Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, April 20, 2006





It's All Relative: Is There Life After College?

 by Stephanie Berger
 published on Thursday, April 20, 2006



I recently turned 21 -- a milestone that was significant to me, for the most part, because I could finally stop feeling like a child when everyone else at the dinner table ordered a glass of wine and I was stuck with a Shirley Temple.

My mom, however, saw turning 21 as having implications beyond legal drinking.

"Legally, at 18 you're an adult, but you're really an adult at 21," she told me. With just one year of college left, my mom says she can no longer deny that soon I'll be moving on to a new phase of my life, with new adventures to face (the least exciting being figuring out how to pay all those bills on my own).

However, my mother said something else that struck me as significant and scary.

"Your next big milestones will be getting married and having children," she said.

"Just think how many exciting things might happen by the time you're 30."

Whoa. I'm certainly not putting a deadline on anything in my life, but it is both frightening and thrilling for me to think that so many things might fall into place for me in the next nine years.

It's easy for college students to focus on the here and now, especially with so much homework -- and so many parties. Whether you go through the four (plus) years of higher education in an alcohol-induced haze or a frantic 24-hour studyfest, at some point you're going to wake up and smell the coffee of your approaching real life.

I've known many people who have contrived to delay real life from catching up with them. From changing or adding majors, to working and only taking classes part time, there are plenty of ways to stretch what could be a four-year education into extra semesters. Not that I disrespect people who do so -- everyone needs their own pace for education.

But eventually, it will be time to face the music. And the fear is that the music of adulthood will sound a lot more like the elevator variety, instead of the indie-punk-rock madness that is college.

The idea of working a 9-to-5 or trying to climb the corporate ladder is daunting enough, but when you throw finding a mate into the mix, things get downright terrifying. Unless you graduate and marry your college sweetheart, you're going to be thrown into a whole new dating pool. If at any point in your mid-to-late 20s, finding Mr. or Mrs. Marriage Material becomes a goal, you may find yourself looking for an entirely different variety of the opposite sex than you once pursued.

Of course, throwing the children question into the mix only further complicates the issue. If you do want kids, it's a question of when to have them -- while you're still young, or not until your careers and financial assets are more firmly established? And if you don't want kids, there's dealing with the annoying questions from people who can't understand why you'd make that decision.

So -- feeling stressed out yet?

In the end, you just can't worry too much about the future.

I've resigned myself to the idea that in the field of journalism, I will never make the salary straight out of college that I once dreamed of. I probably won't have that New York City penthouse apartment for a few years, either. But maybe I can find myself a tiny hole-in-the-wall loft and a job that will pay the rent, and in the beginning, that really will be enough. As for marriage, kids and all those big life questions -- I'll cross those bridges when I get to them.

The future is one big "if" that is always approaching in one way or another. Remember starting middle school, high school and college? Starting the "real world" is really just the next, logical step.

Or, you could always start working on another major.

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