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Making the Transition From College Student To Professional

How to transition from being a college student to working a full-time job.

23422980_sSo, you are finished. You have completed all your credits and have your diploma in hand. You sent your resume out to employers, interviewed with some companies, and landed your first job. You are excited about getting started and being self-sufficient. Congratulations!!!! It’s time to move from college student to professional.

While graduating and starting your first job are great achievements, the transition from collegiate life to working professional is a large one. You will find that the etiquette and social norms in the working world are much different than in the halls of your academic buildings. For example, consider the way you greet your friends during your class breaks in the campus student union. You may say, “What’s up?” or “Hey, girl!” This setting is very informal so these greetings are appropriate. In the workplace, the atmosphere and setting is much more formal which will call for more professional speech and behavior. This example may seem trivial, but your employers and co-workers will judge you on speech, behavior, and professionalism in the office. It is up to you to show these individuals that you are intelligent, articulate, and motivated.

Another big adjustment will be your new time constraints. Most jobs require that employees be at work at specific time, take lunch at a specific time, and leave work at a specific time. As a college student, your day has been less structured. This can be very frustrating for a new professional because they have had four years of scheduling classes at times good for them, taking the work shifts that they wanted to work, and planning their social engagements accordingly. The new time structure will require adjustment. Learn to give yourself short breaks to use the restroom, get a cup of coffee or some water, and talk with your new colleagues. You will find that the day progresses more quickly that way.

As a college student, I threw on whatever clothes were clean, brushed my teeth, put some makeup on, and was out of the door for class. Attire and professional dress is a major part of being a good professional. It only takes a moment for individuals to make judgments about you. Your mannerisms and dress will play a major part in whether those judgments are positive or negative. 

In my opinion, the most important transition will be the work environment. Your ability to collaborate with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds, to cooperative with diverse personalities, to be a team player, and to work on projects with strict deadlines will all be put to test in your first job. Staying organized and managing your time will remain crucial. The good news is that college has provided you with these types of skills. The trick is to transfer them to your new environment: the workplace.

The transition from college to working life can be challenging. Your support system will become even more important at this point. They can provide a sympathetic ear to you during the frustrating times and enthusiasm when you become more comfortable with your new surroundings. I had a former student of mine email me about some of her new workplace struggles. She had not been in contact with any of her college friends since graduation. I suggested that she contact them to see how things were going in their new jobs and let them know about her current workplace issues. After emailing some of them, she found that they were all struggling with the same things as she was. They all commented about how they needed to wake up one hour earlier to take a shower and dress up before work and how they had to take lunch at noon and be back in one hour on the dot. As this story illustrates, often times people are experiencing the same feelings in their first job but no one communicates it.

Stay in contact with your college buddies and initiate conversation with your new co-workers. These are the people that will be excited for you when you get a promotion, be encouraging when you accept a new job, and motivate you when times get tough!!!!!!!!!!!


About Amy Ertel

Amy Ertel earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Education in Student Affairs Counseling from Southeastern Louisiana University. Previously, she served as a Career Counselor with the Professional Development Office at the Tulane School of Law.


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