I originally wrote this article as an e-mail to a friend before he graduated from Wheaton College this past spring. I’ve edited it a little bit to make it more applicable to others who have recently graduated. So you’re aware, though, if you’re looking for generic advice about what it’s like to be done with college, this may not be the article for you. If you know me well or have read much of my web site, you’ll know that my relationship with Christ is pretty important to who I am. Much of what I share here reflects my beliefs and may not apply to you if you don’t believe similarly. But, feel free to read anyway and let me know what you think.
I attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Anyone who is attending or has attended MSOE will tell you that the school requires a lot from its students. The school seems to accept nearly anyone but only a small percentage of those who start there actually graduate from the school. There is a lot of pride, in some strange way, that goes along with that … those students who are able to make it see their education as superior and more difficult to obtain than that which is provided by other schools in the area, namely Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The general consensus was that MSOE students had to work harder than most “other” students and, therefore, are not subject to the notion that when you graduate from college your life actually gets busier. That assumption is partially correct.
My junior year of college was by far my busiest year of college and I undoubtedly have more free time now than I did during that year. I remember days, weeks, where nearly all I did was go to class, eat, run, do homework, and sleep (aside from taking a day of rest on Sundays). My senior year was quite a bit easier. I had a little more free time during the day and in the evenings. So, I that’s a bit long winded, but hopefully it helps provide a foundation for a few “conclusions” I’ve drawn about working:
- I do, indeed, have more free time than when I was in school, in that my nights are not filled with homework.
- I don’t have as much free time as when I was school, in that I can’t take an hour break in the middle of the day to go run an errand or take a nap, chat with a friend, etc. Well, I suppose I can – that’s what lunch is for – but I like to keep my lunches shorter so that the end of the day comes a little sooner.
- I don’t have as much free time as when I was in school, in that my weeknights fill up quickly with activities. I find that I have time really to do only one activity per night. Monday nights, I eat dinner at a friend's house and play volleyball afterward. Tuesday nights, it's my turn to cook for my roommates. Wednesdays and Thursdays are open. Fridays, I play volleyball. The main difference between this and school is that I get to choose which activities to do.
I lived in the dorms all four years of college, so this may vary based on people's unique situations, but I've found that living “on your own” is a bit different. You’ve got more responsibilities. There are dishes that need to be done, meals that need to be cooked, a house / apartment that needs to be cleaned, and so forth. These tasks have to fit in with the other activities you’ve got going on in the evenings. One thing my roommates and I have done is to take turns cooking. Each of us cooks one night of the week, which leaves the other free to have a little bit more time to do what they need to do. It works well, but you need to have people that are willing to cook, try new things, and not just throw in a pizza every week.
Before I started my job, someone commented that my paycheck would be about 60-70% of what my salary actually is. This is true. I think mine is actually 50%, after I do all the 401k, medical and dental insurance, employee stock purchase plan, and other benefits that Metavante provides. But, planning for the future and investing is part of wise money management, so it’s all in all a good thing.
In school, you have a lot more vacation time than when you’re working. MSOE was on the quarter/trimester system, and we had a week-long break after each “quarter.” Those two weeks, coupled with the week for spring break and two weeks for Christmas accounted for five weeks of vacation in a year, not to mention the flexibility in a summer job of taking a day off here or there if the need arose. Once you start working, it is rare to get five weeks of vacation. I heard someone comment recently that most people who actually get that much vacation time are too important to their company and too busy to actually use it.
Building friendships once you’re done with college is a lot more challenging. For those who attend a Christian college or are deeply involved in a Christian organization on campus, you’re surrounded by lots of great people who are your own age and share your beliefs and love for the Lord. When you work, you aren’t necessarily with other people your own age, let alone people who follow Christ. Several of my friends have gotten or are getting married soon, and I feel like I’m losing them to a certain extent, and it’s easy to feel lonely and friend-less. Be sure that, wherever you end up, you find a good church to get involved with where there are people who can hold you accountable to your walk with the Lord as you begin this new stage of your life. You might not be able to find a church where there are a lot of believers your age, but don’t let that hold you back from getting involved … we all, as believers, need that fellowship.
On a similar note, living in the world is not always easy. Even though I went to a secular (yet private) college and public schools all my life, I still feel like being in the “real world” has opened my eyes to some things that I had never seen before. In school, I was surrounded by other Christians because of my involvement with InterVarsity. Now that I’m working, I work with a bunch of people who are lost and need Christ. And their actions, their attitudes, their language reflects that. Last summer, I was in a training program at work. The group of people I was with consisted of recent college grads like me, which was great, but I remember saying to another Christian in the group, “Dude, do you ever feel like you don’t fit in with these people?” … and he shared my sentiment. I felt like I had little in common with these other individuals in my group. They are all concerned with going out and having a good time on the weekend, finding a hot girl to mess around with, making lots of money to buy a nice car, condo, house, or fun toys. Contrast that with the attitude Christ has called us to have, and those things which he has called us to value. “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Drinking is pervasive and commonplace. It’s not that a little alcohol is bad once in a while, but people our age like to go out and get drunk. And it can be awkward if you don’t go along with it. I don’t mean to sound all negative, but it’s one of those things which takes an adjustment when moving into the “real world.” I guess people’s attitudes weren’t much different when I was in school, but I didn’t notice it as much because I hung out mostly with believers.
For those who have recently graduated or will soon be graduating: I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with any of this … just remember that God gives us the grace to take things one day at a time, one small step at a time. Just take things in stride…and do all things through Christ’s strength as unto Christ and not man.