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A Checklist for Life After Graduation

June 6, 2019

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Commencement speeches can fill anyone with hope and optimism. But as with any period of transition, taking the next step and entering the real world can be a little scarier — even overwhelming at times.

That’s why we’re fans of checklist. Having a list of to-dos can make working through an overwhelming situation easier. You can focus on one task, check it off, and move on to the next. These aren’t in any particular order, but we do suggest starting with the first one, and maybe leaving it unchecked so you can return to it in the coming months.


Completing college — or other relevant milestone — is no easy task, and you should take time to celebrate your accomplishment. When you hit a roadblock, take a moment to (figuratively) step back and remind yourself of what you’ve already achieved.

Own the job hunt

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who has a job lined up before graduation, one of your top priorities may be finding work. After all, the real world isn’t much fun without a real income.

There are a lot of ways to approach a job hunt. You might want to try a job that seems interesting even if it’s not related to your degree. Or, perhaps you’re ready to jump right into a career based on what you’ve learned. Either way, here are a few things that can help you stand out from the crowd of applicants:

Ask for informational interviews. Reach out to professionals who are already working in jobs that interest you and ask for an informational interview. You could meet up for coffee or schedule a phone call. And don’t delay — many people are eager to help recent graduates.

You can find potential interviewees in your alumni network, on LinkedIn, by asking family friends, and at local business-oriented events. You can gain insight into what the work is like, recent developments in the industry, and might even get referred for a job.

Tailor your cover letter and resume for the job. No, really. It takes extra work, but it’s also pretty obvious when candidates have copied and pasted 90 percent of their cover letter from previous applications. If you want the hiring manager to take you seriously, show that you care enough to write a cover letter and revise your resume with the specific job in mind.

Research companies and interviewers. Researching the company or interviewers before an interview can also demonstrate your thoroughness and enthusiasm. You can look for press releases and news stories to see if there’s anything the company is proud of, or if something worrying happened that makes you think twice about working there. Also, try to read the bios and LinkedIn pages for your interviewers to get a sense of their experience and interests.

Practice. If you have an upcoming interview, practice answering common questions. You could ask for help from friends who are also looking for work, family members, or practice on your own in front of a mirror.

Tackle your money plan

Your budget. Don’t have one? Maybe it’s time to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but keeping track of how much money you’re making and spending can help you take control of your finances and save up for your meaningful money goals.

Your credit. Building your credit history and improving your credit scores can be important when you’re looking for a job, renting an apartment, paying for auto insurance, or applying for a credit card or loan. Here are some ideas for getting started.

Your bank accounts. You may have had a student bank account while you were at school. These accounts often have lower or waived fees. However, you might lose the waivers or be forced to switch to a non-student account once you graduate. It may be time to open a new account.

If you’re looking for an option with no account fees, the Varo Bank Account has:

  • No monthly fee

  • No minimum balance requirement

  • No overdrafts permitted = no overdraft fees

  • No foreign transaction fees

  • Free withdrawals at over 55,000 Allpoint® ATMs

Learn more about getting started with the mobile Varo Bank Account.

Your credit cards. There are lots of credit cards to choose from, and you’ll want to find one that matches your goals and lifestyle now that you’re not a student. You may be worried about opening a card and taking on more debt, and that’s a valid concern. However, a credit card can help you build credit even if you rarely use it.

The key is to make your monthly payments on time, have a low balance, and pay your balance in full each month. (The last step isn’t technically a requirement for building good credit, but it will keep you from having to pay interest.)

You could even use your card to pay one of your small monthly bills (like a streaming service) and set up autopay to pay off the card each month. Then, leave the physical card at home, or even cut it in half, so you’re never tempted to use it for purchases you can’t afford to pay off.

Your student loans. If you took out student loans, your payments might start around six months after you graduate when your grace period is over. But, remember, you don’t wait until then to find out how much your monthly payments will be and how to repay the loans. If you took out federal student loans, you can choose your repayment plan, which can impact your monthly payment amount.

Continue your education

You may have a degree, but your education doesn't have to stop. In fact, now that you don’t have to follow a professor’s curriculum and prepare for tests, you’re freer than ever to study what and how you want.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to continue your education and learn new skills without taking out loans. If you want to learn more about managing your money, check out our recommendations for the top personal finance podcasts.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou.

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Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance finance writer based in Oakland, California. He specializes in consumer credit, personal finance, and small business finance, and loves helping people find ways to save money. In addition to Varo, Louis works with a variety of financial services firms, credit bureaus, and educational websites, including Credit Karma, Wirecutter, Funding Circle, and Experian.

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