what to do after graduating college

This blog post is going to start off with a “parent brag”.  This weekend my oldest daughter graduated from college. My wife, my other daughter, and myself are all very proud of her. At ten years old she made a decision to attend a top tier school and to major in business. On Sunday she walked across stages and received two degrees: Business Administration and History (there was also the main University Ceremony with a keynote from a famous actor, and the recognition ceremony for students graduation “with honors. Four ceremonies in 2 days is too many. Even for a proud dad). With all that “Pomp and Circumstance” comes the inevitable question – “What To Do After Graduating College?”

My daughter went to college with the plan of going to work for a Fortune 100 company. She thought she would work her way up to the top of an organization like Google, Amazon, or Facebook. But as she went through her four years, she found herself. The big company, at least for now, did not seem to be calling her to a full time job, and her long term life plans for the real world became more entrepreneurial. As she got her diploma she does not have a full plan. And that is okay.

It’s Okay To Not Have The Answers

In fact, I think it is more than okay. I think it is wonderful. I read an article recently written by the famous Gary Vaynerchuk about what to do after graduating college, and he had a powerful message for a lot of people who are entering the job market. Gary said it is a magic five years that they will never get a chance at again, so they should not take the traditional job search path, but instead to carve their own path.

Mr. Vaynerchuk says it is fine that you don’t have all the answers at 22 years old, as you have not lived yet. And he adds that this is the best time in your life to go follow your heart and take risks. For most there are no children or mortgages, and there is plenty of time to recover should you stumble. He refers to this time as the “greatest five year window of your life”.

Many parents who read Gary’s social media posts on this topic might freak out and scream “Go Get A Job!” with a focus on making money. As the parent of a young graduate I scream “Go Follow Your Dreams”. I, like million of others before me, was not given that advice. My path was to do what was expected of my by parents, friends, society, etc… I got a job. I did not take the time to discover my dreams, much less follow them.

What About Student Loans?

Some young people in today’s world do graduate with crushing debt from student loans. In 1984 the cost of the state university I attended was about $600 per year. Nowadays most private universities cost about $50,000 before living expenses. (That is ridiculous). We had told our daughter we would pay the equivalent of the in-state tuition and room and board. Anything more and she had to figure it out.

The University of Texas at Austin is a top university with a great undergraduate business program. However, her college of choice cost more (think fancy private college), but with help from her grandparents and some scholarships, she covered most of that delta. (I will be paying for my part of her education for the next 5-7 years). But even those who have college loans should not let the debt crush their soul. Life has a way of coming together for those who are hard working and creative. It is better to cut expenses, take to living at home for a while, and maybe having a side job if it leads you to the life you really want.

The Paradox of Potential

In my work with companies I talk to individuals and teams about the gap between potential and performance. It is very common for people in their 40s and 50s to share with me that they feel stuck and are not getting the career results they desired when they graduated college. From entry level jobs to the C-Level, people are not happy and feel they should be doing more. Potential is amazing, but potential does not equal results.

Job hunting for the sake of job hunting will lead to an unfulfilled existence. I know. I spent much of my career chasing something that was not really my desire. I’ve learned that to do well and make money is not enough. You have to be the one in control of your own future and your daily work must be something that feeds your soul (or at least brings you on a path toward fulfillment).

What To Do After Your Graduate College

My advice is to figure out what you want to do and go for it now. Do not assume you will make money, pay off credit card debt, save money into a huge savings account… and then go do something fulfilling. It doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Too many of us have gotten stuck in careers that seem good to those looking in, but are killing the souls of the person doing the job.

As I sat in the bleachers of a college football stadium and watched hundreds of the smartest college graduates in the world, i was excited about their potential. Many of them will go into jobs that will inspire and fulfill them. But I knew some rationalize jobs that seem like the right thing to do. I was glad my kid was trying to figure out her next few years on her own terms. She has a job lined up that starts in a few months working for a young woman entrepreneur. She is also starting her own fitness education company. And in between she is looking for creative ways to do contract work for other entrepreneurs who need help from a business-minded young go-getter.

Several of my friend told me that with the money we spent on her education we should “make her get a corporate job”. But I do not get to tell her what to do (not that I ever did, this kid has been carving her own way since she could walk). She has graduated from college and she is now paying her way in the world. If that means part time work and some contract jobs to make ends meet while she figures out how to start and grow her own business, then good for her.

What to do after graduation college?  I hope most parents would join me in telling their kids to live a life that if true to their heart and soul.  Figure out the money along the way, but do not be a slave to it.  Choosing what you think others want or expect will not lead to the best life. It may bring financial success, but as I get older I realize that is overrated.  I was 30 years late to the game. For me I have decided to make age 50 to 75 the best years of my life. That means figuring out my path and getting clear on what success really means to me.  That would have served me better to have these thoughts at 22 years old.

Check out the Life After College episode of my podcast.


Thom Singer is a funny keynote speaker and a professional master of ceremonies / EmCee.  He is the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast the author of 12 books.