight off my shoulders when I dealt with an unexpected emergency last year.

Long story short, my car broke down and I had to finance a new one. Because of my credit score, it ultimately saved me from paying thousands of dollars more in interest had it been lower.

The last piece of advice I keep hearing from the more experienced adults: start a retirement fund the moment you get your first job, and if you have extra money, put it into savings.

To say that life is harder after college is somewhat of a blanket statement. It is, but for different reasons. The toughest part about it is making the transition. Challenge builds character and experience, so as you navigate the twists, turns and loops of adulthood, remember to be kind to yourself.