In the next few months, many new graduates will experience true independence for the first time — new jobs, new apartments, maybe even preparing for loan payments. We want to hear what advice you wish you had listened to or even something that you’re still struggling with. (Retirement savings? Cooking?)
Readers from all over the country and abroad have shared some helpful tips for grads — and any adult, for that matter — with some similar themes. Here are several responses we’ve received, edited for space and clarity.
Male or female: Buy a good basic cookbook, one that has all the weights and measures, substitutes, and a lot of tips. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Cooking can be a hobby, an art or just a basic skill.
— Vennie Anderson, 71, Crestview, Fla.
Get involved with a political campaign, a special interest coalition, something bigger than yourself while you’re starting out and have the energy. You’ll make a difference in the world, open opportunities and meet people who will matter to you down the line.
— Gary Goldberg, 28, Chesapeake Beach, Md.
Four ideas come to mind: (1) I’m so glad that I traveled cross-country before settling into my career. That time of being free from family and job obligations has never opened up like that since. It opened my eyes and made me grateful for what I have. (2) Continue your education. You never know when circumstances will require you to follow plan B. (3) Pay close attention to people’s actions rather than their words. The world is full of smooth talkers. A few true friends will last you a lifetime. (4) Limit risky behavior and take care of your health. Wealth alone will not buy you one more day on this earth.
— Linda Haile, 64, Edinburg, Va.
Be open to possibilities. Life isn’t always about making a lot of money. It’s good to be able to take care of your needs, but outside of that, focus on what kinds of adventures you can have within the world you are living.
— Erin Brown, 44, Gettysburg, Pa.
Don’t feel that you have to follow the status quo and the 40-year retirement plan. Maybe instead of a spouse, a house, two cars and a stable career you would rather live all over the world doing different jobs, having many lovers, amazing experiences and unregulated happiness.
— Latasha Taylor, 41, Bowie, Md.
Have many “experienced” adults to go to when you don’t know what to do. Ask questions when it’s overwhelming or you’re unsure of what to do, or anytime. You may be an adult, but you don’t know everything. And you shouldn’t expect you’ll know everything.
— Sheila Robinson, 48, Paducah, Ky.
I wish someone told me that I didn’t have to have it all figured out right after I graduated. It’s okay to make mistakes.
— Tabia Robinson, 22, New York City
Your major got you a degree, but exposure and opportunity will build your career. Be open and receptive to the unexpected when it comes your way.
— Vivian Bruce, 55, Columbus, Ohio
I heard about the importance of networking in college but didn’t feel comfortable doing it much myself. I’ve learned that you have to get over that fear and get out of your comfort zone. Make connections at companies you love, even if they don’t have openings at the moment. You never know how they can help get your dream job down the line.
— Dana Stewart, 30, New Jersey
While looking for a job, or early in your career, you must acquire skills or achievements that truly separate you from the crowd: Start a blog, self-publish an e-book, learn to code, study a foreign language, etc.
— David Poliate, 34, Philadelphia
Know that your technical qualifications are only part of the equation to having a successful career. As important, if not more so, is relationship building. You will always need others and often find yourself working in a team. Just remember to treat everyone with respect and kindness (until they prove otherwise) and you will likely do well.
— Doug MacIntyre, 55, Rockville, Md.
If you can’t find work right away, keep trying. Don’t be afraid to take a job you’re overqualified for to get your foot in the door.
— Kathleen Oefelein, 32, Taichung, Taiwan
I wish I had known that being good at your job isn’t always enough to get noticed and build a successful career. You are your own best professional advocate, and you must build a professional network that you can take with you from job to job — especially in D.C.
— Caroline Samson, 29, Alexandria
Many people will tell you to “do what you love,” but don’t misinterpret that to mean that you should turn your passions into a career. The things I love didn’t pay me enough to live on, and I was less passionate about them once they became my job. Instead, focus on finding a career that gives you the time and money to do the things you love as hobbies.
— Melinda Snow, 32, Alexandria
Don’t be in a hurry to get married and settle down. Explore the world, meet diverse people.
— Tammy Farrar, 55, Virginia
Don’t be so quick or in a rush to get married. Most of my college friends were getting married soon after graduation, and certainly before the age of 25. Almost all were divorced before 30 (or shortly after). They were marrying before they understood the real world, or the challenges of life, or thought that marriage was a panacea as opposed to a journey with a committed partner. I married closer to 30 after experiencing several failed relationships. My wife and I have been married more than 30 years with two grown children. A little maturity and experience in life can realistically shape your goals and life expectations, and enable you to choose your mate with a sober mind.
— Stanley Cousins, 61, Laurel, Md.
Never marry someone unless you live with them first — trust me.
— Diana Wilson, 57, Aptos, Calif.
Don’t live with a boyfriend, marry him. Otherwise, you’ll regret it when you retire and realize you are not eligible for Social Security spousal benefits because you weren’t married for 10 years.
— Patricia Montgomery, 67, New Mexico
It’s okay to move wherever your friends are going. Since I was little I knew I wanted to live in New York City, and I managed to move here after blessedly few months at home even though I knew approximately two people in the city. My first year was intensely lonely especially because I worked at places where socializing wasn’t a priority and/or where co-workers were sparse. After having big, loud friend groups in high school and college, this was a very unpleasant shock. Some friends have since moved to New York City and things are picking up now, but I wish I hadn’t ruled out going somewhere I would’ve had a good shot at meeting people right away.
— Madeleine Thompson, 24, New York City
Live like a poor college student and work a second (or third if you can) job for another three or four years. You are already used to being this busy; keep the momentum going. Having a safety net that can also serve as a rainy-day fund will pay off heavily for a down payment, a nicer car or a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to travel.
— Johana Rosa, 32, McLean, Va.
The miracle of compound interest is such that the earlier you start, the better the payoff. It took me 12 years after graduation to start putting money away for retirement, and now I wish I had started sooner. You can start small, but you should start early. And if you start young, you can be more aggressive with your investments.
— Judith Schutz, 58, Toronto
Start saving the maximum for retirement with your second paycheck, and keep it up no matter what (buying a house, having kids).
— Bill Hensley, 56, Oklahoma City
Save for retirement. Even if it is only one dollar a week. Start now. Don’t stop. Increase when you can. Re-invest your dividends.
— Judy Schneider, 28, Phoenix
Travel for at least a month (on a budget) before you take your first big job.
— Todd Cameron, 48, Long Beach, Calif.
Take some time off, because you’ll never be more free than you are once you graduate. You might be excited to start your job and start making money (as I was), but you’ll never have more than a couple weeks to dedicate to travel once you start working. Take off for six months or a year and go live in a foreign country.
— Andrea Mobley, 24, Sterling, Va.
I wish I had mastered a foreign language. Try to become fluent through classes and travel if you can, because the older you get, the harder it gets to learn and maintain it.
— Jenny Barnes, 50, Washington
Below, in the submission form, please add your voice. Share what you think anyone should know before entering the “real world.”