University of Wisconsin–Madison

Fourth Year: The New Freshman Year

After so many years of dreaming, hoping, and planning, graduation day is just around the corner. But now what?

For many students, the year after graduation is reminiscent of freshman year. Students are often ambitious and energized, but they may also feel like they’re starting over. And in many ways, they are.

As a parent or family member, you can help by reminding your student that new beginnings are exciting, but that it’s also normal to feel a little anxious and nervous.

While many students work throughout college, taking on a full-time job in a new career is a completely different undertaking. After years of life revolving around school, students are now facing changes, and they are happening quickly. The learning curve at a new job can be steep, and new graduates may feel unsure about their abilities. Remind students of what they have accomplished so far and note that they have successfully handled other times of uncertainty, such as starting college.

Your student can adjust to the workplace by using skills developed in college, such as doing research (on the company) and asking for guidance (from coworkers, rather than classmates). Finding a mentor, such as a boss or a colleague, can also help.

While your student may no longer have homework, a new work schedule may be less flexible than the college years. Expectations in the workplace may also be different, and employers won’t necessarily offer the same kind of feedback—or as often—that your student came to expect in college. Instead of a professor, your student now has a boss; instead of grades, your student is now earning a paycheck and hoping for a promotion.

Remind students that their time spent at UW–Madison has helped prepare them to take on these new challenges. Your student learned concepts and skills through coursework, and developed ways to adapt to new circumstances and environments. As you listen to and acknowledge concerns, you can reassure your student that these feelings are normal by sharing your own life and the experiences you had along your own career path.

After having graduation as a big goal for so long—and achieving it—your student may feel a lack of focus in the workplace. Students may even question the path or career that they have chosen. News from peers may make your student wish for a higher salary, enrollment in graduate school, or taking time off to backpack in Europe. This generation of college graduates is focused both on making a difference in the world and on having a successful career—and those goals may feel in conflict.

Encourage students to demonstrate patience, noting that the first job out of college isn’t always a dream job, but that it’s an important step in a career path and one they will long remember and will later reminisce about.

While the time following graduation may feel a bit like freshman year, remind students of the positive aspects, noting in particular that the opportunities for learning and growth are endless. And remind them to utilize the career services provided by their school or college as they prepare for the transition ahead.