Whether it seems like mere days or several years have since passed, the month of May and its multitude of graduations are behind us. Recent college graduates find themselves settling into new jobs, cities, graduate programs, volunteer service, mission work, or still searching for one of those opportunities. Regardless of where you find yourself, post-grad life is hardly easy.
As someone working in higher education, conversations with my seniors focus on life after graduation throughout the entire academic year. Their questions about what lies next, how they will make friends, and how they will keep their faith become increasingly urgent as May approaches.
Based on conversations with students, as well as my own experience in transitioning from full-time study to post-grad life, I present to you, the new college grad, a guide for surviving (and hopefully thriving) as you navigate this time.
Before we begin, know that I see you and I remember just how difficult this season is. I also encourage you to remember that it is a season. One day, you will wake up and realize that you have the hang of this post-grad life, which will feel less like “post-grad” life and more like - well, just life.
Tip 1: Make the effort.
Regardless of whether you attended a Catholic or secular college, you will likely face greater logistical challenges to practicing your faith than you did while in school. No longer will there be a Newman Center within walking distance of your home, or will there be a chapel in your residence hall (man, do I miss those days). Depending on your location, your parish may be far away. Your work schedule might make it difficult (or impossible) to attend daily Mass as often as you would like.
Post-grad life is a time of transition and this includes your spiritual life. Be ready for a normal period of adjustment. Do not be afraid or discouraged! You will find a new rhythm for your prayer life, though it may feel like more effort at first. In fact, having to make this extra effort (such as driving out of your way to pray in front of the tabernacle) can nourish your spiritual life and, if you let it, remind you of why the effort is so worth it for a God who loves us so much.
Post-grad life is a time of transition and this includes your spiritual life.
Practically speaking, reflect on how you can incorporate prayer into your new schedule and life. Can you pray the rosary on your commute? Is there a daily Mass that you can attend before work or during lunch? Do you drive by a Catholic church on your way to/from work and can you stop in to pray for a while? Do you finally have time for leisure reading and is there a spiritual book that catches your eye? What were the cornerstones of your prayer life in college, and how can you bring these into your new post-grad life? Whatever difficulties you face, remember to bring them to our Lord and allow him to both comfort and challenge you as you grow closer to Him.
Tip 2: Find and build community.
I cannot stress this enough. We were created for relationship and we are meant to worship in community. Your need and desire for friendship are good and worthy of pursuit. Loneliness is hard. It is also okay and normal to experience loneliness when you are new to a city and without loved ones nearby. If you find yourself in a season where you have not made friends (or good friends) yet, I see you and I know how difficult that is. Truth be told, making friends is significantly more challenging after college than it is during college.
Cultivating good friendships requires intentionality and time, there is no way around it. I encourage you to be patient and persistent in seeking true friendship. I also encourage you to pursue true friendship, not just look for hang out buddies. You are worthy of friends who work for your good, who love you even (and especially) during your low moments, who challenge you, and who pursue virtue with you. And they are worth waiting for, I promise.
Not sure where to start? See if there is an Endow Group or Blessed Is She brunch near you. Visit your diocesan or parish website to see if they organize a young adult group. Use an app like MeetUp to find others with similar interests (I found a Catholic book club on MeetUp when I first moved to my city!). Invest in a parish. As a newcomer, my pastor remembered my name the second time I said hello to him after Mass. It was something small, but it made me feel like I had a place somewhere, and that tiny sense of belonging gave me courage to reach out to potential new friends.
Finally, once you do have solid, true friends, it becomes your turn to seek out and welcome newcomers. You know from experience how daunting it can be to find friends in a new place. Remember that feeling, do something wonderful for a new person, and challenge yourself to show radical hospitality to others you meet.
Tip 3: Be ready to be different.
Depending on the college you attended, this may or may not entail a major shift for you. Perhaps especially if you attended a Catholic or Christian college, however, prepare yourself to feel quite different from the world around you as you enter our secular culture.
Others will notice that there is something different about you - and they should! There is a deep joy and peace that exude from those whose lives are grounded in Christ, even when we struggle with our faith. Your lifestyle will likely contrast with the lifestyles of those around you, even radically so. If you encounter others who do not know many (or any) Catholics, how you live and what you believe might seem quite strange to them. Having said all of this, do not be afraid of friendships with those who are different! We both need community with other Catholics to strengthen us (see tip #2) and should be able to nurture friendships with those who do not share our faith.