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So you're finally done with college. . . Now what?

You've ordered your cap and gown, you're looking forward to senior week, you're planning a graduation party. . . and all of these events are helping you to deflect questions from parents and professors such as, "What will you do next?" Graduating from college is a huge accomplishment and a milestone. But with it comes a host of questions that might be difficult to answer. What job will you get? Where will you live? Will you have enough money? Will you see your college friends again? WHO ARE YOU???

Let's start with the big one that everyone asks about: the job. Sometimes the particular field that you majored in during your time at college will help direct you in your job search. For example, if you majored in accounting, you will probably be able to find jobs in accounting and might begin your job search by looking for companies seeking accountants. If however, you majored in English, you might not have the same kind of obvious direction in which to move. You might want to write, in which case you could apply to newspapers, magazine, or editing jobs, or you might want to teach, in which case you would need an advanced degree. . .

One way to make these kinds of decisions is to research some potential jobs. Do some brainstorming about what jobs sound interesting to you and make a list. At this stage, it doesn't matter what they are or whether or not you're qualified, just make a list of jobs that sound interesting. Once you've gotten a list together, do some research about these jobs. (A good website to help you with this is www.bls.gov/oco/ . This is a site in which you can type in a job title and find out the demand for people in this field, the pay scale, a job description, and the necessary qualifications. ) After you've learned more about the job and the requirements of it, you may decide it's not right for you or you're not prepared enough for it yet. Or, you might feel like it's perfect. Either way, you have now narrowed your search.

Once you've come up with a few jobs that sound interesting to you, browse the papers or online ads to see what's available. Having an idea of what you're interested in ahead of time will help guide you in your search. Circle jobs that might work for you. Hopefully there will be at least 3 or 4 that you find interesting (if not, keep looking every day until there are). The next step is sending out resumes.

The Career Resource Center can help you with making a resume, and/or you can also find some sample ones online. When you're sending a resume out to a potential employer, it is important to accompany it with a cover letter. This is a brief letter, addressed to each potential employer specifically (i.e. Dear Susie X at Megafun Company), in which you explain who you are, why you're interested in the job, and why you think you would be a good candidate. Once you mail out this packet (resume plus cover letter), it is often a good idea to follow it up several days later with a phone call, making sure the company received it and expressing your continued interest in the position.

The process of searching for a job can be quick or can be lengthy. Since there is no way to predict this, it is helpful (and stress-reducing) to begin several weeks or even months before graduation. This also allows you to schedule in a vacation for yourself if you want one, as you can set a "start date" for whenever you want it. If the quest for the perfect, lucrative job that is related to your major and previous work experience is not successful (this sometimes happens), you may need to take a job you're less enthusiastic about first, just to support yourself until you can find something else. Many people do this and it does not mean you're a failure or will never have a career.

Okay, so now you have a job. Do you earn enough money from your job to pay rent somewhere? What about utilities? Gas? Food? Spending money? It can be very difficult to earn enough money to support yourself right out of college. Additionally, many of you will have student loans to pay off, beginning only 6 months post-graduation. That may seem like a long-time from now, but it comes up quickly and the payments can be large, depending on how much you've borrowed. One way to make life more affordable is to have a roommate (or even two). Or, though many of you might be loathe to do so, you could move back home for a while. Some of your decisions about where to live will be dictated by what job you've gotten (how much it pays and where it is), and may make the decision about your living situation easier. If you know you will need to live at home for a time in order to save money, it will be important for you to narrow your job search to options in that area.

Whether you live at home or on your own, in your life post-college it becomes very important to manage your money. This means not only paying your bills, but beginning to save money too. Even if it's only $5 a week, saving some money will help take stress off of you in your daily life and will help give you options later on (in terms of places to live, taking time off, finding new jobs, etc. ).

While these practical issues of where to work, where to live, and how to save money are important, there are also emotional issues related to graduating that are equally important. You are leaving the life that you have built here. You are leaving friends, maybe a romantic partner, professors, and your room/apartment. Will you see these people again? Will it be the same if you do? At the same time that you might feel excited about graduating, it is normal to feel sad and scared about saying goodbye. It is likely that your friends feel the same way, and talking to them about how they feel and how you will keep in touch might ease some of your worry about it. You have grown and changed in many ways since move-in day of freshman year, and while some of those changes were UMD-dependent, most of them were within you and will therefore go with you when you leave. You have become someone different from who you were when you arrived- through the fun times, the social drama, the academic struggles and successes, the tears, the vacations, the changing family relationships, etc. Those changes will help set the stage for who you are in the rest of your life.

And if you're lucky, you will continue to change and grow forever. Your new job and living situation, your changing relationships with college friends and the new friends you make post-college will all continue to shape who you are, what you think, and how you feel. This is a life-long process and it is important to remember that, as we let some parts of ourselves go, new parts emerge and develop. Each loss is also a gain. Losing UMD and your life here means creating a new home and life somewhere else. And that is perhaps the best graduation gift you will receive.

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