I am convinced that graduating from college is one of the most important periods in almost everyone’s life. It is often the beginning of “real” adulthood. While college students may be legally adults,  in many ways college often acts as a buffer zone for growing up. Depending on your parents’ financial stability and philosophy of parenting, you may not even have to pay for your expenses while in college.

If you were helped my mom and dad, graduation from college is often the cut off point. They may help you a couple months to adjust to life after college, but it is usually this point in American culture that parents force their children to grow up and take care of themselves financially. If you didn’t receive any financial support in college, you either sped up the process of maturity and worked your way through school or you took out loans.

College Is Often a Period of Idealism

It was about seven years ago that I entered my freshman year of college at a liberal arts school. My upbringing helped me value my education. I was extremely focused (with a few minor lapses of judgement, like any freshman) and made my studies the priority. Beyond graduating with good grades, I also valued paying for college with out debt. This meant that I was quite busy between going to classes, doing homework, and working (not to mention convincing Mrs. 20’s that she liked me enough to marry me). The only semester that I wasn’t working was my first semester, and even there I was doing volunteer work in agreement with one of my scholarships.

In honoring my education, I often took time to really learn my subject matter. I was memorizing facts, thinking about philosophical questions, and even how to make the world a better place. I was actively involved in volunteer projects and even helped create a feeding ministry to help hundreds of low-income residents on a monthly basis. In many ways, I believed that I could change the world for a better place.

Despite the suggestions of those closest to me suggesting that I seek a practical degree or develop more tangible skills, I was insistent on following my own dreams and passions. I was convinced that I could make it work and I would much rather work hard to get where I want than to settle for some safe alternative. While I am grateful for my time in college and liberal arts education, I was in for a little bit of a crash course of reality after graduating.

Coming to Grips with Reality after Graduation

The months following graduation were filled with excitement and anticipation. I was not only planning the final details for my wedding, but also getting ready to travel abroad for a year. My fiance at the time and I were going to be teachers in another country. We didn’t just see it as an opportunity to teach English, but a way to bring about positive and sustainable change in the world. It seemed like the perfect extension of my idealism that filled my college career.

It was only 6 weeks later that our world turned upside down. After each of us being sick three times (and losing 20 pounds) from improper treatment of the food provided to us and not seeing any progress towards the improving the situation, we decided to give up our teaching aspirations and come home. It was a difficult decision and it marked a turning point in our lives. During the month that we nursed ourselves back to health, we had to decide what to do with our lives. I had already been accepted to graduate school and postponed enrollment for a year, so that was the next logical step. That was the easy part.

We were also forced to figure out where we were going to live, where we were going to work or how we would afford to live, and so forth. We also needed to buy a car because we had sold both of our cars before leaving the country. Luckily, we had money to buy it outright instead of having to look at financing or leasing a car. The additional payment would have made surviving that much harder. I remember the days of having about $200 each month to spare (and that’s including not eating out once).

As many college graduates have to do in order to pay the bills, I was forced to take a job that I hated. I hated the job and I hated who I worked for and with. The only good thing about the job is that it set me up for a better job about a year later, which would pay for the second half of my graduate studies. I was forced to realize that you most likely won’t be able to get your dream job right out of college and you have to make sacrifices sometimes. I don’t think I would go so far to say that I have given up on my dreams or aspiration from college (completely), but I have changed them.

As with my situation, college graduation marks the period where you are forced to get a “real” job and pay the bills. Depending on your life and financial situation, you may have more or less flexibility than others, but there are a lot of changes in a short period of time. How you adjust to this reality will influence your life for years to come.

Readers, did you experience a harsh reality of adulthood after graduation or was it a slow transition?