One Month ’til Summer: What’s Your Plan?

In one month, one-quarter of Plymouth State University undergraduate students will be out in the “real world.” You’ll (hopefully) have a job, be officially out from under your parents’ thumbs, and face your future as a culturally-acknowledged adult.

So, what’s your plan?

You’ll hear this question a lot very soon: what’s your plan? What are your plans for your career, accomplishing financial goals, where to live, and dealing with the possibility of being fired? What’s your plan for dealing with ideas and opinions on controversial topics such as abortion, gender, immigration, or guns?

These are important things to consider. The good thing is that you can choose now – will you let these and other questions be a source of stress and fear, or will they be an impetus towards short, medium, and long-term planning for the realities of life?

This post cannot address every challenge soon-to-be-graduates will face. But here are some challenges and some ways to think about addressing those challenges now, before they go from “future challenges” to “now emergencies.”

Financial planning

Financial planning is something that can never start too soon, and the longer you wait the harder it will be to “catch up.” Your financial plan should include:

  • Building your savings until you have at least three to six months’ of spending reserves for a financial emergency.
  • Retirement goals – a dollar invested now is likely to be worth many times its current value in 40 to 50 years, even despite downturns in the economy and the stock market.
  • Paying off debt as fast as is reasonably possible for the purposes of getting it off of your financial back.
  • What are your monthly expenses? These should be kept at a responsible minimum so that your first few years’ worth of full-time paychecks can go towards debt repayment, retirement goals, and savings.

Of course, financial planning is largely contingent upon having income…

Professional planning

If you’re graduating in three months and only starting to look for work now, you’re behind the times. You need to network and apply for jobs as fast as possible and use PSU resources like the Career Center to help you focus not on just your first job, but also five and ten years down the road. Knowing where you want to be (financially, professionally, personally, etc.) and having your first couple of jobs start you on that path are very important.

If you don’t have a professional plan, just get a job for now. Keep it for two to five years if doing so is financially feasible. A young person today keeping an early-career job for multiple years is well ahead of most peers because future employers will see you as someone in whom they can invest. Additionally, by staying in a job for multiple years, you may see promotions and other benefits of the current job.

But beware: your first job is not likely to be glamourous. You’ll likely be at the low end of the career totem pole. You will likely have fewer skills than your colleagues and superiors. Your goal should not be to see this first job as a stepping stone, but rather to learn now how to follow orders (even ones you don’t like), how to grow your technical skills, how to think outside the box, and how working hard is part of working smart.

Where will you live?

Many people live at home after college graduation. If this is your short-term plan, be sure to have a long-term plan. The faster you are out there, working hard, being self-reliant, the better off you will be in the long run. You will develop skills and instincts, which simply cannot be taught and which are not learned by living at home.

Whether you live with your parents or not after graduation, what’s your plan for where you’ll live over the next few years? Will you live with friends, move to an area where you know nobody and look on Craigslist for a place to live? Will you buy a home, or become someone who travels for work (such as active-duty military or traveling nurses)?

Living isn’t just about your residence. It’s also about geography. If you’re in a low-income field, moving to a high-cost area like New York City or San Francisco may set you back financially and in terms of your quality of home life for a long time. Additionally, it’s common for college graduates in politics to move to Washington, DC; those in finance to move to NYC; those in country music to move to Nashville; etc.

That’s one way to try to succeed in a given field – be the smallest fish in the biggest industry pond. Another way is to become the big fish in a small pond – for example, if you want to be a TV or radio host, by establishing yourself in your existing community as a popular host. You’ll be able to use your existing network instead of having to build a new one from scratch, you’ll likely rise much faster, and you’ll have a more impressive title (and be able to command more income) should you decide to move to an area where the competition is fiercer.

Be realistic

None of these plans have to be extravagant. They don’t have to be far-reaching or expensive. They just have to be realistic and build toward your long-term goals. They have to be plans appropriate to an adult who wants to succeed not just in work – but in life.

Dustin Siggins is the founder of Proven Media Solutions. A 2008 graduate of Plymouth State University’s Business Honors Major with a Minor in Communications, Dustin has spent his post-Plymouth career in the Washington, D.C. area working in public policy, political journalism, and communications strategy. As a student, Dustin was involved in many student groups in several capacities, such as: Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Campus Ministries, founded PSU Republicans, Boxing Club, columnist/editor for The Clock, Student Senate, Vice President of the Dodgeball Club, host 91.7 WPCR Plymouth, PASS Tutor