You Just Graduated College. What now?

By Sol Garay |

With Graduation season in full swing, and after attending a couple of commencement ceremonies myself (sister if you’re reading this, I’m proud of you!) I figured I would write about post-graduation. This will not be a full guide on what to do after graduating college, instead I will cover certain topics that I wish I knew more about before I graduated and was thrown in the ‘real-world’.

*This will be mostly anecdotal, but I will make sure to include supporting facts or evidence on certain subjects.

Moving Away from your College Town

Whether you lived on the campus dorms or on off-campus apartments, living in your college town for some time can have an effect on you. Even if you didn’t go to college super far away from your hometown, living in a brand-new environment surrounded by new people can be enough to feel homesick. In a previous blog post, I wrote about becoming a product of your environment and how your surroundings can influence the person you are. Allow me to give you a quick anecdote to illustrate my point: I went to UCSD for college, which is in the city of La Jolla. La Jolla is a beautiful place with lots to do. While living there I would go surfing regularly, hike down the cliffs at Torrey Pines, and visit the La Jolla Playhouse frequently as I was/am a huge fan of theater. However, once I graduated and moved back in with my parents in Riverside, my life was completely different. I had to say goodbye to surfing, goodbye to my friends, and overall I felt like my new life post-grad was very stagnant. I know that technically I could have still gone surfing at Newport Beach or Huntington, or I could have hiked at Mt. Rubidoux, or gone to local theater performances within Riverside, but to me it just didn’t feel the same. Mix this in with the pandemic in 2020, and I struggled a lot after moving away from San Diego and my mental health was in a bad state.

La Jolla, California

Moving away from your college town can also be problematic (or not) because you’ll be living with people you haven’t lived with in a while. Perhaps you move back in with your parents and now you find yourself sharing a bathroom and kitchen with your mom, dad, and siblings if you have any. In college you might have had your own room, own bathroom, and maybe one or two housemates. This drastic shift can be troublesome at first because visiting someone and living with someone are two completely different things. Even if you would visit your parents often, either on the weekends or during breaks, you were just visiting. Now post-grad you find yourself living with them again and it can be stressful because perhaps you no longer can do the things that you used to do. I won’t get into the specifics, but one quick example I can give is: While living in my college town apartment, I would often stay up late playing VR Chat with my friends and if you have had any experience with VR Chat, you know that things get loud. I would do this a couple times a week and would genuinely have a lot of fun. However, once I moved back in with my parents, I found that I stopped playing completely. My parents sleep early, and I didn’t want to disturb them. So, no more VR Chat. Note: This is not always bad though. Personally, I enjoyed spending time at home and with my parents. The last time I lived at home was before college 4 years prior, so it was wholesome just being near them and my younger siblings. I would also hangout with many of my childhood friends that still lived in Riverside.

Adjusting to a new routine

 Drastically changing your daily routines can be challenging, especially when you’ve gotten so used to your life in college. Perhaps in college you had a routine where you went to class, work, and then did some sort of activity like a sport or simply hung out with friends. Going from having such a routine to something more stagnant can take some time getting used to. My best advice is to try to keep the same productive routines that you had in college and try transferring them over to your new life post-grad. Let’s assume you move back in with your parents for a little while as you figure things out. Instead of playing video games all night and waking up late the next day (definitely not speaking from experience), try waking up early and doing something productive like cleaning your room or try and learn a new skill. Remember, you will no longer have classes, homework, and the stress of everything else that comes with being a college student, so you’ll find that you have a lot more time. Try and use this free time productively!

Taking a Gap Year

What is a Gap Year? Should you take one? Did I take one?

A Gap Year is a period of time when students take a break from their studies, usually after completing high school or before beginning graduate school. Of the students that decide to partake in a gap year, many will engage in a variety of educational or developmental activities such as traveling, working, volunteering, or taking extra courses. According to GO Overseas however, Gap Years are more common for European students than students in the US because of differing opportunities for students, different pressures for college and career paths, and ultimately because Americans typically travel less.

Now that you know what a Gap Year is, should you take one?

Well, the answer ultimately comes down to you but I think it also depends on other factors. If you have a job lined up already then, I wouldn’t recommend one. But if you don’t have any jobs lined up post-grad and you’re feeling burnt out from college, then yes, I would recommend you take a Gap Year. Remember: A “Gap Year” doesn’t have to literally be one year long. This break from your studies can be a couple months or even a couple weeks. It all depends on what you feel is right.

Did I take a Gap Year?

Yes. But also No. I will get into this more later when I talk about my story. But in short, I took a “Gap Year” that was 2 and a half years long after I graduated from college. This doesn’t mean that I went over 2 years without working, but it took me about 2 and a half years to finally get a job I liked/wanted. More on this later!

Check out this video by my friend Kristin and I where we talk about Gap Years:

 P.S. This video was shot and edited by yours truly.

Job Search

For this segment I am going to assume that you don’t already have a job lined up after college. And if you do (you lucky @#%^) feel free to skip this part.

Trying to find a job after graduating college can be a stressful experience. Most people go to college so that they can have a high paying job after, but sometimes simply having a college degree just isn’t enough these days. Have you ever seen those memes online where a job application will ask for 5-10 years of experience but the only reason you are applying with them in the first place is to get work experience? Sometimes it can be difficult to gain some serious work experience during college, especially within the industry that you have a career aspiration in, because well you’re busy. Busy being a college student. Duh. Of course, it feels unfair for companies to ask for years of work experience knowing that the likelihood of someone straight out of college will have any is very low, but that’s a whole other issue. However, there are certain ways to improve your chances of finding a great job after college, even when you don’t have as much experience.

Now, I know that when it comes to finding a job after college, there are many different factors that will either increase or decrease your chances of landing your dream job. These factors include, but are not limited to, what major you studied, how old you are, what type of experience do you have, and what kind of opportunities are in your area. Nonetheless, the following tips are still bound to help your chances.

  • Network as much as Possible
    o Networking and having direct conversations is a valuable tactic to use as much as you can. Sometimes, it can be more important who you know rather than what you know. Talk to your friends, family, or professors about job opportunities. If people don’t know that you are currently job hunting, then they can’t help you.
  • Apply to Growth-Stage Companies
    o As we discussed earlier, there are many companies that require years of experience, and won’t hire you if you are at the entry-level. However, applying to fast-growing, new or growth-stage companies is a great option! These companies are eager to hire entry-level employees, especially freshly graduated students. Fast-growing companies often like to train people and promote from within as they build up their company. In addition, by applying to growth-stage companies you increase your chances of being selected in the interview because usually they will be hiring multiple people for the same position.
  • Apply directly to jobs on LinkedIn
    o LinkedIn is a great tool to utilize when it comes to finding a job. It combines the two tips above, as it serves as a platform to network with others and find entry-level jobs in growth-stage companies. The LinkedIn Job Portal is fairly easy and straight-forward to use, so you shouldn’t have any troubles finding job postings you may be interested in.
    o Pro Tip: Make sure you keep your LinkedIn profile up to date with any work experience or skills, and also keep an updated headshot of yourself.
  • Improve your interview Skills
    o Having a successful interview is crucial for any job hiring procedure and there are plenty of in-depth guides online that can help you nail an interview. But one piece of advice I can give is to write down the questions that you think they are going to ask you and then go through each one and answer them out loud. This will help you feel more comfortable with the interview and help you anticipate the way the interview will go.
  • Sharpen up your Resume
    o Allow me to insert an excerpt from our Resume 101 Guide: The resume is one of the most important aspects in landing your dream job. If your resume stands out from the rest, it can be the deciding factor between you getting a call back for an interview or getting looked over for the next applicant in line. Therefore, you need your resume game to be on point so that you can be sure to cross off “Land Dream Job” on your life bucket list.
    o Make sure to read our in-depth Resume Guide that will take you through all the steps including choosing the appropriate formatting, using a resume summary or objective, or simply modifying your resume to suit the job you are applying for.
  • Consider Relocating
    o Let’s just get straight to the point. Some regions just don’t have many job opportunities. If you think your location is holding you back in your career, then you can always consider relocating. Some cities will have certain industries like biotech for instance, which is centered around the city of San Francisco, so if you are interested in that particular field you might consider moving there. However, sometimes this can bring up other issues such as homesickness, having to build up a brand-new social circle, etc. Keep that in mind when considering relocating!
  • Be patient
    o Good things take time. Remember that it is a process, a process you have no control over. Once you send in your resume and application it becomes a waiting game and all you can do is wait. Also remember to manage your own expectations. Often the root of impatience is when an expectation doesn’t meet a reality.

General Advice

Graduating from College is a big deal. It should be celebrated, and it should be cheered. Before I tell my own story, I would like to leave you with some general advice.
o Take some time off
 After graduating college, I would encourage you to take some time off. Even if it’s just a couple of weeks, I think it would be beneficial to relax and unwind, especially after having worked so hard for four or however many years prior to graduating.
o Travel
 I will always be an advocator for travelling and seeing the world. So, I would recommend that you take some time to travel after graduating. You don’t even have to go too far. Just go anywhere. Get away for a little bit. Invite some friends or go by yourself on a solo trip!
o Slow down
 I know when we’re young and full of energy we want to charge into the world and make things happen. Take some time. Relax. Make sure to think about what you want to do. Are you going straight into the 8-5 office job? Are you going to travel a bit? Should you reconnect with friends and family? Think about it.

My Story

I’ll spare you the lore and get right into the time I graduated from college. I went to UCSD and graduated in 2020. I majored in Political Science – International Relations and I also had a minor in Theater. We all know what the world was like in 2020, so you won’t be too surprised when I tell you that I technically never had a graduation. Just like everything else in the spring time of 2020, it was cancelled. I took my last finals and then was told that my diploma would be sent to me in the mail in 4-6 weeks. That’s it. Just like that my college career was over. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel like I graduated. There was never any closure. I think this affected me a lot moving forward.

Grad Photos

I struggled finding a job.

In the weeks and months that followed, I struggled a lot in finding a job. Since I had a strong interest in international relations, a lot of the jobs that I was searching for were international jobs. I know shocking. But the thing is, because we were in the midst of a pandemic, it was literally impossible trying to find an overseas job. I knew I couldn’t sit around forever and I figured I might as well get another type of job while I waited for this whole covid thing to blow over. Around the same time, my good friend Kristin randomly called me and invited me on a trip to Tahiti. Now if there’s one thing you should know about my friend Kristin, it’s that she is a hardcore traveler. I actually met her during my Study Abroad experience in Paris, and she’s always been very spontaneous. She invited me on a trip to Tahiti for the Summer of 2021, mind you it was around October of 2020 when she had called. After typing in Tahiti French Polynesia on google images, I felt inclined to accept her offer. However, there was a problem. I didn’t have a job aka I had no money. So I decided to start working at an Amazon warehouse in Jurupa Valley. I started literally within a couple days after speaking to Kristin.

Working at Amazon

Working at Amazon sucked. I won’t sugar coat it. My feet would be in pain. My sleep schedule was irregular. And overall, I felt like crap. But actually, looking back on it, it wasn’t that bad. I made a couple friends, got some daily exercise in, but most importantly of all, I made some money. I was able to pick up a lot of overtime and overnight shifts and pretty much worked for 8 months straight. Although some days were worse than others, thinking about my trip to Tahiti coupled with knowing that I wasn’t going to be working there forever helped me live through those long 12-hour shifts.

Tahiti and Mexico trips

Finally, summer came, and I quit Amazon. My trip to Tahiti was already booked for the last couple weeks of June however I also ended up going on a last-minute trip to Mexico just before that. That particular trip to Mexico was one the most meaningful and transformative experiences I’ve ever had. I went to the state of Yucatan and spent time with my family. I met cousins, uncles, aunts, and other family members for the very first time. It was surreal. They took me in with open arms and although it was my first time ever meeting them, I truly felt part of the family. Shortly after I returned from Mexico, I only had a couple days to “chill” in the scorching hot weather of Riverside before I flew to Tahiti. Tahiti was EPIC. I really have no words. I surfed. I ate a lot of fish. Got to sharpen up my French skills. And overall had a great time on a beautiful island.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

That summer came and went. And I returned to Riverside with a brand-new perspective of the world and also myself. However, in terms of my career and professional life, I felt like I hadn’t made much progress. Like at all. I tried to look into more “serious” jobs but with no real experience after college, I was out of luck. So, I took some time to reflect and really think about what I wanted out of life. I thought long and hard about my two back-to-back trips and realized that I am the happiest when I’m abroad. When I’m in an unfamiliar place. When I feel discomfort. So, I decided to DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN.

I returned to Amazon

Same job. Same location. Same everything. A lot of the staff and fellow associates that I met were still there too, so it was nice seeing familiar faces. Working at Amazon for the second time was… okay? I think since I was already familiar with the way the job worked it was easier to get into it, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t belong there. I would get frustrated and would often ask myself “What am I doing here?” or “Why am I here”. Things would get worse when I would hop on social media and see my college friends furthering in their careers and working high-paying jobs. In the end, I was able to tough it out and stayed at Amazon for about 10 months.

Mexico and Travel Part 2

Now came the fun part again. Just like before, I quit Amazon and embarked on my new journey. My first destination was Mexico City. I flew into Mexico City and spent a couple days exploring the local museums, monuments, and of course street tacos. I then met with some family, and we drove to the state of Michoacán. Here I was able to reconnect with my grandma, who I hadn’t seen in many years, and I took a tour through the small town of Benito Juarez, the place my mother was born and raised. It felt absolutely surreal walking through the town where the majority of my family comes from. I got to see the schools that my mom attended and the house that she was born in. While I was there, I also visited the local dentist for some teeth work. I told him who my mom was, and he responded with “Quick let’s take a selfie so you could send it to your mom”. Apparently, he was the same dentist who fixed my mom’s teeth after she fell off a scooter when she was only a child. It’s experiences like these that I never thought I would ever have.

Chichen Itza, Yucatan Mexico

After spending time in Michoacán, we then drove all the way back to Yucatan which is a two-night drive. That road trip was pretty insane and perhaps I’ll write about it in the future. While in Yucatan I mostly just hung out with family for a couple weeks before flying back home. It was just so cool being back after only just being there a year prior, and now I knew everyone. It was also cool to see the difference in the time I spent in Mexico this time around and how much more I got to see. The first trip was only about a week and a half long and I only really stayed in Yucatan whereas this time around I stayed in Mexico for almost a month and visited several different states.

Just like the summer before, I only stayed home in Riverside for a couple days before flying out again. Although this time instead of flying to Tahiti, I stayed within the country and flew to the East Coast. I went to visit some family in Atlanta. It wasn’t my first time there ever, but it was my first time there as an adult. So as you can imagine, I had a lot of fun in the downtown area. I also visited family in neighboring states like Florida and Tennessee, which was a lot of fun. Being from California I feel like we have this stereotypical view of what the East Coast and the American South is like. Conservatives. Fried foods. Country Music. Farms. Etc. To be honest though, I had a great time. Especially in Tennessee where I spent my time drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and going hiking and kayaking.


After returning from my month-long trip to the East Coast, I finally had some time to think about what I wanted to do moving forward. When I quit Amazon for the second time, I promised myself that I would never return. So, I knew that working there again was no longer an option. I also knew that I had to start taking my career more seriously. Especially after I began to receive subtle scrutiny from my friends and family. I would often overhear people speak about me saying things like “He went to UC San Diego but then worked at Amazon.” This made me a bit upset but honestly, not really. This is the way I saw it: If I were to travel back in time to my past self who was in the middle of college, and I were to tell myself that in “In the future you’re gonna work at Amazon” I think my past self would naturally be alarmed. However, I think if I followed up and explained how working in a warehouse after college would allow us to eventually travel to all these different places, I genuinely believe that my past self would be okay with it. I’m not actually sure if any of this makes any sense lol but basically, growing up I’ve always wanted to travel. I’ve always known that there was a bigger world out there that existed outside of Riverside. Outside of California. And outside of the United States. And I don’t regret doing the whole “WORK, QUIT, TRAVEL” routine that I did for two and a half years after graduating college.

The best trip was yet to come

The time is October 2022 and prior to this I had spent weeks trying to figure out what to do with my life. I continued working odd jobs; like custodial work (which was actually relaxing) and even worked at another warehouse where we assembled windows (this place was terrible, and I was bullied). Mentally, I was still struggling with trying to figure out where I wanted to go with my life and that’s when my friend Brian called. Just like before when my friend Kristin called me, Brian called and asked me if I wanted to go on a last-minute trip with him to Japan. JAPAN. Of course, I dropped everything and said yes and before I knew it I was on a plane headed for Tokyo.

Tokyo, Japan

Japan. The land of the rising sun. An oasis for anime nerds and dweebs alike. Basically, a perfect place for me. Japan was a place I’ve always dreamed about going as a kid, but just realistically never thought I would. I always had a keen interest in Japanese language, culture, and of course, anime. I remember back in middle school and high school I would be careful not to share that I watched anime out of fear of being roasted and made fun of. So, I was happy to finally be going to Japan for the first time. We mostly just stayed in the Tokyo area, but it was an amazing trip. I tried lots of different foods, interacted with locals, and went on an anime accessory shopping spree.

This Japan trip wouldn’t have been possible without sacrificing for a couple of years. Working in custodial services and scrubbing toilets was not fun. But walking down the streets of Tokyo at 3am with a bunch of friends I just met and a drink in hand made it all worth it baby!

Check out my Japan Vlog!


Let’s flash forward to today and I am exactly where I want to be. For the first time in my life, I am working at a job that I actually enjoy. A job that I look forward to everyday. Without giving away too much, I work at Riverside City Hall in the Mayor’s Office. It’s a standard 8-5 office job that a lot of young people dread, but I love it! Since it’s my first official real job after college, it took me a while to get used to but overall, I am very happy here. I never thought I would ever get to work with the Mayor and it’s also nice to work in an environment where I’m respected and valued. They even have an international relations program here and I’ve slowly been trying to get more involved. 🙂

Ward 5 Community Clean-up with Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson

Thank you so much for reading. I guess the moral of the story is, don’t give up!  I still eventually want to work overseas, but for now I am very happy here and hope to stay for as long as I can. Check out my Instagram for some travel inspiration: @Solspiks

CA Youth Job Corps

I was able to work at Riverside City Hall with practically no real work experience through the CaliforniansForAll Program.

Click here to learn more about this incredible opportunity.

Click here for the direct application that I applied for.

Also check out this news story on the CA Youth Job Corps program! (P.S. I make a star appearance)

Thanks and good luck!