Advice to Recent Grads from a Not-So-Recent Grad


My sister graduated college a couple of weekends ago (shoutout Rachel), along with roughly 2 million other people in the United States (shoutout you guys). She now has a full summer ahead of her before she reports to Xavier for a graduate school program mid-August. I followed a similar schedule when I graduated back in 2011- enjoyed one last summer at home, waitressed a ton, and continued to go out like a college kid until I moved to Chicago for graduate school. Plus, we both had the unique experience of living on campus for all four years of college (we went to small schools where that was the norm), so we knew next to nothing about living outside of the liberal arts college bubble.

(I know this, because I just explained what a security deposit was to her, knowing full well that I had to have someone else explain it to me roughly five years ago.)

What I remember most about that time is being antsy, constantly bouncing on the balls of my feet waiting for phase two of my life to start. I wanted to be prepared, but outside of an entire notebook with lists and things I needed to buy for my new metropolitan apartment, I wasn’t really sure how to do that. In hindsight, those lists couldn’t have predicted what I would learn just by being in a completely unfamiliar situation (i.e., adulting).

With that in mind, here’s the advice to recent grads I would have given the 2011 edition of Kristen Geil – and what I’ll tell the 2016 version of Rachel Geil.

Looking for Apartments? Ask Questions

Ask so many questions the landlord thinks you are incapable of speaking in declarative sentences. Ask about a security deposit and move-in fees. Ask what utilities include. Ask about who you would call if your faucet is leaking, and how long they would take to get back to you. Ask what the neighborhood is like (and then do research on your own). Ask where the laundry is. Ask about water pressure, and then test the faucets and the shower and flush the toilet just to make sure you see it for yourself. Ask about room dimensions (because no matter how beautiful that Anthropologie armoire is, you’re going to feel like an idiot if it doesn’t fit through the doorway). Ask if they require renter’s insurance (and even if they don’t GET IT ANYWAY. Can’t emphasize this enough). Ask about the application process. Take pictures, take measurements and don’t be pressured by a pushy landlord into signing anything until you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

Look for Roommates? Get Them Verified

You can roll the dice with Craigslist, of course, and I’ve heard some amazing success stories of people who have found lifelong friends that way. My preferred method of roommate hunting is the “friend of a friend” method. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a roommate- post a Facebook status, tell your dad’s tennis buddies, tell your kindergarten teacher when you run into her at the grocery store. That way, you have a go-to source to ask the hard questions- is this person a party animal on the weekends who holds it together during the week? Do they have a history of dating losers and letting them hang around the apartments? You’ll get the inside info without coming off as paranoid to your new potential roommate.

(That’s not to say don’t ask potential roommates similar questions- definitely do, in a tactful way that conveys you want the best fit for both of you. You’re just less likely to get completely honest, “this is me at my worst” answers straight from the source)

Learn How to Make Three Meals

A healthy breakfast that you like and look forward to eating, a simple lunch that you can make the night before and take to work or school and a five ingredient, 30-minutes-or-less dinner that you can throw together on weeknights when you don’t have money to go out, but you are traumatized by the thought of cooking.

Also, buy a crockpot. Use it. Love it.

Find a Way to Move That You Like

My sister is in the midst of transitioning from college athlete to NARP (non-athletic regular person). Whereas in college you might have had a training schedule to keep you honest, or maybe just walking and riding your bike around campus was enough to keep you relatively fit (enjoy it while you can, jerks), there’s no better time than the present to test out some new ways to stay in shape that maybe weren’t available to you in college. A one-month trial of ClassPass is a great option if you live in a city with it, and most studios and gyms will let you do a free or reduced price trial as a test drive.

No need to be obsessive about it, but figure out what style of exercise keeps you interested and motivated enough to do it at least three times per week. If nothing else, aim to take at least 10,000 steps per day (harder than you think once you spend all day at a desk or studying). You’ll be way ahead of your friends who continue eating and drinking like they’re in college for years 21-25 of their lives, and then suddenly realize that their bodies can’t process the food and booze like they used to.

Be Financially Literate

A mistake most people in their 20s make is thinking that earning a paycheck is carte blanche to spend that exact amount of money that month. Not so fast, my friends. Eighty percent of the time, you should be living on the modest to frugal side, with the occasional splurge purchase. Our friend Cass Gunderson has several incredible posts that will give recent college grads the tools they need to be financially smart, including:

Money is scary, and many of us tend to go the “ignorance is bliss” route with finances. Please, please, please don’t do that. Saving money now can pay off immensely in the future. Can’t stress this enough (Rachel, I will be quizzing you on these posts).

Keep a Parent or a Trusted “Adult” on Speed Dial

Secrets: everyone has questions about adulting. No one has it all figured out. The only way most of us get by is by asking our supposedly stupid questions to other people who have been through it already, and figuring it out together. You’re not expected to graduate college and automatically know how to file your own taxes (although why Personal Finance 101 isn’t required along with the core subjects is a mystery to me). From someone who’s satisfactorily puttering along is quasi-adulthood, I love offering wisdom and advice to the young grasshoppers these days. It makes me feel useful, and wise, and okay, a little smug. Adulthood is not synonymous with being a lone wolf who doesn’t need the help of anyone else; it’s having a sense to know when you’re in over your head and need to call in some reinforcements.


You’ve got your diploma. Now, it’s time to earn your street smarts. Go out there and adult like a boss.

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

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