College is a time to grow as an adult and prepare yourself academically for success in the real world, but there are some things that campus life just can’t teach you. Here are a few things that you probably wish you’d learned before you crossed the stage to receive your diploma.
1. HOW TO NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY
New graduates are often happy to find any job, so the thought of holding out for more money once they land an offer can sound a little farfetched. Not working to reach the best terms can cost you, though. It’s a topic that makes a lot of people nervous, but most employers expect potential hires to negotiate their terms. If your school has a career services department, seek their help on the subject, or ask a friend or family member for their ideas on how to get the ball rolling.
2. HOW TO DO PAPERWORK
Being independent means doing things for yourself, which almost always involves paperwork. From signing your first lease to getting health coverage, adult life is one endless stack of “read this and sign here” moments—all of which can feel pretty daunting. An easy way to avoid the stress of it all is do a little research and find samples of the forms that you will have to complete. That way, you already know the information required and will be more prepared.
3. HOW TO DO YOUR TAXES
What does “tax-deductible” mean? Can someone still claim you as a dependent? Can you claim someone else as a dependent? Tax preparation can mean facing a dizzying flurry of jargon, but if you start reading up well before Tax Day, you can save yourself all kinds of audit-related anxiety.
4. HOW TO COOK FOR YOURSELF
Leaving college means you no longer have the reliable fallback plan of grabbing dinner in the dining hall. Making a mean grilled cheese can come in handy, and of course there are delivery services that render kitchens obsolete, but being able to enter a grocery store and leave with more than chips, salsa, and plastic cups is a good skill to have. Cooking can be fun and easy—just start with simple, straightforward dishes and work your way up to more elaborate cuisine as you get more comfortable in the kitchen.
5. HOW TO DRESS FOR THE OCCASION
Terms like “business casual” and “black tie” are not often thrown around on college campuses where sweatpants are a part of the daily uniform. Trading in T-shirts and sneakers for pumps and blazers can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Pick up a few versatile, timeless pieces you can use to build outfits for a variety of occasions, and take advantage of the Internet’s wealth of fashion savvy to assemble an ensemble that matches the dress code.
6. HOW TO FIND A PLACE TO LIVE
When it’s time to move out of the dorms and into a place of your own, there are a lot of things to consider. How much you can afford to spend on rent and utilities, the logistics of moving, how far the place is from your job and friends, and the safety of the neighborhood are all important. Never rush into an agreement before taking the time to know and weigh your options.
7. HOW TO BE A TENANT
There are certain responsibilities and rights that come with paying rent that you may not have seen coming. Living with other people is easy, but dealing with maintenance issues, personal security, and legal issues are foreign concepts that are important to learn. Who shovels when it snows? Who moves the trash to the curb? Make sure you ask questions like these and get the answers written into your lease. And, while not every lease requires it, it’s smart to get renters insurance—the right policy can potentially protect your belongings in the event of theft, vandalism, fire, smoke, and water damage.
8. HOW TO BE A HOMEOWNER
Owning a home is kind of like being a tenant, only you are the landlord, so the responsibilities increase tenfold. When something goes wrong, it’s on you to fix it, and seeking outside help can be expensive (again, the right homeowners insurance policy may help mitigate some of these costs). Little things like unclogging drains, knowing where to go to have keys made, and maintaining your property in accordance with local laws all add up, and the learning curve can be steep.
9. HOW TO MANAGE YOUR FINANCES
It’s sounds simplistic to say that these new responsibilities come with added expenses, but some college grads don’t learn how to better prepare and save for those living costs. Budgeting and keeping records of your spending will help keep you out of your parents’ basement, and establishing and knowing your credit standing can ensure that your future looks bright.
10. HOW TO BRANCH OUT
Most people leave college with a core group of friends with whom they have built relationships over four years, and it’s easier to keep in touch with those people than it is to talk to strangers. Don’t give in to the temptation to stick with the familiar. Networking is a crucial skill in most careers, and being able to function in social situations can make for a happier and more rewarding life.
11. HOW TO BE A CHAMELEON
Focusing all of your attention on a major as a way to prepare yourself for a desired career path is great, but college grads should be ready to apply what they’ve learned to seemingly unrelated areas and topics. Many recent graduates find it hard to gain employment in a field that is related to their studies, so being able to access your skills and adapt them for new situations, instead of relying solely on your experience, is important.