Post-uni blues

So you've passed your exams, got your degree and handed back your student card. Now what? The world is your oyster, but adjusting to life after can be overwhelming. The Mix finds out how to cope after graduation.

girl in mortar board

Behind that smile is a major existential crisis.

Post-graduate culture shock

Leaving university after graduation is a major life transition. It’s not just the fact that life doesn’t revolve around lectures and essays any more. When you’re at uni, you get constant feedback on your work and you’re surrounded by a support network of friends and lecturers. The big wide world can seem less than inviting in comparison.

That’s what happened to Frankie, who studied philosophy. “I chose a course that interested me,” she says. “Employability came second but I felt proud of myself for doing it. When I started work, I grieved for my old lifestyle and the time I’d spent discovering myself as a person and expressing myself freely. I was doing a low-paid typing job and I felt I had no purpose.”

When you find yourself stroking your degree certificate after an eight-hour shift putting the heads on cotton buds, you can get quite low. Plus life gets more expensive when you leave uni and lose all those nice shiny discounts.

“Even keeping different hours can be a shock to the system,” says confidence coach Eve Menezes Cunningham of Apple Coaching. “But you’re getting to know what works for you and it will get easier. This is a challenging time – so be gentle with yourself. What routines help you feel better? It may be something as simple as sticking to regular meal times or watching favourite TV shows,” Eve says. “Keep some continuity going and you’ll find it easier to adjust to all these changes.”

Want some help?

Read our article on building self-esteem, for proper scientific ways to improve how you feel about your life.

Feeling lonely after university?

Psychology graduate Clare missed her friends when she left uni. “I went straight into temp working while waiting for a permanent job offer. There was no opportunity for regular meet-ups with friends and it almost immediately felt like we’d all moved on. It felt like starting my life all over again.” Clare says Facebook has helped her keep in touch with her mates. “It’s easier to organise meet-ups and catch up on each other’s lives.”

When you find yourself stroking your degree certificate after an eight-hour shift putting the heads on cotton buds, you can get quite low

It may feel like you’re growing apart, but Eve says to keep making the effort to stay in touch. “Even if you’re making plans months ahead with people you used to see daily, it’ll give you something to look forward to.”

Want some help?

Our I’m lonely article has some great tips on making friends. And you can always join The Mix’s active online community to have an anonymous chinwag with other young people going through similar situations.

I’m going nowhere…

Joanne Mallon, who’s a life and career coach, says it’s important to make plans for the future. “If you take a stopgap job, give yourself a deadline for when you’re going to look for something that really excites you,” she says. “Concentrate on what you want to do. And don’t get wrapped up in the things you haven’t done, or not getting the job you want. Focus on the good things your time at uni has given you and plan your next move from there.”

It’s natural to compare yourself to your other graduate friends, but remember people do all sorts of things after university. People often give unrealistic pictures of how happy they are too, especially on Facebook. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t. Nobody ever has it all, especially in their early twenties.

Want some help?

Read our What’s your perfect job? article for tips on working out what the heck you want to do with your life, and how to get there once you’ve decided.

Signs of depression

You might feel better once you’ve had time to adjust to being away from uni. However, if that feeling of sadness isn’t letting up or you’re showing other symptoms of depression, it’s worth speaking to your doctor (GP). What you’re experiencing may be clinical depression, rather than a passing feeling. Try to remember that depression is a treatable condition and it’s not something you’re expected to cope with alone.

Anthropology graduate Thomas became depressed after leaving uni and starting work in a call centre. “I just wanted something to pay the bills,” he says. “But the constantly changing sleep patterns and feeling dissatisfied with what I was doing led to full-blown depression. I really struggled to motivate myself to look for work.” Thomas moved back in with his parents for a bit and got help from his doctor.

Want some help?

Read more about the symptoms of depression here, and you can also watch our video that explains how to talk to your GP about your mental health.

Feeling regret

Career coach Joanne says leaving uni can be like going through bereavement. “It might sound strong but there’s an overlap in the sense of loss, sadness and fear of change. Some people suddenly realise what an opportunity they had at university and regret not making the most of it,” she says. “But even if you feel it wasn’t the best move to spend so much of your student years propping up the common room bar, you can’t go back and change that, so it’s best to try and make the most of now.”

Next Steps

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By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015