You’ve graduated from college, degree in hand, the next logical step is to put that degree to use and start your career, right? Maybe not. The time after graduating from college is a huge transition period. You are going from

You’ve graduated from college, degree in hand, the next logical step is to put that degree to use and start your career, right? Maybe not.

The time after graduating from college is a huge transition period. You are going from the sheltered life of a matriculated student with a meal plan, support from parents, not a lot of bills or expenses to an actual real life adult with responsibilities. This is a time to make some important decisions before you embark on a life long career path.

How do I know? After I graduated college, I witnessed several friends and classmates chart the course of what you do NOT want to do after you receive your diploma.  As a financial planner, I continue to see young people who have done the opposite of what one should do when beginning a career.

Avoiding these common mistakes can make that transition much smoother:

Trying to be too independent

You’ve lived in a dorm or some other cheap housing with hundreds of your peers for the last four years. Now you are on your own. The responsibility and expense of paying rent, utilities, and food as well as having spending money left over for fun and entertainment is a big one. So why not consider living at home? If your parents are okay with having you there, it is a big money saver and gives you some time to look for a job and figure out where you want to go next. Not considering living at home is one of the biggest mistakes college grads make.

Being too adult too soon

The early to mid-20’s are a really important part of an adults life. It’s the beginning of striking out on your own. But it’s also a really fun period and focusing exclusively on starting your career could be a mistake. Take time to enjoy dating, going out with friends, traveling, exploring your city, visiting sites you haven’t seen before. Once you start a career, you will rarely be able to take big chunks of time off to travel or explore. You’ve worked hard to graduate from college, having some fun is allowed! Besides, curing that wanderlust will help you settle into a career later on.

Ignoring your health

While you were in college, you were probably covered under a parent’s health insurance plan. You may think that going without health insurance for a while is no big deal. But, if something happens to you, you could be starting out your new adult life with thousands of dollars in medical bills. Perhaps, not able to start a career at all. Be sure to research all your post-college health insurance options. This will hold you over until you start a career with an employee-sponsored health insurance plan.

Screwing up the job search

You’ve graduated, you have a degree, you are confident in your ability to land a job. However, there are thousands of other college grads out there looking to do the same thing you are. So, if someone hooks you up with a lead, follow it. Thank the person who gave you the lead or referral and give them credit for helping you. While not every lead will be your ideal job, the connections and experience you gain pursuing the lead can be invaluable. A mistake that grads make is looking for the perfect job in the right career and ignoring all other possibilities.

For those of you who are interested in my line of work — financial advising — see my recommendations for how to get your start.

Putting off savings

Retirement?   Why do you need to start thinking about that now?  The reason is that it’s much better to save when you’re younger.  It’s all about the power of compound interest and if you start early enough, the payoff could be huge later on in life.

But where to save?   Start with your 401k at work, especially if they match you – your employer will add free money on top of yours. Trust me.  It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.  If you want to save more or your job doesn’t offer a 401k, go with the Roth IRA.    The Roth IRA is a like a savings account on steroids that will yield you tax free money at retirement.

Jeff Rose is an Illinois Certified Financial Planner. He blogs at Good Financial Cents and Soldier of Finance.  He loves Crossfit workouts, writes about Roth IRA rules and craves In-N-Out burger. You can follow his updates on Twitter.


  1. Rachael Seda

    I agree with you on all these points. Especially the savings one! My first boss told me, it’s better to be young and poor than old and poor. I’ve never forgotten that and have tried very hard to save my money ever since!

    • Jeff Rose, CFP®

      Rachel, great quote from your boss. It’s so true. As a financial planner I’m constantly meeting with people that our 2 to 3 times my age that totally regret not saving more when they were younger. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be them. Thanks for the comment!

    • Jaclyn Schiff

      Wow, love that pearl of wisdom! Thanks for sharing Rachael!

  2. Tatiana

    I disagree on a few of the points: I think that you can secure a good job after graduation – especially one that takes you someplace new – you should go for it. I lived in Seattle soon after graduating for about 9 months before coming back to re-assess my life and my values. I didn’t want to move home because I wanted to try something new. Also, as someone who doesn’t come from a great family/home life, I never recommend that people move back in with their parents. This is my least favorite piece of post-graduate advice because it overlooks the fact that maybe some families can’t afford to take care of their post college kids, or they don’t come from homes where they’d feel welcome.

    Also, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being an adult too soon. But I suppose that becomes an issue of values and how you define adulthood. I’d rather have financial independence sooner rather than later – and besides, how can you expect to travel or go out if you don’t have some sort of income?

    But other than that – I agree with the other points. Unless your degree is industry specific – like finance – it’ll be hard to find a job that matches up perfectly with what your BA was in. And I know some people feel a sense of urgency or pressure to find a job that reflects their major – which can be demoralizing if you end up working as a waitress with a BA in Russian Literature.

    And I definitely feel that savings is important. Most people my age – I’ve noticed – don’t really know how to save other than not spending money/being cheap or frugal.

    Anyway – this post was really awesome.

    • Jeff Rose, CFP®

      Good point on moving in with the parents. There was a brief time (I think a month or so) that I had to move back with my dad while I was transitioning schools. It was the worst! Definitely would not want to do that again.

      Glad you liked the post!

  3. Ty Unglebower

    A lot of people advocate that “take time to travel” thing. And that would be great, if the bank account were not “zero”. Even if you live at home after college, which I did, if you have enough money to “do some traveling”, getting a job and feeding yourself and all that other sort of thing is probably not something you have to worry about.

    In fact I think a lot of the advice about post graduate activities, job hunts, networking, etc, comes straight from the upper-middle class mindset. Very little is ever said about how a college graduate who enters the world into straight up poverty is supposed to get ahead.

    I was in poverty in college, graduated into poverty, and remain in it 8 years after the fact. I am sure there were things I could have done better, but at the same time if so much career advice were not geared towards those who are already comfortable, I probably would have learned more.

    • Steve Monte

      That’s some pretty interesting experience you’ve had. I grew up in a low-income family and neighborhood myself. Fortunately, I found out a couple secrets that allowed me to travel a bit and get ahead a bit in the years after college. Can I ask what “career advice” you heard / took that didn’t really work for you?

    • Jaclyn Schiff

      Ty, that’s a really good point. It is an under-covered perspective and we should do more on it here!

    • Tiffany

      Excellent point Ty. I hardly read and/or listen to much career advice anymore b/c it often doesn’t apply to my situation. What’s even more rare is advice that takes into account 20 something graduates with kids. Brazen Gen Y parents do exist 🙂

  4. Franzi

    Thank you for that post!!! It is exactly how I feel like right now. I am about to graduate and feel like I need to take a deep breath… everybody sends out their CVs like christmas cards …without even looking at the companies’ profiles…”well, I just need a job”. NO… not A job…I want the job, which suits me, my education, my interests, and a little bit of my personality.

    And I absolutely agree on the travelling part… don’t miss out on your opportunities right now… traveling will never be as cheap as now..opening up your horizon… appreciating and learning who you are and what you want to do.

    A little thing at the end. Yes…it is hard to move back with your parents, but one could also take it as a chance and opportunity to enjoy live together again. Those times will never come back and maybe it is also a chance to get some things straight again here and there. (of course this might not fit in any case)

  5. Kristen

    Saving is one of the toughest parts, especially if you live in an expensive city. 401k is a great start.

    • Jeff Rose, CFP®

      Kristen. The 401k is great place to start. Mostly because it comes directly out of your paycheck. My favorite option for younger investors is the Roth IRA. Takes a little more to setup but it’s well worth it.

  6. Rob

    It all really depends on the right opperchunity, First do some contract jobs and swtich it fast to get more exposure the company wise as well as you will come across new stuff, different perople, different way the company handles things, which will build your experience, as 5 yyes of contract job in 5 different companies is always more experience than a person with 5 yrs in the same company.

  7. Jeff Lovingood

    Thanks for the article. I like some of the points you made, especially about saving early and often.

    I feel like you may have missed one of the biggest key points that would impact many of the points on your list: Why wait for graduation to begin searching for a job or career?

    Many people, if given the chance to work with a knowledgeable mentor, can find what job or career will appeal to them while they are still in college. This makes college a stepping stone on the path to actually going somewhere, not a goal in and of itself. Additionally, spending four years in college learning to develop relationships by networking and being mentored in a specific area will help a lot of students bypass the senior career fair and walk straight into a great opportunity.

    The people who take the time to do their careers right the first time will have a good 5-10 year head start on their classmates who hunt and peck at different careers until they settle for something. This will give them higher pay and paid vacations to do all of the globetrotting they desire.

    Lastly, your post completely ignores entrepreneurship. Even Penelope Trunk has argued that Gen Y and younger are more interested in finding new ways to do things. This mode of thinking is helping fuel the explosion of young entrepreneurs. There are a lot of people that can carve out a great living for themselves and their future families by acting on the will to find a better way!

  8. Ashley Hoffman

    Finances after college were huge for me. I graduated with a GOOD amount of student loan debt – but got a daytime temp job and waited tables at night to make it work. Ty, I would love to hear more about things that you wish you could have done better, or what you’re doing now to make it work.

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