5 Easy Ways to Bridge the Gap Between College and "The Real World"

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Young students playing video games

Photo Credit: ELLE

College is a bit stressful for me due to the fact that I see a lot of mixed signals regarding how old I should act. I constantly read blogs and hear advice from recent grads about how these four years are meant to be lived and enjoyed. But my career counselors are always talking about the "real world" and how to act like a young professional. Can't I do both?

I happen to agree with the fact that college is the time to enjoy youth and appreciate the reckless, crazy fun that students can have. However, there's no denying the fact that life after college is sneaking up on us. If you're stressed about how to take charge of life after college, here are five easy ways to feel less like a wild child and more like a professional-in-training.

1. Cook Your Own Meals

Good looking meal prep

Photo Credit: ELLE

I am probably the laziest cook in the world, if I even qualify as a cook. In nearly two months of living in my apartment - which has a full kitchen - I've made about 10 meals. It's not that I'm not hungry, but it just seems so easy to get Chipotle down the street. This doesn't work as well in the "real world," where most meals eaten out are expensive and/or unhealthy. The world is less forgiving if you order a pizza every night because you're too "busy" (did that twice this week).

Before you judge me too hard, I'm working on creating a weekly meal list for myself, so I can make grocery runs and be self-sustaining. With the help of my roommate, I've narrowed it down to some meals that are easy enough for a novice like me to make, but also contain lots of vegetables and protein. If you want to start preparing for the days after college, try shopping for balanced meals and cooking most nights.

2. Do Something Productive During "Breaks"

Spring break

Photo Credit: ELLE

Unlike some people, I don't think you have to work during your summer or winter breaks. Internships are awesome, but don't get them just because you feel like you need to pad your resume. I backpacked through Europe this past summer and it was honestly life-changing. While it may not seem productive, I learned a lot about the world and about myself.

Whatever you need to do to learn and grow as a person, do it! Summer breaks are especially great for this, because there are opportunities to volunteer, travel, study abroad, and get a cool internship. If you're a junior or senior, you'll probably need to start thinking about your career after college, so go out and try working in the industry you are passionate about.

The bottom line: breaks are a good time to do something new rather than sit around on the couch watching reruns. Once you graduate and enter the real world, you rarely get long breaks like this, so start spending your time wisely now.

3. Budget and Save

Piggy bank

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One of my favorite things about college is the fact that I have minimal bills to pay, so most of my paycheck goes towards doing fun stuff and shopping. I know I should be saving more, but it's a lot easier to take fun road trips and go to concerts!

College is fairly predictable (I'm not worried about getting fired and defaulting on rent), but the real world is scary. Without proper budgeting, you can actually end up without utilities, a place to live, or food. I'm not saying that to scare everyone, but knowing how to budget in college is a good idea. Set up a spending checklist, even if you don't have a regular source of income. Take the cash you do have and decide how much is permanent savings for a rainy day, how much is for food, going out, etc.

I know it sucks (at least it does for me), but once you have spending checklists, you realize how much you are spending and can find ways to cut back. I always highlight how much I've spent on food when I look at my statement, since that's my big vice, and try to spend at least 15% less the next month. Good financial habits carry over into adulthood and will make you so much happier in the long run.

4. Find Friends Outside Your Comfort Zone

Business meeting

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One of the scariest things for me when I think about life after college is the fact that there are no built-in friendships. For example, I always have the people in my classes to connect with and we obviously have something in common (even if it's just a mutual need to study for a test). In the real world, though, you will be exposed to a variety of people with different interests and of different ages and backgrounds.

To prepare yourself for these inevitable interactions, try to form unusual friendships right now. I know a lot of college kids (me included) who are mostly friends with people in the same age range as them (18-22). An easy way to get practice interacting with older people is attending office hours! Even if you're just going in for some general advice or test help, the way that you speak and the thought that goes into your conversations will be dramatically different from someone you chat with at a party.

If you have a job, try making friends who don't go to your college and who might be at a different life stage (getting married, having kids, retiring, etc.).

5. Wake Up Earlier

Don't want to wake up

Photo Credit: ELLE

Ugh, this one is hard. And I'm obviously not speaking from experience, because I try to get up as late as possible (10 a.m. class? Of course I can wake up at 9:45!). But for a real challenge, try scheduling earlier classes or getting up to do work so you know what it feels like to have responsibilities super early in the morning.

I love how in college I can go to sleep at two in the morning and nobody bats an eyelash, but try this in the adult world and see if you feel like yourself. Sleep is essential to function at your best, and your future boss won't appreciate your sluggish work ethic because you didn't go to bed on time.

Try waking up earlier the semester or year before you graduate, and you'll be ready to make the transition from college to work. Even taking an early morning yoga class can give you the fresh start you need and show you what waking up early feels like.

Let me know what you think!

Are you also scared about the transition from college to the real world? Do you think the two are dramatically different? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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