This morning I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about people who we know who say, out loud and with all seriousness -- and at the age of 30-- that college was the best time of their lives.
I was flabbergasted. Really? College? Four years that involved a constant crunch for time and money was the best era in their existence? If college was the best time of their lives, what on earth had they been up to since then? A lot of them had gotten married, had kids, bought amazing apartments, and yet the best time in their lives was when they had no money and had to use paper towels as coffee filters? It didn't compute.
As graduations approach and final exams are taken, I want to tell every college graduate that as awesome as your undergraduate heyday was, real life is infinitely better. On the surface that doesn't seem plausible, but as someone who's been hacking it in the real world for nine years, I can assure you that it is.
For Starters, You'll Have More Money. Entry-level salaries are typically a joke, even in semi-lucrative fields such as finance, but it is leaps and bounds better than the $6.15 an hour you were making at your campus job. When I was in college in 1999, I literally lived on the $50 a week (that included beer money) I made as a campus "security" guard, signing people into the dorms at odd hours of the day. My first job out of college paid me $35,000 a year. Despite living in a structurally questionable walk-up on 94th Street, I felt like royalty.
No matter how much money you end up making, you're going to spend the rest of your life trying to budget it properly. If you can manage the pittance that employers toss at new graduates, you're going to do quite well as you earn more. There might be student loans and lingering credit card debt to pay off, but such are the speed bumps of being a functioning adult.
You No Longer Have to Ask Anyone's Permission For Anything. Technically, as a college student you are an adult, but whenever you needed to do anything beyond a trip to the grocery store, chances are you had to check in with your parents, either for cash, the car or just to make sure your road trip didn't interfere with some family function. Guess what? As soon as you move out of student housing, the proverbial permission slips are a thing of the past. Assuming one is managing the aforementioned paltry salary correctly, you can frolic as you please. Any parental objections are just static.
You Can Really Develop Your Own Interests. The first day I moved into New York City, I called a bunch of gals who had been in my sorority and graduated a year or so before me. They were initially polite, but after a few brunches and parties, it was clear that they had their own lives, and our relationship had changed. Fair enough. I went out to find new friends, and along the way realized I was a good singer, ended up joining several performing choral groups and even toured Bulgaria one summer.
My point? Had I slipped back in with the Alpha Gamma Delta girls, I probably would never have seen the Bulgarian countryside or discovered the joys of Carl Orf. I may not have gone to grad school or realized that I liked living downtown a lot better than the Upper East Side. Along the way, I also developed a knowledge of fine wines, specifically Bordeaux.
College friends will be an important part of your past, but the ability to make new ones as you take on a new city is infinitely important. I know, your old friends are comfortable and will always return your calls, but the point of moving on is to find new people and new experiences. At one point college was new, and you met new people there. The same is true as you move on.
It's Okay To Stray From What You Majored In: I graduated with plenty of people who majored in journalism or English, and after almost ten years maybe a quarter of them are still in media. Some went on to law school, others got MBAs. Somewhere along the line you may realize that the passion you had for say, accounting, may not hold you so tight. And that's an important point. Life will change. Your interests and motivations will change. The market will change. Roll with it. Don't get stuck in the past.