5 Lessons I Learned After Graduating from College

We’ve all heard the doom and gloom facing college graduates nowadays: no jobs and large student loans. Unfortunately it’s true—more people have Bachelor’s degrees now, and that is no longer enough to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

The man and I back in 2009 after I graduated with my MBA.
The man and I back in 2009 after I graduated with my MBA.

That said, I think the explosion of startups and the rate at which things go viral nowadays really give new graduates a golden opportunity for innovation and a means to stand out from the crowd.

Take for example, bat dad:

I may not have been in the workforce for long, but I’ve been at it long enough to realize how naive my 22-year-old self was. Here are the 5 lessons I learned since being a student:

1. Don’t expect a 6-figure income right after graduating.

Sure, you might settle for something around $70,000 (getting it is another matter) after flipping that graduation tassel, but truth is you’re eyeing for more. Maybe you’ll put in your dues and expect a decent wage bump in a year. Sadly most kids right out of college have no realistic expectation of a starting wage. So you have a Bachelor’s degree, so what? I graduated with a Masters, but it didn’t change the fact that I barely had two years of actual industry experience under my belt. Unless you’re the boss’ kid, everyone has their own ladder to climb.


2. Academia barely scrapes the surface of what you learn on the job.

I don’t want to rip on academic institutions, because they tackle quite a bit in preparing a person for the workforce. Basic reading and writing, for example, doesn’t always seem to be covered in that High School diploma. But for those who excelled in academics it’s important to note that while you may be prepared for the technical skills or demands of the job, your classes can’t teach you office politics. No matter how good you are at performing tasks, you need to be able to work on a team—which can be particularly challenging if your team is scattered across the country or even the world. Email/phone etiquette, interacting with others…all of these are crucial skills to getting people to like you, want to work with you, and most importantly, help you accomplish things. Without support, you’re pretty much screwed.


3. Clean up your online persona.

This one should be pretty well-known by now, but you’d be surprised at how many resumes I look up, only to find their messier alter-egos strewn across Facebook. The social network launched while I was in college (you know, when only .edu emails could register), so I’ve been there since the beginning. Luckily my friends and I took particular care of what photos we took and posted. Smartphones weren’t as prevalent then as they are now, so we rarely had the issue of someone else posting photos (of course should it happen, we’d untag ourselves in the photo immediately). But please, please, watch those red cups, forget those bathroom selfies, and make sure you get at least an interview before you try to linkuponlinkedin/friendmeonfacebook.


4. Don’t act like an expert until you are one.

I am definitely guilty of this one, and it’s a sobering experience when you have your first f-up and realize that maybe you don’t know everything. This is the time to listen, think, and grow your skill set.


5. Hard work life balance.

They say the best things in life are more satisfying through determination, grit and hard work. Hard work will get you where you need to go, but a healthy life balance will keep you happy. Recognize your limits, and realize it’s ok if you don’t reach your dream today. Set actionable goals and make time for what really matters in life. Because in 5, 10 or 20 years I doubt you’ll even remember some silly task or aggravating email from some so-and-so.

  • I think #1 is a misperception many students hold and it is a myth perpetuated by academic institutions.

    • Agreed. And it’d probably help if these academic institutions stop talking about paid internships as well. Most just give college credit, and some universities don’t even want to offer that!

      • And did you hear – a lot of unpaid internship programs could actually be considered illegal. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

        • I didn’t, but of course getting work for no compensation amounts to a form of slave labor. Though I can’t say I’m really a fan of interns–typically a lack of motivation and way too much time spent on my end micro-managing. I think it really depends on the industry. I remember those in the Masters program for Accounting pulling very long hours, (they were paid at least), but it almost always resulted in a fruitful full-time offer in the end.