The Latina’s Guide To Graduation

I remember walking across the stage like it was yesterday. I waited nervously behind the curtain and adjusted my cap one last time before the announcer called my name. I made the dean of Arizona State University raise the roof. At the same time, he handed me my diploma then walked off the stage while thousands of people watched. I’m happy to say my prayer not to fall was heard, and all ended well that day. 

Graduating from college is still one of my most significant accomplishments to date. It’s a new and exciting time making you ready for new opportunities and growth on so many levels. After graduation, the time after graduation is valuable, so use it wisely and set yourself up for success with these easy steps. 

Grab info from people you are close to for references 

This is the one thing you MUST do before you graduate and dip out: GATHER YOUR REFERENCES. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to apply for an opportunity, and one of the requirements was asking for a letter of recommendation from someone who knows you in an academic setting. I’m like, WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO ASK? IS IT WEIRD TO TRACK THEM DOWN ON FACEBOOK? 

Don’t be like me. Make a list of all the professors you not only like but will give you a glowing review. Ask them to write you a letter of recommendation NOW so you’re ready to go for the future, and also ask them for their contact info so you can keep in touch. Now is a great time to make sure you have a professional email address in case you don’t. First name dot last name works best. If that is unavailable, try adding a number (but not one personally related to you, like your birthdate or part of your social). 

Update your Linkedin 

Linkedin is the new resume. I know many people who no longer have a resume BECAUSE of Linkedin. I have repeatedly been asked to share mine when applying for new opportunities, both with my day job and multiple businesses. That said, Linkedin is essential

Linkedin is divided into several sections, so put time aside to fill them all out fully. Write an engaging introduction and fill out your experience, highlighting your expertise and skills. Be sure to include volunteer opportunities and certifications in any area, especially if it applies to your current job search. Something random about me: I have a certificate in counter-terrorism. It’s not relevant to 99.9% of the work opportunities I seek, but it’s always a fun talking point, and it makes me stand out against the crowd.

Make a budget 

Any significant life change is going to affect your personal finances, and that includes graduating college. If you don’t already have one in place, now is the time to get a budget started. 

Sit down and write out all of your expenses, both fixed and variable. A fixed expense is a bill that doesn’t vary from month to month. Examples of a fixed expense are rent, your cell phone bill, internet, etc. A variable expense is something that fluctuates from month to month. Examples of variable expenses are groceries, gas, beauty products, etc. It’s essential to write down all expenses, so you know where your money is going. 

Once all expenses are listed, match this to your take-home pay and see where you stand. The money you bring home should cover all of your expenses plus quarterly bills like car registration. If your income is not cutting it, look at ways to increase it or figure out how to make it stretch by cutting back. 

I do both of these things. It’s much easier at this stage in my life to make more money than it is to cut back on my expenses, but I try to cut back when I can. I look for discounts on regular bills like my cellphone, and I live in a very outdated apartment from the 1960s. I also use random coupons that come in the mail and always check my Target app. By cutting back where I can and earning more, I can put money towards important things, like paying for my special needs cat and all of his health issues.  

Stay up to date with student loans. 

Ah yes, the topic everyone hates unless you are incredibly blessed and didn’t graduate with any. Student loans. Making a plan to stay current on your student loans is one of the best things you can do not only post-college but financially as well. 

When you receive student loans in college, your money is distributed by a student loan service provider. A student loan service provider is typically a financial institution such as a bank. Depending on the school you are attending, it can be in-house. Once you graduate (or stop attending), you are automatically entered into what is called a forbearance. A forbearance is a grace period (typically six months) where you do not have to pay back your student loans.

Once you have graduated, your student loan provider will transfer your student loans to a student loan servicer. A student loan servicer will contact you shortly after graduation by mail to let you know that they have received your student loans. They’ll give you a timeline to let you know what your first payment is due. It’s essential to have accurate contact information for your student loan servicer, who grabs it from your school. Make sure your info is correct and updated with the register office.

Once your service loan servicer has let you know what you owe and what your payment amount will be, get busy. There are plenty of loan forgiveness programs you may qualify for, so do some research. If you don’t qualify for any programs, look into refinancing them. 

I love and recommend Juno. Juno is relatively new but an excellent concept. You sign up to join a pool of people who already have student loans just like you and enter your information. Juno then goes and haggles with lenders to see if they will offer to refinance at a better rate. You can have both private and public student loans, and Juno works with international students. I love that because that means you’re not priced out of a traditional financial institution because you don’t have a social security number, which happens a lot of the time. 

Suppose you can’t refinance through a private lender or a company like Juno. In that case, I recommend calling your student loan servicer to look into income-driven repayment plans. You traditionally pay no more than ten percent of your net income as a monthly payment for a set amount of time (usually 20 years for undergrad, 25 for graduate degrees). Then, the rest is forgiven. 

Breathe

Graduating from college is a big deal. I still consider it one of the most important and proudest days of my life. I was the first in my family to graduate with not only one but several degrees. My education is something that no one can ever take away from me, and the same goes for you too. I want you to know that you worked tremendously hard and take the time to savor the moment and celebrate YOU. 

Graduating is a fun and exciting time in your life. Let me know in the comments which step above is one you’re planning to take. 

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