If you recently graduated from college (or are about to graduate from college) and you’re not quite sure what happens next, you’re not alone. Roughly 80% of college graduates do not have a job lined up prior to graduation. What that means is that the weeks following graduation can be a really frightening time, especially if you, like most college students today, have student loans that will soon come due.

The best thing you can do at this point is keep calm, don’t panic, and make some plans—a short-term plan for how you’re going to get started on your career and a long-term plan for how you’re going to pay off your loans and lead a successful life. You can find a set of detailed suggestions for creating a short-term plan in the Resources pages of this website. The section on “Organize your job search” provides tips to help you allocate your time, develop your job search skills, and expand your network so that you can optimize your chances of finding a great job quickly. This kind of planning also gives you good answers when your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and lovers (or spouses!) start asking what you’re going to do now that college is over!

The long-term plan is a bit harder to create because you’re going to have to think carefully about your career and financial goals. You can start by asking yourself a series of questions about those goals and planning the steps you need to take to achieve them.

Career Goals


  • Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten years?
  • How do you get from where you are now to that point?
  • Who do you know who has already reached that point? Can you talk to them to get advice and learn how they made it?


  • Do research on career options and advancement within your field.
  • Use LinkedIn to create a virtual network within your field and examine the career paths and credentials of people who have attained the goals you want to achieve.
  • Schedule information interviews to learn more about careers in your field. (Learn how to “Conduct information interviews” in our Resources section.)
  • Make a list of the necessary skills, experiences, degrees, certifications, and  whatever else is going to be needed to get you where you want to go. Then make a plan for how you can get any needed credentials you don’t already have. And be sure to add each of them to your resume as you achieve them!

Further thoughts: Keep in mind that your career goal is likely to change with time. I have a niece who earned a degree in biology and wanted to work in a medical lab. After doing that for a year, and learning she didn’t really enjoy it, she went back to school to earn a degree in hospitality management. After several years in that field, she changed gears once again and started a career in marketing, earning a master’s degree in public administration along the way. She is now a highly successful fundraiser for a small private college!

The more time you spend now thinking about these factors, the more likely it is that you will be able to make career decisions and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Financial Goals


  • What is it going to take to meet your financial obligations and live the kind of life you want to live?
  • Do you have student loans? When do you need to start paying them off?
  • Do you have personal or family financial obligations that you need to consider as you think about your required income?
  • Do you have children now or do you hope to have them some day? Right now it costs about $250,000 to support one child from birth to age 18!


  • Learn as much as you can about your loan repayment obligations. Are there ways that you can lower your payments or delay repayment? (A student loan servicing organization such as Great Lakes may be able to help you figure out a repayment plan that works for you.)
  • Do research on the salary you can expect to earn in an entry-level position in your field.
  • Use the tools suggested in “Understanding Cost of Living” in our Resources section to help you determine what you will need to earn to live comfortably in each of the cities you are considering.

Further thoughts: When you’re offered a job, look carefully at the benefits package in addition to the salary. While the packages will vary greatly, at the very least they should include some type of health care coverage and retirement plan. Most young people don’t think about retirement, but you need to start saving as soon as possible so that your money can grow and, when the time comes, you will be able to retire and enjoy your later life.