Pandemic to Post-Grad: The Honest Truth About the First Six Months After Graduation
I’ve spent almost six months in Atlanta and I’ve been wading in the post-grad pool for long enough to share my experience, my thoughts, and some truth about what that first year out of college feels like. I write this post with the most honesty I can, but I also encourage you to keep in mind that every single person has a different experience as they dive into the post-grad world. I graduated (online, no less) and a week later packed everything up and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where I knew nothing about the city and not a single person in a 300 mile radius.
Of course, add a global pandemic on top of that and for the better half of June the entire city was on curfews due to riots, which instantly made me feel a little hesitant about my sudden life upheaval.
For three out of my four years of college I wanted to move away and see if I could make it out there on my own. And although yes, I think by textbook definition I’m “making it”, personally I beat myself up because I think I expected to get here and instantly meet friends, go on dates, discover the city, and get into a routine. Again, global pandemic and working from home shattered that idea.
I will say though that my parents were very supportive of me moving. When it came time to apply for jobs my senior year of college my parents never told me “no” or talked me out of jobs. I applied for jobs in London, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Nashville, Palm Beach, Atlanta, Richmond, and Boston. Seriously, when I say I wanted to move away and try something new, I meant it. When I told them that I was offered my current job, I did talk to my parents before accepting about finances and if they thought financially it would all work out but they never nudged me either way to take it or leave it - the entire decision was up to me. The next thing they knew, I was telling them that I needed to move in about a week and my mom and I started purging and packing my room.
Let’s also put it out there that so far, I’ve had a fun time exploring this new home of mine and making this city my own. I’ve made a few close friends and a handful of memories too! That’s not to say that challenges don’t happen, though. It’s all how you react to those challenges that determines how your post-grad journey goes.
Transitioning from College to Post-Grad
Let’s start with the lack of closure from not finishing my senior year. I guess it’s a chip on my shoulder, but seeing colleges return to campus (albeit different) this year, I feel like I’m having FOMO. I really think this stems from the fact that I literally never got to say goodbye to any of my friends except for three of them. I never got to take those would-be cherished images of me in my cap and gown with my family and my diploma in my hand - come to think of it, I haven't even seen my diploma. Also, most of my friends returned for graduate school and seeing them all together on social media really makes me feel like I’m missing out - even though the realist in me is telling me I’m not.
When it comes to adjusting my schedule from college to post-grad, I can tell you I have an insane amount of time on my hands now (I talk about that further down). In college I was constantly going from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and often enough, well past midnight. Although I do have to be at work at a certain time, there’s nobody really telling me what to do. I don’t have organizations requiring me to be somewhere every Wednesday and Sunday. My days are entirely my own and I can choose what I do with them. Truthfully, I have yet to set a schedule since my work schedule is still weird with work from home. As things open up, I’ll create a better schedule.
A few people have asked about graduate school so I wanted to quickly address that string of thought. I would love to go to graduate school for public relations - it would set me head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to applying to big name firms or Fortune 500 companies in New York. As much as this would be a total life dream, I technically have a communication studies major with a concentration in PR. A communication studies major doesn't necessarily need a Master's Degree to find a stable job in this field. I would love to go to NYU or UGA for their programs (they're both in the top 10 PR Master's programs) but right now I'm focused on gaining experience, growing my portfolio, and paying off my undergraduate debt.
Being on My Own and Learning a New City
I’m an extremely independent person so when it comes to being on my own, it doesn’t get to me as much as it does other recent graduates. I can cook, and clean, and schedule my own doctor's appointments, and go to the cleaners, and get my car fixed all by myself so the “adulting” part of post-grad doesn’t bother me. It’s the evenings when I have free time that I would love to be able to call up my friends and grab a drink or call my sisters to see if they wanted to do something.
I miss the familiarity and sense of home that comes with friends and family. When I walk around this city, I see no memories of people I love. I have to make those memories on my own now and I think that’s where being a pandemic post-grad gets tough. If I’m having a hard day or just need to cry my eyes out or I’m scared or worried I have to woman up without anyone to lean on. Of course I can call someone, but personally, I would feel like a burden or something for my parents to worry about - that’s the last thing that they need!
When it came to finding a place to live I was really nervous. I didn’t have time to head down and apartment hunt before moving so I lived in temporary housing for a little shy of three weeks and then moved into an apartment in Midtown with a roommate. My roommate and I met on the Atlanta Social Club page which is an Atlanta based female-only networking group. They had a roommate thread and I posted and she replied. We hit it off and three days later (without meeting I might add) we signed a lease and moved in that following Friday. It was nerve wracking signing a 12-month lease with a total stranger but it couldn’t have worked out better. We both have full-time jobs, go out and stay in, we’re extroverts - it just all made sense.
Her mom actually found our apartment listing online, but I found a bunch of places listed through Apartments.com. That’s a great place to start your search. I wanted to live in an apartment over a house because a house comes with so many more problems whereas an apartment has on-site maintenance and plenty of amenities. Also there’s no trash day to accidentally miss, no lawn to mow - apartments are just easier right now. My only requirements for an apartment were off-street parking, in-unit washer and dryer, and my own bathroom. Other than that, I wasn’t too picky as long as it was safe.
Work and Working from Home
Work has been great so far. I love marketing but one thing I didn’t expect to get exhausted from was social media. My boss and I talk about it all the time how social media is the best and the worst at the same time. We giggle about how mentally draining it is every once and a while. I love my cubicle, I love my co-workers, and I love the work I’m doing. My portfolio grows each day I work and so does my experience - and that’s the point!
When I moved to Atlanta, I moved with the notion of working in a hybrid style in the office. Half of the team was scheduled to go into the office on M/W and the other half to go on T/Th with everyone working from home on Fridays for an office deep-clean. That worked for a month before we were all sent home for three months. Working from home has been the most difficult part of this transition because it left me with little physical movement, almost zero human interaction and feeling a little slobbish. Thankfully, we go back into the office in two weeks and I’m counting down the days.
Adjusting to a 8-5 work schedule wasn’t difficult for me coming out of college. I’ve heard people say that the days were exhausting but after having two full-time internships and also having consistent 15 hour school days in college, I’ve actually found that I’ve had more time than ever on my hands these days. If you’re still in school and have another summer left to take on an internship - DO IT. Countless times have I silently thanked my internships over the past five months. I’m finished by 5 p.m. most days, which is unheard of to me. That fact that I can be in bed with nothing to do by 8:30 p.m is amazing.
Because I felt like I had so much time on my hands, especially since I’ve been working from home, I picked up an extra part-time job at J.Crew. When considering what to do with all of my free time, the thought “just enjoy it” didn’t really come to mind. Since I’ve legally been allowed to work, I’ve never had just one job. I remember one summer I was working three jobs and that didn’t include blogging, designing clothes, or babysitting.
First, I picked up a second job because I was sitting all day long and my body was starting to reap what it was sowing. Each work shift I walk at least seven miles. Second, it gave me the human interaction that I so craved. I missed seeing people face to face, I missed having light-hearted conversations with strangers and holding doors and saying “please” and “thank you”. Third, the more co-workers I have, the more opportunity to make friends. Fourth, it curbed my need to shop and also helped me get some great prices on fall and winter business clothes. Fifth, it gave me a little extra spending cash for buying those odds and ends I needed to make my house a home.
Making Friends and Meeting Guys
Making friends is another area where I’ve struggled. My office is small and since I work at a sorority I work with almost all women. That being said, there are a few girls around my age that I’ve become friends with. A co-worker also connected us with another ADPi who works for a different company but is the same age. The three of us have become quick friends, which has been really nice. My sorority has very obviously paid off in more ways than one, but there’s really something to be said about how great it is for making connections in your post-grad life. Even when it comes to networking, ADPi is really what has brought me this far in Atlanta.
Since I’ve been out of the office though, fostering those relationships has been challenging, but I’ve come to find out that that’s post-grad, COVID or no COVID. You have to reach out to people, you have to extend the first invitation, you can’t wait for people to include you. If you don’t make the first move, you’ll be sitting at home on the weekends. Networking is essentially the name of the game. You meet people through people. If you make plans with friends, tell them to bring people and leave that open invite on the table. It also helps that my roommate and I get along well and spend time together too!
I really want to join a cycling studio or a step class to meet people, but with COVID there’s a hold on that plan. I also really want to get a pet, maybe a rescue dog, so I can meet people at the dog park. Also, I think a pet would just make my days a little happier - jury’s still out on that one though! I joined ALTA, a massive tennis association down in Atlanta, but have yet to join a team - once more, COVID stands in my way. That being said, it’s a great way to reach out to someone just for an evening set or two to get my blood pumping. Once tournaments resume in the spring though, I’ll get to meet people through that too.
Writing Daily Dose of Prep has actually been a great networking tool for friends as well. There is a large network of bloggers in Atlanta and I’ve been following a few gals for a while now, but since I’m here we can finally have an in-person friendship. As much as blogging has been a great source of extra income and a way to network with companies, it’s also been a fantastic way to form friendships with people that share like interests.
When it comes to meeting guys, since I work in a 99% female office, meeting guys through work is out. Of course you can try dating apps like Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder but I don’t think that’s for me. There’s something about a natural spark with a person that you just can’t recreate through an app. It’s been mentally challenging to keep telling myself to be patient with God and with whoever He is supposed to have me end up with, but only time will tell on that front.
All that being said, I have been on a handful of dates since I’ve been here. Not amounting to much, but getting comfortable dating in a new city is important. A great way to meet people is by going out to the bar with a group of friends and just chatting with people. Literally every time we go out and get drinks we meet new people and whether or not we hit it off, my friends and I always have great conversations.
I’ll be the first to admit that post-grad life is hard. No matter if you're close to home or 500 miles away like me, you will face struggles. Whether it be establishing post-college friendships, networking, finding your place in your office, or learning how to cook dinner. You will face challenges but everyone has to do this eventually. It’s how you learn, and grow, and mature. It’s good for you. When you get uncomfortable is when you start to grow. I’ve come to the realization that your early 20’s is supposed to be a struggle. Life wouldn't be fun if you automatically "make it" right out of college. It’s about pinching pennies, getting a little too drunk at happy hour and working through a hangover, navigating a new city like a tourist until you’re not anymore, and learning to find joy in putting money in your savings account. You can do this! I can do this! This is the fun part of life that makes you tougher and wiser. Take it in stride, learn to laugh at yourself because you're going to make mistakes. Learn to enjoy your own company and find the small victories in watching your credit score grow and your student debt shrink. It’s scary. It’s hard. Sometimes it feels exhausting but it’s how you start this chapter of life. We are only on the first few squares in the game of life, you have a long way to go.
*PS: A finances and budgeting post is coming next week! Stay tuned for that!