5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Recent College Graduate

Katharine Brooks is the director of liberal-arts career services at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of You Majored in What?
To avoid a post-commencement faux pas, consider these expert-tested do’s and don’ts when speaking with a recent grad.

“What Can You Do With That Degree?”

No one poses this question to electrical-engineering students. But ask a roomful of liberal-arts folks if they’ve heard it and every hand goes up. It’s frustrating for them. A better question might be “What have you learned that will help you do what you enjoy?” Today’s economy is rapidly evolving, and many new grads will end up as freelancers or entrepreneurs and perform jobs that don’t exist right now. Ultimately, what really matters is whether they have developed the critical-analysis skills to help them succeed.

“You Should Go to Law School.”

Many college graduates jump into law school because they don’t know what they actually want to do. Parents and friends suggest it because they think it’s a safe default. But a grad should choose his life’s path only once he knows himself well enough to be sure of what he wants. I think people should first spend a few years exploring to figure out what engages their passions. I ended up in law school because my mother pressured me to “do something already.” She wanted me to go to medical school but settled for law. I got lucky and stumbled into a field I love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end up that way for everyone.

“Do You Have a Job Lined Up?”

While firms in a few areas, like finance, recruit seniors before commencement, many companies fill positions as they open up. So this type of question can make students heartsick. Instead, offer them any industry connections you have. And be sure to ask them how they are feeling, listen to them express frustration, and offer hope.

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2 thoughts on “5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Recent College Graduate”

  1. I’m a recent college graduate myself and these questions certainly brought back memories of the insecurities I had after first graduating. I was fortunate to have a job lined up, but working on a political campaign isn’t what most people saw as a “real” job so I still dealt with the feeling of needing to validate my degree and my career choice.

    1. I agree! I’m studying Ancient History and most people automatically assume I want to be a teacher, because they have absolutely no idea what else Historians do.

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