• The Fellows Initiative

Freedom, Structure and the Transition to Post-College Life

by John Kyle

The first months after college can be exciting and challenging. They can be filled with adventure and the sense of a fresh start. It’s a season that often involves a new city, a new job, a new place to live, new routines, and new expectations.

In spite of these great things, it can also be a time of life marked by loneliness, doubt, anxiety, and disappointment. Several studies have indicated that loneliness peaks before 30, and can be especially intense during the first year or two after college. The physical space of the college campus can make friendships easier to find and maintain. Campus ministry provides walkable access to worship and spiritual connections. All of this can be much harder after college.

Freedom and Structure in College

In these and other ways, the transition from life in college to life after college can be challenging. Freedom and structure are two aspects of life that are impacted by this transition and are worth considering.

Most students are busy in college. There are books to read, papers to write, projects to complete, and lectures to attend. Many students are also involved in clubs or other organizations that require time and commitment. And yet, most college students have a tremendous amount of freedom. To a large degree, they can choose when they want to study – morning, afternoon, evening. They can choose to visit with friends during the day or well into the night. They can scroll through social media or watch Netflix until 2:00am.

At the same time, the main measures of success and performance in college are highly structured. When you choose a major, the university tells you the specific list of core courses and general ed courses you have to take. When you arrive in class, the first thing you receive is a syllabus from the professor that outlines all that must be done to get an A – papers, readings, classroom participation. The terms of engagement and expectations for success are clear and well-defined in advance by the professor.

Freedom and Structure after College

College is marked by high freedom and high structure. Once a student leaves the university and enters their career, the situation changes radically. The change can be sudden and unsettling.

In the working world, for the most part, we are expected to be busy at an early hour of the morning. Depending on our industry and the work culture of our city, we might be working until early evening or later. If we work with international clients or colleagues, we might find ourselves in 4:00am and 9pm meetings to accommodate time zone differences. This aspect of post-college life can make us feel that our freedom has been ripped from us. Until we find our stride and cadence, this new pace can seem confining. We can no longer meet friends for mid-afternoon coffee or stay out late at night.

The situation with structure is no better. When we start in that first job, we are often surprised by the fact that we are expected to figure out most things on our own. It’s easy to be disappointed by the lack of time and investment the boss makes in us. In most jobs, no one passes out a syllabus on the first day that explains how to be successful. For these and other reasons, the lack of structure in the workplace can lead to frustration and doubt about our sense of vocation.