I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit since I graduated from college, married my husband and gave birth to twin boys. Parenthood alone has demanded new levels of maturity from me every day! With this in mind, about three years ago, I began documenting my lessons learned as a gift to my boys upon their college graduation. It’s my way of not scrambling for good advice at the last minute.
This is a collection of thoughts as they have popped into my head during the course of everyday life, sometimes as epiphanies, sometimes as regrets. I hope these 29 tips every college grad should know will help prepare your loved ones for the big, beautiful road ahead.
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Be good to yourself
- You may spend the first few years of your career trying to make ends meet and then buying the things you couldn’t afford as a college student. Just keep in mind that your best memories will come from experiences, not from material objects. Travel when you can with people you love, splurge on good shows, and eat fine food when your budget allows.
- Exception to point #1: Buy something nice for yourself with your first paycheck or bonus. You’ve earned it. Plus, you can someday tell your grandchildren how you treated yourself with your first measly paycheck.
- Ladies: Take care of your feet. Save the super cute, uncomfortable shoes for your entrance and photo-op. Then change into something that won’t make it painful to walk when you’re 30 years older.
- If you’re looking for an awesome workout, try power yoga. It’s great for posture, core strength, balance and stress relief.
- You will no doubt find yourself taking care of other people someday…a child, a parent or a spouse, perhaps. Just remember to take the time to invest in yourself…spiritually, mentally and physically.
Be a good citizen
- Donate money to your alma mater and any other cause that’s important to you.
- Keep your alumni profile current. Offer to mentor others. Someone may reach out to you for help, and you’ll be surprised how much of a difference you can make in that person’s life.
- Don’t park in the “Customer with Child” parking spot…unless you have a child. You’ll understand someday when you truly grasp the unpredictable nature of children in parking lots.
- Don’t tailgate other cars. It’s one of the easiest ways to get into an accident. And then you might run into the person you tailgated later. Talk about AWK-ward. Beyond that, why the hurry?
- Watch the debates. Do the research. Vote. You may think your vote doesn’t count, but it does. Visit the nonpartisan American Democracy Project for a list of resources that will help you stay informed.
Manage your career
- If you don’t love it, quit. There are lots of jobs out there, and life is too short. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend a few miserable years “paying your dues” before you are entitled to enjoy life.
- Live close to where you work. Long commutes rarely contribute to your happiness.
- Always try to do something extra. A good employee says, “Here’s exactly what you asked for.” A great employee says, “Here’s what you asked for, and here’s something above and beyond that.”
- Treat administrative assistants with respect. They deserve it.
- Take a coffee break, preferably with a colleague. He or she may become one of your best friends.
- Don’t be that person who takes the last drop of coffee and doesn’t put another pot on for everyone else. (Use this as a metaphor for any communal resource.)
- Ask to “shadow” someone at work whom you admire.
- Don’t put anything into an e-mail that you would not want forwarded to someone else.
Save and invest
Note: I am not a certified financial planner or advisor, so you should not interpret the following suggestions as expert advice. This site is not held liable for personal investment decisions. Please consult with a professional financial advisor before making any major investment decisions.
- Consider starting a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA if it makes sense for you personally. NerdWallet offers a guide for choosing between the two options.
- If you’re fortunate enough to have a 401K/retirement plan with your employer, try contributing the maximum allowed. It’s essentially free money! Talk to your HR contact or an investment advisor to discuss your plan options.
- Attempt to own no more than 1-2 credit cards, and pay off your bills in full every month. A credit card is not free money.
- Always renegotiate your cable, phone or internet bill. When calling, select the option to cancel service, and you’ll be routed to a group that will do anything to keep your business.
- Set a calendar reminder when any contract ends. Most companies will increase your rates once you’re off contract, and you may have options to lower your bill with a different provider.
- Protect your credit by requesting a free annual credit report. You can order your report every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s site.
Live the good life
- Surprise someone with a handwritten, old-fashioned note once in a while. It’s good to eschew modern technology now and then.
- Purge old electronics, clothing and books often. Over time, you will accumulate more junk than you can handle, and you can delight someone else with your old treasures today.
- When you get really great service, tell that person how much you appreciate it. Write a review about it online.
- Don’t shy away from negotiations when they make sense. Just understand that part of negotiating is determining what you have to offer in exchange.
- Life will indeed have its peaks and valleys. Choose companions who will celebrate or commiserate with you at the proper times. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, in a poem all grads should read:
If you can meet with Triumph and DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…