Graduation From College–What's Next?

Coping after college

Erik Erickson, the renowned psychologist, wrote about what he called theeight stages of psychosocial development. One of these stages involves early adulthood where the emotional crisis revolves around the capacity for intimacy vs. isolation. It’s about friends, partners and romantic relationships, and it sparks questions about the capacity for love and commitment. It is not as much a crisis as it is a normal stage in life that occurs right around the same time students leave college and enter the working world.

The biggest change that occurs upon graduating college and entering the job market is the loss of structure and the automatic relationships you have that is often the result of proximity. For instance, you no longer see the same dorm or suite mates regularly. You don’t see the sorority sisters or fraternity members with whom previously you may have been spending every waking moment. You no longer have the regular contact or the ease of availability like you did in college where you could walk down the hall or across campus and spend time with people you enjoy. Leaving college often means a major geographic change and not having the same immediate access to others, although apps such as Skype or FaceTime can be at least a partial substitute. How do you cope with all of this?

One of the first things you can do is, wherever your new environs are, you use the same healthy coping skills you may have adapted earlier – becoming active in exercise, joining clubs/organizations you enjoy, volunteering – the same activities you were involved in college. If you miss the classroom setting, perhaps you can take a class one evening a week in a subject you enjoy or one that may enhance your career. Meet-up groups and alumni associations are also places where you can share common interests. Sharing fun activities can be a terrific way of starting new friendships!

Everyone who makes this transition experiences some periods of sadness or loss, however fleeting, as they make this leap. However, if you find yourself persistently tearful, isolated, or deeply lonely for extended periods of time (a couple of weeks or more) or begin to have thoughts of suicide, you should get help quickly. Waiting too long to get help can make the problems seem more insurmountable. Other signs suggesting you may be struggling include not wanting to get out of bed, marked changes in appetite, and feelings of hopelessness or despondency. Seeing a mental health professional in these circumstances can be extremely helpful and reduce those feelings of isolation. Many employers provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) where short-term counseling is available. Finding a therapist by asking a trusted friend, family member or colleague for a referral can be a good place to start (especially if you know they’ve gotten help in the past). Talking to your family doctor can give you some direction as well. 

The toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1.800.273.8255.

Going from college to the job market is a challenge with a lot of unpredictability and surprises, not to mention the occasional cause for frustration. Start it with a positive attitude and don’t be intimidated the challenges ahead of you. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!