Photo courtesy of Lauren Dana

I Graduated From College Early & It Wasn't Exactly What I Expected

If I'm being totally honest, I always secretly knew I would graduate college early. I began my college career with 29 credit hours, and the idea of not being on campus for a full four years had been in the back of my mind even before I enrolled as a freshman. Add in the fact that I met my partner (who is four years older than me) right before the start of my junior year, and you could probably imagine how I started to feel like I was stuck in a bubble as a college student.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy my time at school, though. I had phenomenal freshman and sophomore years. I went out every weekend, excelled in my coursework, and took on leadership roles at three different publications. But by my junior year, something felt missing, and school started to become less enticing. I was getting sick of the old college grind of living on a student's budget, and I became eager to hit the ground running with my career. In class, I'd find myself daydreaming about working in the city, having my own apartment, and managing my own schedule. I've always felt like a bit of an old soul, and as my relationship with my partner blossomed, I became more excited imagining what my future with him could look like, and less excited to spend Saturday nights out at my favorite frat. I knew it was time for me to move on.

After reflecting on the pros and cons of embarking on my own path, I came up with a new game plan: I'd leave campus for good in May of 2018, then spend my last semester working and taking classes in my school's New York City satellite campus. Once those final classes wrapped and I officially earned my degree, I would be set to fully immerse myself into post-grad life. And with that, I backed out of my lease for my senior year and set my sights on New York.

Photo courtesy of Zach Ellman

Although I wish I could say that spending my senior year fall semester in NYC was the time of my life, the reality is that it was stressful. Looking back, that semester feels like a blur of work, school, and commuting, but I can say now that it made the transition between college and the real world way easier. If I could spend a full day in the office before heading straight to my three-hour law class, I could handle (almost) anything. And while getting home at 9:30 p.m. two nights a week wasn't fun, it did help me gain confidence in my ability to juggle the post-grad life I'd been working so hard to achieve.

Then when I finally wrapped those last few classes in December 2018, I officially entered the real world, and I was ecstatic. After all, I had everything I ever wanted: a job in journalism, a loving partner, and beautiful apartment that we share together. But with all of that fulfillment hitting me all at once, I couldn't help but ask myself: "Now what?"

When I first graduated six months ago, everything seemed perfect, but I didn't feel as confident as an employee as I did as a student. Some days felt really sad, and those first few months of post-grad life were harder than I expected. I starting questioning my decision to graduate early, and by March my FOMO was hitting an all-time high as I'd feverishly scroll through social media at my desk, fighting off feelings of envy when I saw a never-ending feed of beachside selfies and party-centric snaps of my friends on spring break. Meanwhile, I began second-guessing my career path as I wondered where I saw myself working five years from now.

I had everything I ever wanted ... but with all of that fulfillment hitting me all at once, I couldn't help but ask myself: 'Now what?'

Not too long after spring break wrapped, I spent a solid hour crying on the phone to my parents. I opened up about working full-time while my peers were still at school on a college schedule, and how this drastic life change was making me feel anxious. I spoke openly to my therapist about navigating this transition period, and I eventually learned that it's OK not to have my whole life figured out (I can't believe I'm actually typing this!). While it's certainly challenging, there's something freeing about letting go of unrealistic fears, worries, and "what if"s. These days, when I feel anxious — because let's face it, anxiety doesn't just disappear — I've learned to remind myself why I chose to graduate early and think about everything I've accomplished as a result.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Dana

Now, I'm about six months into my job. I'm slowly learning about work-life balance, time management, and even the less-thrilling side of adulthood that includes things like learning how to pay bills and cook my own dinners. My decision to dive head-first into the working world afforded me the opportunity to learn about what I want out of my professional life, and think about how I can strive to reach my new goals.

I hope every young woman can lead their lives the way they want, and not in a way that friends or family expect. Forging my own path has helped me learn a lot about my own strength, confidence, and priorities, which I'm especially grateful to have learned early on in life as a 20-something post-graduate. After all, your 20s are all about taking chances and living life on your terms. Whether that means graduating early, moving to a new city, or starting a new job, I hope you find the confidence you need to take the risk.