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There is No One Path to Life After College

Recently, the topics surrounding college graduates have centered on unemployment rates, student loans, and how the economy is especially hard for the average twenty-something. What’s often overlooked, however, is simply the idea of "‘what comes next?" The average college graduate, in all likelihood, is a novice when it comes to searching for jobs, looking for a new home or apartment, or simply put, entering the "real world."

I graduated from college in the spring of 2009 and moved home for the summer before relocating to New York and sleeping on a friend’s couch while working various temp jobs. I wondered if my situation — unemployed and without direction — was the norm or a symptom of my major (Italian Studies), university (Liberal Arts), or background (biracial from California).

I began to document my experiences in blog form and through a notepad that I carried with me almost everywhere. I would write down what it was like to search for jobs, apartments, or what my mood was like on that given day and how much I missed college. I did this not just because I enjoy writing, but also so I could take notes and learn the ropes. I was seeking ways to cope with the new lifestyle I found myself living. While doing so, I became curious as to what my peers both from high school and college, were up to. The idea of gathering several different stories and experiences seemed not only interesting and beneficial to me, but also something that future graduates could learn from and find comfort in. Thus, I decided to write Now What?! Conversations about College, Graduation, and the Next Step.

What I sought to create is something that every person could pick up (or read online) to find information and advice from someone who has been in their shoes either by virtue of studying the same major, having similar career aspirations. For me, and I hope others, it’s not only informative and interesting to learn the plights of others, but comforting and humbling, too. As there are 62 conversations and interviews in the book, there is no one theme or voice throughout and therefore no singular message or point to take away.

The theater major is going to have a different college experience — and to a lager extent, life — compared to that of the economics major or to the history major.  Bradley Whitford, an Emmy-Award winning actor on The West Wing, for example, is featured in the book and ate peanut butter as a meal after graduation to save money on food while he was auditioning for various parts in shows. The U.S. Attorney for Vermont, Tristram Coffin, went building to building in Lower Manhattan handing out his resume as he attempted to get his first job coming out of college.

It’s rare, if not impossible, to find two college students that are identical. Two that share the same major, come from the same city, want to have the same career, took the same exact classes, have the same thoughts and feelings about senior year, and have the same plans for their first year out. It is for that reason, therefore, that the same advice about what to do next cannot be given to every college graduate. Often times when we hear or read about successful individuals, CEOs, lawyers, teachers, producers, we learn about what they are currently doing and their current state of affairs. What goes unmentioned (usually), and is perhaps more telling and vital, is what they did prior to becoming successful.

What steps did they take along the way? Where did they fail? Do they have any regrets? We, as a society and culture, follow and gawk at those in high-power positions that are either very famous, very wealthy, or a combination of both. But, the wealthy and famous weren’t always wealthy and famous. Randy Cohen, the former ethicist for the New York Times, was a music major as an undergrad before going to grad school for music composition. It wasn’t until a former band mate of his told him “you suck at music” that he gave it up altogether and pursued writing. Kathy Keeler, who won gold at the 1984 Olympics, was twice left off the U.S. Women’s National Rowing team before making the final cut (and qualifying and winning the medal) her third time trying out.

In high school, there is a certain formula that is ingrained in our heads: get good grades, take lots of AP classes, do community service, run for student council, play sports, do well on SAT/ACT ... all to prepare for, and get into, college. However, once the diploma is in your hands, the final exams are taken, and the last goodbyes are said on campus, there is no blueprint for what comes next. While several books intended for college graduates often are centered on how to tailor your resume, how to network properly, and the exact steps to land the perfect job, I wanted to create something that correlated with the thoughts, feelings, and the pervasive sense of “okay, now what?!”

Once you are done with college you are a young adult and, with the exception of those attending graduate school, are out of the academic environment for the first time since kindergarten. No longer can you rely on the school staff to provide support and answers. No longer are all of your friends in one place and on the same schedule. Some have jobs, some are living at home, and whether you like it or not, things change. While writing this book, and going through my own odyssey as a 20-something college graduate, I realized that there is no one right way to experience college or the years that follow.

Someone who had a difficult time deciding on a major and then moved home with their parents for a year after graduating provided different insight and advice compared to the interviewee who knew, all along, that they were going to be a biology major and go to med school after spending a year traveling. A significant number of graduates featured in this book started off with a job unrelated to what they studied in college, let alone one they had an interest in. Some did exactly what they planned for while they were in college, while some were taking a roundabout path as they navigated their post-college lives. What I realized, more than anything, during this three-year process of writing this book, is that everyone has different experiences both during college and during their first year out. And with it, their own story to tell and their own advice to give.

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Twitter: @aribertramking

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