Just graduated; a step into the unknown

Just graduated; a step into the unknown

Graduating from Higher Education usually marks the gateway to a new life. You’ve done all it takes to get your degree (and it takes a lot) and probably have debt from your student loan. Now it’s time to start reaping the rewards. This is easy for some, especially if you have done a vocational degree and assuming you still want to work in the profession you’ve trained for. Yet, lots of new graduates can find this transition difficult and don't feel at all well prepared for it.

Teenage girl studying at table
A step into the unknown

Many graduates have had a pre-determined path from school to college or 6th form through to Higher Education. There may be some hiccups on the way like not getting your grades, but on the whole, the path is clear. If you do the right things at the right time, you get to the next stage. Others may have taken a different path to get to HE. But for them, too there has been a clear direction.

When you leave University (or another Higher Education Institution) things start to seem a lot less clear. Even if you have a job or graduate training scheme lined up you don’t know what it’s going to be like. You may not have any idea about what kind of job you want, or you realise that you will not get the job you always dreamed of – well, not now, at least.

Loss and change

Moving into this new phase of your life can be really exciting but it is also a time of change and loss. Most graduates have had a fairly clear path in life up to now. School, college or 6th form, university. There may have been a few bumps along the way but overall, one thing has followed the other. This will not be the case for those graduates who have come out of education and then gone back to study at HE. But for all graduates the last 3 or 4 years will have followed a regular pattern driven by lectures, deadlines and exams. This coming to an end can be a relief but can also leave you feeling a bit at sea. What now? Coronavirus and lockdown will have exaggerated this.

Finishing HE can result in many losses, such as:

  • Student lifestyle and identity
  • Friends, social life, societies
  • Structure and purpose to the day
  • Support, especially if you are experiencing mental health difficulties
  • Finance, if you have been depending on a student loan
  • Independence, if you have to move back ‘home’ and fit in with parental rules and expectations
  • Housing, if you have been living in student accommodation and must move out. For many this might mean returning ‘home’. For others it might be more complicated.

It is very common to feel sadness, even grief, when experiencing loss. You might also feel anxiety about what next, especially if you are having financial or housing difficulties. Change can also bring mixed feelings of excitement and optimism along with fear and anxiety. Some people deal with change and loss better than others. This can depend on personality and circumstances. There is no right way, so it is important to be aware of how you are responding. If you feel you are not coping well and think about what steps you need to take to look after yourself.

Money worries and other practical considerations

Money worries can have a profound effect on people’s mental health. The stress and anxiety that this can cause can then make it even harder to try and take steps to manage. Being in debt can lead to depression and even in some extreme cases, suicide. Having financial difficulties is not a trivial thing.

Many of you have left HE with a substantial debt and will be hoping to get a return on your investment as soon as possible. The Covid-19 crisis will be making this harder with jobs in many sectors being much more difficult to come by. This will be particularly tough on those of you without the safety net of family to fall back on. Or if you have children or other caring responsibilities.

If you are in financial hardship or are worried about how you will manage going forward, it is especially important to look after your mental wellbeing (even though this may feel hard) and get as much help and guidance as you can.

Other practical considerations may be about where to live, how to adapt to moving back ‘home’ or having to move to a new area for work.

Self-care Strategies

Even if you are not experiencing difficulties with your mental health, it is a really good idea to get into good self-care habits. This will help you now and in the future. Looking after your mental and physical wellbeing will help you become more resilient in dealing with the difficulties and setbacks you might encounter. Try using our wellbeing action plan to keep yourself on track.


As we find more about the neuroscience of sleep, it’s important for physical and mental health is being more fully understood. It is important to get a full night’s sleep. For many people this will be 7 – 8 hours but it can be less or mare than this. If you have got into bad sleep habits, address these and make sure you get enough sleep. If you are stressed, anxious or depressed this might be easier said than done. As lack of sleep can exacerbate these problems, it is especially important to take steps to combat sleeplessness.

And finally, attend to your mental health

It is really important to get help sooner rather than later if you feel you are starting to struggle.

Change and transition can be especially challenging if you suffer, have suffered, or you’re feeling you are starting to develop mental health difficulties. This can be made harder still if you have lost your university support systems.

If you feel you are in a mental health crisis, call your GP, dial 111 or go to A&E.



Life after lockdown Wellbeing Action Plan

During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been through enormous change and some of us may experience further uncertainty and change in the coming weeks and months

View resource

Work from home wellbeing action plan

This is a personalised, practical tool that we can all use whether or not we have a mental health issue. There are sections for you to complete, including a positive daily plan.

View resource

Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

View resource

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