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How to Handle the Stress of Planning Your Future

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Planning for your future is exciting, but it can also be really stressful. As a college student, you may be thinking about what you’re going to do after graduation. A job, more school, a career path, or even traveling are all paths that you could take. To handle the stress of planning for your future, try to solidify your plan, avoid comparing yourself to others, and focus on your day-to-day experiences to turn graduation into a positive milestone rather than a negative one.

Managing Anticipatory Stress

Make graduation a positive goal instead of a negative deadline. As you prepare for the future, you may start to dread your graduation date. However, getting through college is tough, and you should look forward to your graduation and congratulate yourself for making it this far. Try to see your graduation date as the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in your life. [1] Celebrate your graduation with your friends and family to solidify this as a good thing instead of a negative deadline.

Focus on your day-to-day experiences. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by thoughts of the future as you start planning ahead. Take time out of your day to appreciate where you are right now. Although college can be stressful at times, take note of your friends, your family, and the good times that you are having while you are in school right now. [2]

People often look back on their college years as some of the most fun ones. Try to appreciate where you are right now instead of stressing about the future.

Think positively about your future. A negative mindset will only serve to bring you down and lead to more stress. Try to keep a positive outlook when you think about your future plans. Remember that you are more than just your career path and try to think about all the things you might accomplish someday. [3] The future should be something to look forward to, not something to dread.

Avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone is on a different life path, and when you compare yourself to others, you are ignoring your different backgrounds and struggles. As you plan for your future, keep your thoughts on yourself, and try to avoid comparing your achievements to your peers’, friends’, and family members’. [4] Odds are that most of your friends are also stressed about the future.

Try not to get discouraged if you can’t find a job right away. If you plan to start a career right after college, it can be frustrating to look for jobs. Often, people do not end up getting their dream job when they first apply to it. As you look for jobs, keep in mind that you are still young and you may not go down the exact path that you set for yourself. [5]

Tip: Finding an internship while in college can help you plan for your career. Try to do an internship for at least 1 term in college to gain experience and to give you an idea of what jobs you might want to pursue after you graduate.

Planning for Your Future

Evaluate your own skills and interests to decide what you want to do. As you get closer to graduating college, you have probably amassed a fair amount of skills from classes and internships. Combine these with your interests to determine what path you want to take after college. Graduate school, a job, or a career path are all valid options to choose in your desired area. [6] Factor the degree you will be graduating with into your career path as well.

Reach out to your advisors to get advice. The advisors who helped you pick your class schedule can also help you plan for your career. Set up a meeting with your advisor and ask them specific questions about their own career paths and if they have any advice on reaching your goals. Write down any suggestions or tips they have that could help you in the future. [7]

  • For example, you could ask, “Are there any job posting boards for my career path?”
  • “Do you know how much demand there is in the field?”
  • “Do you have any advice on how to get my foot in the door at a large company?”

Go to graduate school if your job requires a higher degree. Grad school is a huge step, and it usually takes more time and effort to complete than an undergraduate degree. If you are committed to following a job path that requires either a Master’s degree or a PhD., consider going to graduate school right away. Undergraduate degrees like pre-med and pre-law will probably not be applicable to any jobs you apply for. [8] You may be able to find a job that will pay for your graduate program while you work there.

Find a job if you're eager to work in your field or if you need the money. If you're excited about starting your career, look for a job that begins right after you graduate. Also, student loans are a concern for many college students. Typically, you have about 6 months after you graduate with your undergraduate degree before you must start paying your student loans back. If you’d like to get a jump start on the process, look for work so you can start chipping away at your debt. [9]

  • Be sure to factor your student loan payments into any budget you create for yourself in the future.

Visit your college’s career center for job-hunting resources. Most 2- and 4-year colleges have career centers that help students plan for their job and career prospects. Set up an appointment with yours and get advice about finding a job, building a resume, and making connections in your field. [10] If you aren’t sure what career path you want to take, a career center can also help you match your skills and interests to a job.

Take a gap year to decide your path if you can. If you aren’t really sure what you’d like to do after college, consider taking 10 to 12 months to think about it. You can work a minimum wage job, travel, or pursue a hobby as you decide what to do with your life. Keep your expenses as low as possible by living with a family member as you decide which avenue to pursue. [11]

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to connect to a local crisis center or text MHA to 741741 to connect to a trained Crisis Counselor 24/7. You can also call 911 or visit your local emergency room.