Life after college (Don’t worry, it’s possible)

March 4, 2011

Every senior has heard the daunting question, what are you doing after college? As a senior, I am used to the question but I cannot help but feel defensive almost every time it is asked of me. Somehow, I always feel like the “adults” who are asking about my future are also looking down at me. I always imagine them thinking, “How can she, a student who has such limited life experience, survive in the real world?”

I do, fortunately, have an answer to this inquiry because I am going to graduate school in the fall. Still, although graduate school is still school, it is closer to “real life” than undergraduate school. Therefore, I know that a lot of new experiences lie on the horizon. For example, for the first time I will have to find an apartment of my own and maybe buy a car of my own that I do not need to share with my brother.

Of course, I am not the only senior asking these questions. To help seniors prepare for this future, the Department of Community Living organized an event yesterday titled “Life After College Panel.”

At this panel there were six speakers who took turns explaining aspects of post-graduation life, in particular finances. The first speaker gave a very brief overview on taxes. Although there was not much he could say in only 10 minutes, he did caution students to be careful when filing taxes. In the worst-case scenario, if you keep money from the IRS, it can cause a lot of complications for you in the future.

The second panelist, Nicole Bonnani, works in the Brandeis office of Student Financial Services. She, unlike the other speakers, included financial concerns for our existence as undergrads at Brandeis because many students have taken out loans from Brandeis or from other sources to pay for their undergraduate education. Not only must students who have received financial aid organize a meeting before graduating with the Student Financial Service, students can also visit if they need help preparing for the future.

Although some seniors already own cars, plenty others will buy a new vehicle in the near future. This is yet another financial concern that many of us have not had to deal with on our own yet. In order to give us some background on what to expect, Steve Kelley listed some practical tips. For example, do not expect to get a great deal when you buy a car, cars are almost always “money pits.” Instead, focus on finding a reliable vehicle with a good warranty, and then when you have more money you can buy something more luxurious.

Next, we learned about what to expect from credit scores and apartment searches. Questions included: How do you check your credit score? How do you control your credit score? The answer to this question was similar to Nicole Bonnani’s answer; that is, pay off your credit as soon as possible. This will not only help to keep your credit score high, it will also prevent you from falling too deeply into debt. As for apartments, make sure that you read your lease carefully and know what to expect. If you are staying in New England, in particular, ask about the heating bill because it can get very expensive.

Finally, a Brandeis Psychology PhD student rose to speak to the audience. She explained what to expect when applying to graduate schools. Although I have already applied to schools myself, I found her advice very helpful. For example, she recommended that you take the GRE early, in case you need to retake the test; the tests are valid for five years. Also, it is easier to find loans as a graduate student because you can declare yourself as an independent on your tax forms more easily than you can as an undergraduate student.

I found the entire presentation very informative, but not very unexpected. Much of the advice included warnings against not paying your loans and your credit, because a low credit score can be detrimental in the future. Also, apparently everyone is out to trick us and we cannot trust landlords or car sales-men. These precautions were helpful reminders, but also a little scary.

Maeve O’Conner ’11 seemed to have a similar reaction. “I am glad I came,” she said, “but it is all a little overwhelming.” Likewise, Amy Brooks ’11 found the event productive and helpful.

I am grateful that the Department of Community Living planned such a practical event. Although there was only so much we could learn in one hour, it was certainly better than nothing. There is a lot to consider for life after Brandeis, and at least now I am a little more prepared.

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