The Transition from College into the Next Chapter of Life

“The majority of college students (more than 60 percent) meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem—a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013” (Flannery, 2023).

Transitioning from college into your career or your next step in life can feel exciting but also incredibly scary, with many unknowns. It can leave recent college graduates feeling overwhelmed by navigating the job market or determining where they want to go next with their passions. “A recent national student survey found that nearly eight in 10 (79%) graduating seniors say COVID-19 impacted their workforce preparedness, and 68% cited their mental health as the primary reason for feeling less prepared” (Gandara, 2023). Additionally, you might have had the experience of the familiarity of your community, groups of friends, and your favorite places to go near your college campus. You may begin to feel a culture shock as your friends move to different places and you try to find your way in new settings, such as a big move to a new city or state, back at your parents’ home, or at a new job.

Signs of anxiety, depression, and heightened stress:

  • Feeling lonely or isolated (not wanting to text or message people back, not wanting to respond to people, not feeling close to people, not feeling positive about relationships)
  • Feeling on edge
  • Lack of confidence
  • More easily irritated or “snappy” with people
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Lack of motivation or interest in doing things you usually would enjoy
  • Worry, such as concern that nothing will ever work out positively for you
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Fear of the future or that something bad will happen
  • Feeling bad about the past
  • Feeling stuck or lost
  • Feeling loss of control
  • Changes in appetite
  • Physical sensations such as fast heart rate, feeling shaky or fidgety, difficulty breathing, or quick breathing
  • Lack of physical sensations or feeling numbed out and disconnected
  • Overwhelm
  • Feeling you have too much to do and unsure how to do it all or not enough time
  • Difficulty with self care activities, such as regularly brushing teeth, showering, eating regularly, getting outside, or taking medications as needed

“According to Dr. Libby O’Brien, ‘Feeling anxiety, depression, or some degree of ‘stuckness’ and discomfort after graduating is normal. It’s a change, and change can be very challenging to negotiate. You don’t necessarily know what comes next'” (Gandara, 2023).

Some potential contributing factors to post-graduation anxiety or depression can include:

  • Unknowns about the future
  • Disappointment that things do not look how you hoped or expected for them to at this point in your life
  • Financial stress due to loans, potentially beginning at lower paying jobs to get your foot in the door, and paying rent
  • Difficulty finding a job right away
  • Difficulty forming a sense of community and friendship outside of your collegiate community that you have had for the past 4 or more years
  • Lack of confidence or imposter syndrome due to being new to workplace environments
  • Not knowing what to do or not having a clear path forward after graduation
  • Feeling loss of fun, independence, support, structure, or sense of self in this new reality

“COVID-19 means college students instantly lost much of their access to friends, classmates, and professors. They may have lost an internship or other opportunity,” and “Now they’re emerging from college into a world in which businesses are downsizing. That’s a lot of uncertainty and isolation to deal with.” – Tanya J. Peterson, National Board of Certified Counselors and a diplomate of the American Institute of Stress

Some ways you can manage stressors during this time include:

Creating a routine for yourself.

  • While in college, you may have had a pretty stable structure set each semester as you obtained a class schedule. If you are finding yourself in a position where you are searching for a job or your next step in life, you may not have that automatic, built in structure to your day, which can leave one feeling a lack of motivation, directionless, and hopeless. Some small and realistic ways to begin a daily routine include:
  • Set a regular wake up and sleep schedule for yourself. Sleeping in on some days and waking up early on other days can have an impact on your overall mood regulation and anxiety management. Irregular sleep patterns can also impact your sense of motivation and openness to do things that may be important to you.
  • Identify 5-7 things that you absolutely need to do for yourself everyday to feel as good as you can. These can be really simple such as brushing your teeth at least twice per day, having 3 meals and 2 snacks per day around the same time each day, connecting with at least 1 friend per day via text or social media, showering, changing your clothes from nighttime clothes/pajamas into daytime clothes, getting fresh air outside for at least 5 minutes, or moving your body in a way that feels good and fun.

Explore ways to build community outside of or alongside college relationships.

This could include professional networking, though it could also include finding new social connections for fun. College often offers a lot of student organizations and losing that can feel really isolating, especially if you have been accustomed to all your closest friends living within walking distance from you and now they no longer are. Some ideas might be joining a local sports league, attending a regular yoga or meditation class, a safe spiritual or church group, joining a pottery or painting class, or volunteering with others.

Identify your values.

If you are feeling directionless and unsure about what you even want to do next, defining the things that you value as an individual can be extremely helpful. Values are not goals, but rather the things that are most important to us at our core that guide our goals. For example, if you highly value authenticity and wellbeing, you can begin to think about daily activities, such as moving your body in a way that you actually enjoy that feels authentic for you versus moving your body in a way that feels dreadful, fatiguing, or draining. If you love to dance and hate to run, don’t force yourself to run! That’s not authentic to you. Find opportunities to dance! You may also be able to find potential job or growth opportunities that allow you to align with authenticity and wellbeing through a work environment that allows for and promotes a balance between work and personal time. A therapist can assist with the process of this exploration process. You can also begin to think on your own about what is most important to you when it comes to what you want this next chapter in your life to be guided by. The following online resource can also assist you in better identifying and understanding what you value:

How else can a therapist be helpful during this time?

Seeing a therapist while going through the transition period following college graduation can be helpful to have someone on your team, there for support and guidance. A therapist can help you identify ways to problem-solve, figure out what you want to do next, manage stress, and increase fulfillment and direction in life. Therapists can also help you navigate relationships that may be changing during this time in your life with friends, family, and romantically. This process can feel lonely and you do not have to go through this process alone.


Delzell, Emily. Post-College Depression: Why You Feel Lonely.

Flannery, Mary Ellen. The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses. National Education Association Today. (2023.)

Gandara, Samantha. After College: Facing the Uncertainty of What’s Next and Prioritizing Mental Health Care. American Psychiatric Association. (2023.)

Values Exercise. Think 2 Perform. (2024.)