From exam stress to career success — a new grad’s guide to professional life

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Graduating college is an incredible achievement and the start of an exciting new chapter. But after the relief of finishing those last exams, making the transition from school to professional life can be a daunting one. These tips can give you a foundation as you embark on your career.

The transition from college to career is an exciting time. These tips can help prepare you for success in the professional world. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Navigating a new career and a professional environment

Transitioning from an academic environment to the workplace is a culture shock for many grads. The schedule and pace of work change, as do your accountability and interpersonal relationships.

New grads in the workplace no longer have a syllabus with due dates and immediate feedback in the form of grades. Missing a deadline could cause major setbacks. Draw on time-management strategies that worked for you in school and explore new ones. Look to supervisors and coworkers to learn what strategies they rely on and discover how to use those strategies in your own work.

As Harvard Business Review notes, new grads might now have to form relationships with customers, managers and coworkers they don’t necessarily get along with. Learning to work with different personalities will help you remain professional.

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Healthy and delicious food for your busy schedule

Living on your own and without access to a dining hall, you’ll need to plan your meals. Eating every lunch out is an option, but it will be expensive and potentially unhealthy. Instead, consider packing lunches a few days of the week. A penne pasta bake is a great batch food that will reheat well and last for several lunches.

Healthy snacks can keep you fueled throughout the workday or be a treat when you get home. Almond flour peanut butter cookies are filled with protein to keep you full while still satisfying your sweet tooth. Nuts, vegetables and hummus or fruit and yogurt are other tasty and easy-to-pack workday snacks.

Adding foods to your weekly menu that promote health and reduce stress can help you adjust to working life. An adrenal cocktail, mixing orange juice, coconut water and salt, delivers the vitamins and minerals that support adrenal health. A healthy adrenal gland will boost immunity and better moderate stress.

Setting yourself up for financial success in your first job

When you secure an income, including from a full-time job, contract work or side hustles, being conscientious about managing your money is key. The financial decisions you make in your 20s can set spending and savings trends over the next decades.

Many students finish college with student debt. Forbes notes that the average debt in 2024 is almost $30,000 per student borrower. Paying off this debt can be stressful, but there are many resources in place. After graduation, find out which lenders hold your student loans and what your options are for repayment. Auto payment, income-based repayment and other options can help you make on-time monthly payments.

With money coming in, the next step is to make a plan for spending. Try tracking all of your spending as you settle into your post-college routine to get an idea of where your money is going. This will help you stay within your means and avoid credit card debt.

It is also time to start saving. Although the amount will look different for everyone, a good starting place is the 50-30-20 rule. As Citizens Bank explains, the idea is to put 50% of your income towards needs, 30% towards wants and 20% into savings. If your income doesn’t support that, save what you can.

If you are feeling overwhelmed about money, start small. Commit to saving a few dollars the first month or tracking one budget, like your eating out budget. Starting now, even with small steps, will prepare you for bigger money decisions in the future, like buying a home, having kids and retirement.

Managing stress and caring for your mental health as a new grad

In your last few years at college — and even in high school — you have likely experienced stress. Studying, balancing extracurriculars, navigating friendships and planning your future are some of the stressors you may have already been coping with. 

You will likely continue to deal with some of these challenges in the professional world while also solving new problems. Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your mental health during this period is important. 

Building a support network after college

As you transition from college to work, your social life will change. You may be separated from friends as people relocate for work or move home. Busy schedules might limit the time you can spend with friends.

It’s important to keep your support network active, especially if other parts of your life are stressful. Make a point to call or DM old friends regularly. If you are in a new city or looking to make new friends, Bookscouter offers several ideas for meeting new people, including through work, community groups, volunteering and sports.

Preventing burnout in a first job

Often a result of prolonged stress, burnout can cause a pervasive feeling of exhaustion and disengagement. Last year, Higher Ed Dive reported that four in five undergraduates experienced burnout. To avoid a similar experience in your job, know the signs of burnout and strategies for preventing it.

According to Mayo Clinic, signs of burnout include tiredness, a lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing at work, excessive drinking or drug use and doubt in your abilities. Taking ownership and finding meaning at work can help, as can maintaining a good work-life balance. While it can be tempting to put all your extra time into work to prove yourself early in your career, make sure you are also taking time for yourself. 

Prioritizing your mental health

In periods of change and growing responsibilities, maintaining your mental health is essential. Self-care, spending time with friends and loved ones and doing activities you enjoy can boost your mood and keep you performing well at work. Getting plenty of physical activity and sleep as well will keep you happy and mentally sharp at work. Try implementing a healthy routine such as a self care Sunday to help relax you and recharge.

Embarking confidently on your career journey

As you celebrate the end of your college career and the start of your professional life, you’ll likely find more independence and more responsibilities. Focus on adjusting to the workplace environment while still giving some thought to food, finances and your health. With the right mindset, you’ll enjoy success as you kick off your career.

Sharon Rhodes is the creative force behind the food blog  The Honour System. Passionate about all things homemade, Sharon is a seasoned recipe curator focused on making healthier cooking and baking accessible to all.

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