The more things change after grad school, the more they stay the same. Or do they?
Nearly five months ago, just hours before my grad school commencement, I sat at the foot of my bed watching a YouTube video on how to properly wear my hood regalia.
For at least 30 minutes, I watched the video repeatedly, squinting, tussling and folding the hood, outfitted with white velvet on the upper side, before tossing it across the room.
I eventually figured out how to wear it — albeit lopsided — and only straightened it when a fellow classmate helped me position it, seconds before lining up for graduation procession.
That experience is much like what life after graduate school has been for me so far — full of questions and moments where I wished someone had offered the practical advice and words of wisdom I needed, as well as tempered my expectations.
There are five things in particular that might be of use to any graduate student preparing to take the leap of graduation:
1. You’ll often forget you have another degree … until someone asks for your updated resume.
This will dawn on you at networking events or if a friend mentions a position you should apply for since you now have a master’s degree. Oops, you did just earn that degree, right?
2. You’ll miss classes, homework and your routine.
For many, working toward something (in this instance graduation) does wonders for morale and focus. The most difficult part for me was recognizing school fed my soul and made me feel like I was actively bettering my life, versus just getting caught up in the working grind.
3. The debt returns with full force.
Weeks after I graduated (and before I had even received the official hard copy of my diploma), thick envelopes full of detailed, line-by-line totals of how much money I owed by financing my education with federal loans poured in. If I could do it all over again, I’d not pay a cent and opt for an assistantship or other means of scholarship funds.
4. Life won’t change immediately after you graduate in the ways you expect …
The moment after you graduate, moments after you leave the hall, auditorium or theater packed with friends, loved ones, fellow classmates and former professors, you’ll wait for things to feel different, but as urgently as waiting for everything to change, life will resume as it always has been.
You might start working a new job if you attended grad school full time or, if you attended grad school in the evenings after work like I did, you’ll resume your job tasks, without the interruption of homework, group projects or looming end-of-semester deadlines. The days will seem longer because work and home will be the only thing constituting your life. You’ll wonder how in the world you managed not having as much free time as you do now, but you won’t know what to do with it.
5. … But life will change immediately after you graduate in unexpected ways.
In the same token, you won’t view life the same because as a grad student, you changed.
Self-awareness and the desire to be intentional about every step forward in your life will consume you. You’ll start to demand more from your friends, family, things you did in your free time, your job — and you may discover that some of those things no longer fit and new ones are needed to complete you.
A journey of discovery becomes the goal and there’s no other decision, no other choice, no other way to exert energy but to pursue life in a new way. Gone is the fear and despair that had grown so familiar. Only courage and the desire to live with unbridled passion, zest and hunger for what can only be a more fulfilling, satisfying and fruitful life remain.