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Marcos Salazar on Graduating College
Marcos Salazar is the founder of The Life After College Project, a research center that studies experiences of college graduates. In addition to being a certified leadership coach and researcher for the American Psychological Association, he is the author of Feeling Good for Life and The Turbulent Twenties Survival Guide, which addresses the psychological impact of college graduation. Salazar offers his expertise on the first 30 days of graduating college.
What is the biggest challenge students face when graduating from college?
Students are not prepared for what they’re going to experience in the real world. Colleges and parents give students an unrealistic view of what they’re capable of after college. Students expect awesome jobs and high salaries. They quickly realize who they thought they were and what they are capable of are different in the real world.
What is the most common emotional experience people go through after graduation?
You’re going through a very different stage in life and it’s a huge change. Much of your life is unstable; there’s no specific path and the academic path you used to follow your whole life just bursts. Graduates don’t know how to deal with the instability. I label it as “post-college depression” or “post-college blues.” Graduates feel helpless.
Can you elaborate on the specific psychological skills, which you talk about in your book, that graduates need for effective life management?
Students must learn how to deal with the change and what it involves. They have a major change in identity that I describe as the “vision of yourself.” You have to reevaluate who you are, since you’re no longer a student, and develop your emotional intelligence. This gives you the ability to manage change of perspective choices regarding your life and the direction you want it to go.
What are the feelings someone might go through directly after college graduation?
Initially, I think there’s a sense of excitement; then the reality sets in that you can’t go back to your old life.
What are some fears that come into play?
Due to unrealistic expectations, there’s a fear of failure and that they are not going to be as happy as they expected to be. There’s also the social pressure of meeting people in new locations. I think a lot of times graduates have a plan and path set up and once graduations comes closer, it starts to settle in that it’s not going to happen or not going to happen as quickly.
What is the best advice you give to graduating students about starting their new lives?
Students go through a psychological evolution. They need to understand that there’s not one magic thing to make your life better, so you need to figure out what you want and don’t want for your life. I encourage them to explore the new world and themselves, but, most importantly, understand that there’s a long process to finding out who you really are.
Why are the first 30 days post-graduation so important?
The first 30 days sets the foundation for what your life may be like in your 20s and, possibly, beyond.
How can students really succeed after graduation?
It varies based on the situation. For example, if someone moves to a new city, they need to explore the city, establish themselves and get into a routine as a way to increase self-esteem. The main thing is to get a good, solid sense of the reality of your situation and understand that you’re no longer a student and you’re moving forward with your life.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I see change as a positive thing. I love dealing with things others don’t. I like the unknown and the new, exciting things that come. I see it as an opportunity to learn, explore and grow from change.
The best thing about change is...
…that it’s an opportunity for exploration and growth.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change I’ve ever made was moving to Washington D.C. I was at the path of going into clinical psychology, but then I became interested in politics and business. I just took a leap of faith and moved.