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The transition from college to work and life after college is both exciting and unsettling, and sometimes it can seem like you don’t know where to turn for answers, help, and guidance as you make your way through. I hope by now that it’s clear that you have a whole community of resources available to you – where you live, online, and back on campus. This is what being a Wake Forest alumnus is all about! Take some time with this transition and give yourself the time and the grace that you need to walk through it intentionally and with care for yourself. No one expects you to have it all figured out on day one, even though sometimes it can feel that way. Trust me, most of us are still figuring it out, years down the road.

Once you get past these first few months, I invite you to check out our Five For Your First Five, the five key competency areas which we have identified as critical to your success in work and in life in your first five years post-graduation. You will find tools and resources on our website (, with in-person and online mentoring groups you can join to process the experience and build your community, webinars and an online course, as well as a book which explores these areas more in-depth. In these five areas you won’t find everything you need to know; no such book or resource exists! But after years of research and work with young professionals just like you we feel quite confident that if you master these five areas, you will be well on your way to a successful post-college experience.

So, what are the five areas? They are briefly explained below.

Do the Work. The first competency area is all about gaining real work experience. The first few years out of college can feel particularly jarring as the day-to-day realities of entry-level jobs collide with preconceived expectations of what that experience would look or feel like. How do you take ownership for your experience and make sure you are getting out of it what you should be? How do you start to build your post-college résumé? How do you claim your voice and your space within your organization? These questions are explored here. Your first job is a critical time to start discovering strengths, interests, and skills for the future. This is also the time to start examining what you do and don’t like about work and how these relate to where you want to be in the future. First and foremost, everything during this time of transition starts and ends with the work you do and how you do it.

Build a Life. The second competency area is about creating positive life habits. Some of these are practical issues around finances, retirement planning, and health and well-being. But others are a bit less obvious. These include questions like how will you spend your time when it is completely your own? How do you find and create hobbies? What are those individual personal habits you value, and how will you prioritize those in an already-full day? What happens when things don’t go exactly as you had planned them and there is no safety net? This competency area explores these questions and identifies strategies you can put into practice.

Create Community. Related to this point, competency area three is all about building community. We all need to feel like we belong to a place. However long you intend to live somewhere, you need to live where you live. That means putting down roots, joining groups, and building intentional relationships. It means adopting an attitude of permanence. Just like you now have the ability to choose how you spend your time, as an adult you also get to choose with whom you spend that time. And it’s so critical – both personally and professionally – that you make the choices that are right for you, choosing people who align with your values and interests. Creating community means finding adult friends, being intentional about who you are letting into your life and why, and building a robust, diverse network of mentors and wise counselors who can help you to explore the decisions and choices you are making.

Practice Reflection. In competency area four we explore the power of reflection and lifelong learning. Really, this entire model is about encouraging you to be reflective: reflecting on the choices and decisions you are making, why you are making them, and what you are learning about yourself along the way. This is such a valuable part of your growth and development as an adult that we have built intentional reflective strategies into each of the five competency areas to encourage you to begin this practice. Mentoring relationships, in particular, are all about reflective practices, taking intentional stock of where you are, where you have been, and where you are headed. In this competency area you will look at how you can seek out and build these relationships, as well as how you can practice mindfulness, be open to feedback, and identify your strengths and opportunities for growth.

Own What’s Next. Finally, competency area five looks at how to take each of these intentional practices into your future. At some point during the next few years you likely will be forced to choose between the safety and comfort of known success, and the uncertainty and risk of potential failure. This may be a choice you seek out based on what you have learned about yourself, your values, your strengths, and your skills. Or, you may have an opportunity that appears unexpectedly, maybe even before you think you are ready for it. Either way, you can and should start to do some planning now, to put yourself in the best possible position to assess these choices when they appear. In this competency area you will do some intentional preparation for what comes next, in your career and in your life.

So that’s it. Your First Five. On the face of it, it’s not so challenging. But we all need a helping hand along the way. None of us can be successful in a vacuum, and we all need other people to guide us, challenge us, and open doors for us. You are no different! Seek out the help that you need, whether it’s from Wake Forest, from your new colleagues, from your friends and family, or others. No matter what, know that there is a whole community of people who are in your corner, supporting you and cheering you on.

Welcome to the Wake Forest alumni community! We are thrilled that you are here.


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Post-College Starter Kit Copyright © by Wake Forest University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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