Advice for newly minted college graduates

This time of the year is college graduation season, and attending a graduation party this weekend put me into a reflective mode.  I've been thinking about my own trajectory after college, and what things I might do different if I could go back 10 years and re-live my 20s.

In most posts I put a little disclosure at the bottom stating if I'm long a stock or not.  For college advice my disclosure has been moved up top.  I'm not the person to take college advice from, or probably even career advice.  My university was probably glad to have me gone because I was dragging down the student body GPA average.  If school GPA meant anything in life I've be sweeping floors or flipping burgers right now, fortunately it doesn't.

1. Be open minded - Life never goes the way anyone plans, so be open minded and look for new opportunities.

When I graduated 10 years ago I didn't know what a stock or a bond was, and I didn't really care to know.  If someone would have told my then-self what I would be interested in today I would have wondered what happened to interest me in such boring things.  I remember some friends taking finance classes in college, at the time their studies looked like some sort of prison torture.  Now ten years later I enjoy researching and writing about investments.

Interests change, be willing to change with them.  No one's life is pre-destined to go a certain route, no matter what your parents might say.  Be adaptable and be willing to try new things.

2. Get out of debt and stay out - You graduates are deep in the hock, I feel bad, and I'd recommend paying your debt off as quick as possible.  Sure, maybe those loan payments are small and affordable.  Sure, maybe that payment for a brand new car is small and affordable.  Sure, maybe the mortgage is small and affordable.  Small payments start to add up quickly into a large fixed obligation that needs to be paid monthly or else some banker will come and take all of your things.

Being debt free means being flexible.  It gives you the ability to take a lower paying job if you need to, or save more for a rainy day.  Our culture is one of debt and living for today, saving and paying cash are things our grandparents did, it's not a bad habit to get into.  It always seems like the spendthrifts get the last laugh, but to live a debt-fueled life means living with considerable stress.  Remember, if you pay off all your debt and decide it was a mistake you can always borrow again.

Here's something else not many people will tell you.  You just escaped four years of living in a barn, er dorm and with your new found riches want to experience a little luxury.  Don't waste your time keeping up with the Joneses.  All those luxury items you have been craving aren't all that great, the feeling of euphoria wears off quickly.

3. Enjoy your youth - You are only young once, so enjoy it.  This doesn't mean partying late into the night as most people think, but doing things that are best enjoyed while young.  If you have any inclination for endurance sports now is the time to get involved.  As you age your body doesn't recover quite as quickly, and things that used to be easy become harder.

Last year a friend and I decided to ride our bikes to DC in a weekend.  We covered 200 miles in two days, it was a lot of fun, but my body paid the price.  I injured my knee and it's taken almost a year to recover.  I'm back to running and biking again, but I've also realized I'm not 16 or 22 anymore, I now ease into things and build up mileage slowly.

Travel is easier when you're younger and don't have kids.  Almost anything is easier before you have kids, do those things now.

4. Don't marry your job - No matter how hard you work your company will never love you.  All those all-nighters and 80 hour weeks will mean nothing when layoffs come.

Work hard at your job and use it as an opportunity to learn.  When you've learned as much as you can, or feel it's time to move on do so without hesitation.  If the company felt it was time to move on they would eliminate you without hesitation.

5. It's not what you know, but who you know - I went to an entrepreneurship conference back in college and I remember a millionaire entrepreneur walk through this little exercise.  He asked all of the A and B students to stand-up (I continued to sit) and look around at everyone sitting.  He then said "Everyone standing, those sitting will be your future bosses."  His reasoning was that people with lower grades were most likely partying or hanging out building personal connections instead of studying.  In the real world it's the people with the biggest network who get ahead, not the person with the biggest brain.

We're taught all through school that the brightest do the best, and that intelligence is rewarded.  If that were so why aren't scientists rich, or the people from NASA living in the Hamptons?  The truth is if someone has average intelligence but great people skills and some hustle they will do very well for themselves.  Even below average intelligence and above average hustle is a successful combination.

A former boss had some relatives who weren't the brightest, one even had trouble reading.  What these guys lacked in the brain department they had in the hustle and street-smart department.  They turned their summer lawn mowing business into a multi-million dollar landscaping empire.  These guys together are worth close to $10m, yet one of them has to have his wife read him the menu at a restaurant.

For anyone out there who didn't graduate in the top of their class there is hope.  Not having an Ivy League education isn't going to be the hinderance that Ivy League schools try to tell you it will be.

6. Remember your family - This is lower on the list, but the list isn't in any particular order.  Right now you probably only have parents and siblings, no wife or kids.  As you get older family should become a top priority.

Friends will come and go, but your family will always be around.  Make sure to invest in these relationships.  You'll probably come to realize over the next few years that your parents really weren't out of touch, and they are a lot smarter than you ever realized.  This will be hammered home once you have kids.

For most the legacy they leave is their children.  A few very wealthy people build libraries and fancy buildings, the rest of us don't have that.  I'd prefer to touch people's lives rather than have my name plastered on some granite building.  Someone who was influenced remembers you, most people don't actually know what Carnegie or Rockefeller did.  My legacy is the two little boys who greet me each night when I come home.  It's hard to build character in children if you're never around, always traveling or working late.

7. Find your purpose - A person without a purpose in life is like a ship adrift being knocked in any direction with the waves.  Find a purpose and anchor yourself to it.  This is a tough question that most people don't want to face, but it's imperative.  Our purpose is what drives us through life, it gives meaning to what we do, even the mundane.

8. You will make mistakes - No one is perfect, you will mess up, and you will probably mess up big time.  If you strive for perfection you will live a life of disappointment.  Everyone makes mistakes, own up to them quickly and be honest, then work to correct them.

Hopefully something in here will encourage someone!  The truth is some of the ideas in this post will be far more profitable than any company I ever profile on this blog.  These lessons pay dividends for life.

Talk to Nate


  1. Thanks for the great post Nate, your advice really hit home.

  2. I'm not a newly grad but this is great advice nonetheless. Thanks Nate.

  3. Thanks for this Nate.
    Even for point 5... it is also true at the PhD Level (I am a Finance PhD Student). The best researchers are not the ones with the best grades or do extremely well on the comprehensive exam!