It seems like as soon as college freshmen walk onto campus the countdown begins: only four more years until they have to enter the real world — get a job, live on their own, and “figure things out” as a real adult. The anticipation of graduating from college entails a host of mixed emotions. Excitement about being able to pursue career passions and live in a new city is often mixed with fear about paying one’s living expenses and maintaining long distance friendships.

While there will be many challenges and opportunities beyond the college years, the truth is that no one’s experience is exactly the same. Some graduates go onto land their dream jobs, which they find to be everything they hoped. And others land their dream jobs only to experience disillusionment and disappointment. Some move thousands of miles from their family and friends and struggle to form new relationships. Others find an unexpected sense of home away from home. Some continue in the world of academia by entering graduate school. And others start their own companies or non-profits to serve their communities.

Regardless of the infinite possibilities for life after college, there is no right or one way to navigate the journey. Still, it can be helpful to hear from recent college graduates of PLNU about how they’ve fared and what they’ve learned in life post-college.  

Friendships and Community After College

Every spring PLNU hosts the Results May Vary Women’s Retreat for graduating seniors. The weekend retreat offers alumni speakers from various seasons of their lives the opportunity to share about life after college. As the name of the retreat implies, no one’s post-college experience is ever the same.

Melanie Wolf, PLNU’s Campus Pastor and Director of Discipleship Ministries, explained that the retreat is designed to address the many aspects, challenges, and anxieties related to life after college.

“On the Results May Vary Women’s Retreat we have a couple of different sessions where we focus on health and wholeness, ambition and vocation, navigating intimate relationship like dating and marriage, and also one on friendships,” Wolf said. “What we found was that many students were most worried about friendships: how to develop and maintain friendships outside of the PLNU community.”

Speakers at the Results May Vary Women’s Retreat

As Melanie mentioned, students are certainly still worried about getting a job and making a living, but even with respect to moving away from PLNU and living on one’s own, the conversation came back over and over again to finding people with which to live or form new relationships. In other words, students were worried about forming healthy relationships in a world that is not nearly as conducive to the formation of organic friendships like that of PLNU’s close-knit campus.

“What we found was that many students were most worried about friendships: how to develop and maintain friendships outside of the PLNU community.”

PLNU alum M’Lynn Martin (18) expressed how the close proximity to friends at PLNU is what she has missed most over this last year.

“I think I miss most the convenience of having close friends around me all of the time and being able to walk to my best friends’ place and see them,” Martin shared. “Things like that are tough. But it has been helpful for me to work jobs that are surrounded by people.”

As a part-time minister at New Life Community Church along with working part-time at a group home for foster youth, Martin has fortunately been able to surround herself with others in a healthy and life-giving way.

For PLNU alum Jordan Ligons’ (16) first job, she worked as an editor for a lifestyle magazine, where she became friends with the people she worked with. She moved to Orange County to take the coveted role, which meant that other than her immediate coworkers she didn’t know anybody. Ligons admitted she enjoyed the people she worked with but that something was still missing.

“It is hard to make friends as an adult and PLNU is a special place. My dorm friends are still my friends to this day,” Ligons shared. “I struggled with moving to Orange County and living by myself. It was exciting at first but then I would go home after work and not be able to interact with other people. I realized you have to put in the effort to make friends. I got along with the people I worked with but I wanted to find people outside of work to see as opposed to only them.”

Martin and Ligons both were fortunate to work jobs right out of school that offered some social outlets, but as Ligons explained, that’s not always enough.

Fortunately, the technology available today makes it fairly easy to stay in touch with close friends from college — something that both Martin and Ligons have done — but that only goes so far, especially for graduates who move to new cities for work or some other reason. There is still something invaluable about having face-to-face relationships and people in your life with whom you can meet for coffee, grab takeout, or embark on a Saturday morning hike. Similar to building a career or developing a new skill, making post-college friends often takes more work and effort than it has in the past.

For Ligons, she was able to find friendships she lacked over time by joining a church community.

“I was not a Christian before I came to PLNU and I left as a Christian. It was eye opening because at PLNU you’re surrounded by like-minded people but when you leave you realize quickly it is not the ‘Point Loma bubble’ at all,” Ligons explained, pointing to how much easier it is to meet people with similar interests and goals on campus. “I sought out a church and attended it for the two and a half years I was in Orange County. That helped me meet people outside of work and build friendships that I was missing.”

Similar to building a career or developing a new skill, making post-college friends often takes more work and effort than it has in the past.

While it can be difficult to build new friendships after college, on the flip side there is the benefit of being able to surround yourself with people who truly nourish, encourage, and sustain you in life.

“I feel like you can pick your friends now and really choose the community you want to be a part of. As you travel to different places for work or whatever after school, you can meet new people and really start to build your tribe,” Ligons said.

PLNU alum Michael Lombrano (18) also acknowledged how friendships certainly change after college, especially as people become busier with work or end up moving away.

“Adapting to the change in seeing friends was tough at first. If you want to hang out with people in the real world you have to be more intentional, inviting people over at specific times or scheduling times to hang out,” Lombrano shared. “It’s still very possible to stay in touch with people. But the truth is that it’s also easy to fall out of touch.”

“It’s still very possible to stay in touch with people. But the truth is that it’s also easy to fall out of touch.”

Although Lombrano admits that the contour of maintaining friendships changes after college, in some way the shift has made his friendships stronger.

“I really enjoy the relationships with my friends now because we are much more intentional about the time we spend together,” Lombrano continued. “We ask each other deeper questions when we hang out, ask each other, ‘How are you really doing?’ since time spent together is less often and not always a guarantee like it was back in college.”

Building a Career One Step at a Time

Aside from relationships, it’s not surprising that pending and recent graduates also worry quite a bit about getting a job. Wolf sees a tendency for graduates to assume that one’s first job out of college will constitute what the rest of one’s working life with look like for 30 or 40 years. Of course, this is not true. Some students end up in first jobs they truly love, but many others will land in something that isn’t quite what they had expected or had even hoped. This is not only OK, but should probably even be the expectation.

“I usually tell students who are about to graduate that they may just have to take a job that they won’t love to get something they love later,” Wolf explained. “That might feel incongruent with what I say about doing work that matters — vocational work — but sometimes we have to look at the meaningful work we want to do over the arc of a life, not just in one job. Over the long-run you should hopefully end up doing meaningful and enjoyable work, but when you’re 22 and you have to pay your rent then you might have to take a job that isn’t your first choice.”

Wolf advises students to be realistic and think long-term about their career situation after college. Certainly, graduates should strive to land that dream first job or gain admittance into that top graduate program. And, again, some graduates do indeed land their dream jobs right out of college, though it’s rare. But being realistic about their first career move, acknowledging that it’s likely only a step to something better and more fulfilling down the road, is a prudent way to approach life after college.

The important thing isn’t so much the actual role, but how graduates can soak up everything they can to pivot to a better position in a couple of years. Can they seek out mentors in their current organization? Can they allocate a few hours during the evenings or weekends to bone up on skills that they might not be using but want to in their next role? The key is to remain hopeful, keep learning, and always be thinking about how their current role can be used to get them closer to the deeply meaningful work they want to do.

But being realistic about their first career move, acknowledging that it’s likely only a step to something better and more fulfilling down the road, is a prudent way to approach life after college.

But what about those “lucky” graduates who do land that dream job right out the gate of college? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Ligons. She landed an editor job for a lifestyle magazine three months before she graduated. She shared about what happened next to students at the recent Results May Vary Women’s Retreat.

“I explained to the women there that landing that job at the lifestyle magazine was the fulfillment of my dream to be an editor at a print magazine,” Ligons said. “I really felt like I was doing everything that I had dreamed of and something that I hadn’t planned to do for another five or ten years, but it had already happened for me in my first job. I was on cloud nine. But once I started to work there I noticed things behind the scenes that didn’t rub me the right way from an ethical standpoint. I became a senior editor after two years. I was 24 years old and had made it, but there was nothing really else to aspire to.”

Ligons went through a season of disillusionment and eventually decided to leave the magazine — something that three years ago would have seemed absolutely insane — to take a lower status job at the culture and sports publication named The Ringer in Los Angeles.

“I took an $11,000 pay cut and am now a fact checker at the bottom of the totem pole, but I’m happier. I’m writing and reading actual journalism. This is such a better fit,” Ligons said.

Related Article: Jordan Ligons writes about the buzz and energy surrounding PLNU basketball’s run to the national championship game.

While sometimes it’s important to take a first job that will allow you to pay rent and your bills, it’s also important to not only consider roles with the most prestigious job titles or highest salaries. Ligons made the decision to give up a higher salary and more prestigious title because she knew working for a sports and culture publication like The Ringer would have more upside in the long-run, not to mention it was better aligned with her passions. It’s not always easy to balance salary, title, long-term potential, and job satisfaction when making a career decision, but it’s important to keep these things in mind.

For Ligons, she had to take that first job as an editor and experience a bit of disillusionment in order to gain better clarity around what she actually wanted out of her career. Often, the only way to figure out one’s career path to doing meaningful and enjoyable work is to simply try new things and see how it goes.

Martin also couldn’t have guessed she would be doing what she is doing now when she graduated. She moved back to the Central Coast of California after graduation.

“I took the CBEST with the intention of becoming a teacher but suddenly I was reached out to about a job at a group home,” Martin said. “Most people considered for this type of job are social work majors but the people knew me and they thought I would be good. I was working there full time and then alum Noah Daniels (18) invited me to speak at the youth group and afterward he asked me to join his staff.

Martin now works both jobs in a part-time capacity, two roles she didn’t even have on her radar a year ago. Both Ligons and Martin are in jobs now that they couldn’t have guessed they would be on the day they donned their cap and gown. And while that can be unsettling in some aspects, it also reveals that life unfolds in more novel, interesting, and exciting ways than graduates often expect.

Both Ligons and Martin are in jobs now that they couldn’t have guessed they would be on the day they donned their cap and gown. And while that can be unsettling in some aspects, it also reveals that life unfolds in more novel, interesting, and exciting ways than graduates often expect.

Lombrano, similar to Ligons and Martin, has had an unexpected journey post-college as well. He realized shortly after graduating that he didn’t want to be in full time ministry. He had always thought he wanted to be a youth minister until a few months after graduation.

“I ended up getting pretty burnt out at my first job,” Lombrano shared. “By boss at the church was really cool and helpful when I talked to him about all of this and I eventually came to the decision that the things I love to do don’t only live in the ministry world.”

Lombrano realized he could still do what he wanted to do — serve and help others — in a number of roles that didn’t require him to work specifically for a church. Besides, he understood he could still serve his church, but just in a volunteer capacity instead..

After leaving the church to work as a manager at local ice cream shop, he landed a job in PLNU’s Spiritual Development department. While not a “church” role, he now does ministry-related work that is ultimately about serving and helping others using his gifts and passions.

“I definitely have a better idea of the kind of roles I’m drawn to since graduating,” Lombrano said. “I’m a very controlling person but I had to learn to let go of control and let God do what he wants to do with me.”

Embracing (and Enjoying) the Unknown

This leads into what is perhaps most exciting about life after college: the unknown provides countless opportunities and challenges that can transform graduates in tremendous ways. They will be able to put their gifts and passions to work in the world, serve others, form new relationships, influence their communities, and expand their understanding of the world.  

“I tell students who are about to graduate that they will be able to exercise their gifts in ways that they haven’t had as much time and capacity to do here,” Wolf explained. “They will get to make decisions about things that were made for them here. It will offer a time of growing and autonomy in order to develop strengths that they haven’t utilized because some new situation demands it. They will encounter new relationships and opportunities to engage in community.”

These are valuable insights that make up much of the women’s retreat. While everyone’s post-graduate “results may vary,” Wolf and her staff demonstrate that this is a beautiful thing. They do this by inviting women of all ages (staff, faculty, and alumni) to share about how tragedy and blessings have shaped their lives and made them who they are today after college.

“We have people talk about really painful experiences of losing people or getting fired or having health crises, and how they have made it through and have learned from it all,” Wolf shared. “Your life might not look like you thought it would or wanted it to or like someone else’s, yet there will be good things in your life and there are going to be opportunities for healing and growth and for you to be an agent of healing and change.”

Watch Now: Melanie Wolf shares the importance of relationships in helping one discern and pursue a calling.

Martin echoed this notion of encountering opportunities for growth in life post-college.

“For me at PLNU, so much of my identity was around being a student that when I left I was able to find pieces of myself that weren’t attached to PLNU,” Martin explained. “I never ran into any situation of bullying or intimidation at PLNU, but in the real world there are a lot of bullies and intimidating situations and I’ve learned that I have the ability to protect myself and stand up for the people around me.”

Martin has also learned to be OK with not knowing what the future will look like, since life is unpredictable and it’s impossible — and maybe even somewhat boring — to map out one’s life completely after college.

“This last year it has been helpful to focus on the opportunities right before me instead of wishing for other opportunities or things that aren’t presenting themselves right here and now,” Martin said. “I focus on the people that I’m interacting with right now and where I’m going to be in five minutes, not five years.”

“Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Lombrano shared. “Talk to your friends. There are people who care about you and will be there for you.”

Lombrano has learned to rely more on his loved ones and God, trusting that things often turn out OK even if at first it doesn’t seem like they will.

“The road is long in front of you but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And even if you don’t know where you’re going something will work out,” Lombrano said. “You might get rejected a hundred times but eventually someone will say ‘yes’ and that yes ends up being incredible. It’s difficult, but you can rely on the people behind, in front, and next to you through it all.”

Ligons has also learned to be open to a life that is less scripted. Having acquired and left what she thought was her dream job and starting life over twice in cities where she didn’t know anyone, she has realized that she’s capable of navigating the inevitable challenges and hardships that life will throw at her.

“There were tears when I had to move to L.A. and left my job at the magazine but now, six months later, I realize I got through it. And so when another job or move comes along I know I will make it through it because I survived this last one. Having people in your corner who can remind you of that is really important as well as my faith in God,” Ligons shared.

And while she is open to the unknown, Ligons still acknowledges the importance of having dreams and goals toward which to strive.

“For what I want my future to look like, I don’t know what my job title would be or even the publication, but I would love to be writing in a creative form. I would also like to be married and have children and be able to balance my career and family life.”

Ligons also dreams of one day starting her own magazine to reach women of color — something that she felt was lacking from her own experience as a young woman — and maintains a spirit of hope and optimism that, whether or not that happens specifically, there will be good things in store for her.   

Regardless of the infinite possibilities for life after college, there is no right or one way to navigate the journey.

Perhaps the major takeaway? There is life after college. And it can be just as rewarding, fulfilling, and enriching than life during college (if not more). It’s important for graduates to keep this in mind because, as Martin explained, students and recent alumni can sometimes hear only about how hard it is to move away from friends, work a full time job, embark to a new city, or find a new faith community. While true, a myopic focus on only the difficulties, and not the opportunities, can make graduating students and recent alumni fear that life after PLNU is going to be made up of long decades of disappointment. While it’s normal and natural to grieve the transition from college — and many graduates will grow to miss their college days — there is much that lies beyond these years.   

“It has been cool to see that I’m so much more than just a PLNU student,” Martin shared. “To realize that I existed before PLNU and will exist for a long time after PLNU. I’m so much more than my PLNU experience.”

Related Article: PLNU alumni share their insight on buying a home in California.

Christopher Hazell is a writer and editor. He is the author of Ends in Mind, a newsletter about culture, technology, Christian spirituality, the arts, and more.