Preparing for life outside classroom

The Real World. Say that to a recent college grad all you may get is a list of their favorite characters on the MTV reality hit. A concept not commissioned by MTV, the real world,

The Real World. Say that to a recent college grad all you may get is a list of their favorite characters on the MTV reality hit. A concept not commissioned by MTV, the real world, in this context, refers to a place outside the protective shell of academia.

The end of the semester is days away and it’s time for graduates to make some of the most crucial decisions of their lives. As cliché as it may be, it’s time to navigate the possibilities a hard-earned college degree offers, find the right job, get an apartment, figure out how to pay those credit card bills.

Essentially: start life. But here’s an idea. The Apprentice, NBC’s recently-ended reality smash hit, focused on the use of project managers. Why not treat life after college like a project needing planning, budgeting, trial and error and all that jazz?

“Decide on your life goals, then develop a plan and a timeline, and then execute the plan,” said Janet Burns, director of project management for The New York Times Corporation. “Along the way learn lessons from the things that work and don’t work, then change accordingly.”

Burns has more than 20 years of experience in information technology and has led the project management improvement initiative at The New York Times Corp. since 2000.

Why shouldn’t we take her advice? It’s a simple, practical way of going about the process of entering the “real world.”

Burns stresses organization, but says to consider personal needs first.

“Figure out what you love to do and what you’re good at and find a job that will let you do it – it may not be exactly what you studied for in college but the job market is still tough so competition is fierce,” she explained. “You have to stand out to get an offer; show a company what value you’ll add right away.”

True and true. The job market is tough and college grads will not only pressuring themselves to put that piece of paper to work, but can expect to be relentlessly queried about their “plans” by friends and family. Burns suggested turning that chatter into ching.

“Network with as many friends, contacts, family as possible. You never know where a job offer will come from.”

Although nothing beats the four familiar walls of a college dorm, graduation means it is time to move on. Experience a newest stage of life (and, if that has already happened, consider a move – the change of scenery might prove more motivating).

Online housing conglomerate Renters Paradise suggested picking a location first. Then, evaluate properties, list the important ones (pets allowed, on-site parking, security, etc), talk to neighbors and be prepared for the move.

Adventures in Education (AIE), an economic savior for the student pre- and post-college, discusses those pesky student loans in their handy brochure. It’s available on their Web site at

Know all the details of a student loan before signing the dotted line, but once a tangible income is coming in, be prepared to subtract one-fourth for taxes, according to AIE. Take that number and work a student loan payment into the budget.

What should be expected of a starting salary?

“Your starting salary will probably be higher than someone without your education, but you shouldn’t count on the big bucks right away. You can get some idea about starting salaries for jobs that interest you by reading the Occupational Outlook Handbook,” according to AIE.

You worked hard for that degree. Take your skills and your 20-something fresh face and pound that pavement. Work hard, smell roses and when faced with new challenges just remember how daunting registration on Owlnet once seemed.

If you can handle the Diamond line you can handle anything.

Matt Donnelly can be reached at

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