Is graduation the end of your world? It shouldn’t be.

By Ashleigh Viveiros

As graduation season looms on the horizon, high school and post-secondary students across the country all find themselves thinking the same thing: "Oh-mi-gosh!"

Come June, thousands of graduates will suddenly be thrust out of the hallowed halls of learning and into that mysterious "real world" we've all heard so much about.

You’ll slap on the cap and gown, smile for the millions of pictures your family will take, and then stare glassy-eyed at your hard-earned diploma and wonder: "What the heck do I do now?"

Most graduates will find themselves leaving the familiar school structure they've lived in for 13 years or more. That's longer than most people stay in the same job these days, so you can be forgiven for freaking out just a little bit. But relax, because there is life after graduation.

"There's definitely life after grad," says David Mensink, a counsellor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "But it is a transition, a change."

"Graduation is not necessarily all chocolate and roses," he says. "Some (students) know what's coming up next and some of them don't."

Mensink says with tuition costs so high today, few students go through post-secondary education completely oblivious to life after grad, but the prospect of facing the unknown is still a major concern for both high school and post-secondary graduates.

"It's dealing with uncertainty about the future," he says. "‘Where will I end up? What kind of career do I want to stay with?' And then there's the personal concerns: ‘Should we get married? Should we have kids?'"

Among the biggest adjustments a student has to make when entering the workforce is the shift in focus, says Mensink.

"Being a student, the focus is kind of on you," he says. "You're responsible for one person - you."

But as a working stiff, you might suddenly find yourself responsible for other people and projects. And you won't necessarily be making your own schedule anymore. That means no more PS2 marathons or naps in the middle of the afternoon - you're expected to be a responsible, fully functional non-student. In other words, an adult.

There are also financial worries, such as paying off those student loans you've been trying to forget for four years or moving out of your parent's house for the first time. Or, for some people, it means moving back home while trying to find that first job out of school.

It all adds up to a whole lot of potential stress. But before you start having an early-life crisis, just take a few deep breaths and remember the following:

Give yourself time

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to know exactly what you're going to do the moment you graduate. Sure, it helps to have a job all lined up, but don't feel like you're a failure right out of the starting gate if you don't.

Sometimes taking some time to just think about who you are and what you want is the best thing you can do for yourself. If that means you have to keep flipping burgers or folding sweaters at your minimum wage job for a few months, then go for it. In fact, doing so might be the push you need to find the job you really want.

And, barring criminal activity, there's really no such thing as a bad choice. Every experience you have just adds to your base of employability skills. Expect to begin your career with a number of low-paying entry-level jobs, and remember that your first "real" job isn't likely going to be the one you're stuck with forever. In fact, odds are you'll change jobs and even careers numerous times in your life, says Mensink.

So keep things in perspective and realize that your life might not fall into place the second you leave school - and that's perfectly all right.

Always set goals

As a student, your goals were likely school-based: you were going to finish your thesis by the end of the weekend or get an A on the next math test. Although you're done homework forever, don't stop setting achievable goals for yourself. Figure out where you want to be in life and then go for it. Never stop striving to create the life you want, otherwise you're liable to find yourself 30 years down the road wondering exactly when you gave up on your dreams.

Get a life

As a working professional, you might find yourself living in a new town where you don't know anyone. Or maybe you'll lose touch with your old friends once the common bond of going to school together is gone. Either way, it's important to make sure you still have social outlets besides work to look forward to each week.

"I think it's very important (for graduates) to have more than only the people they interact with at work," says Mensink. "Be connected in addition to the work scene."

So take up that sport or hobby you've always been interested in or volunteer with your favourite local charity. Doing such things will go along way to helping you make new friends and become a more well-rounded person.

Keep learning

Sure, it sounds corny, but it's true: you never stop learning. It might just be a work-related conference or seminar you attend to keep up-to-date in your field. Or maybe you'll finally take a few courses on that topic you've always been fascinated by but never bothered to find out more about.

"Just because you're graduating and leaving university, it doesn't mean you're going to stop learning," says Mensink. "There are all kinds of possibilities for learning after you graduate."

And, who knows, a few years down the road you might actually decide to come back to school to pursue another path entirely

Overall, just remember that life has a funny way of working itself out. Think back to all the major concerns you've had in recent years, and you'll notice that most of them were resolved, one way or another, and you made it here in spite of them.

It might take you awhile to get on track, and you might not end up where you thought you'd be, but you will get there eventually - wherever "there" is.

Modified on April 23, 2009