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Supporting Young Adult Independence After College

Est. reading time: 7 mins
Posted Under: For Families, Insights, Interviews

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


It’s no surprise that transitioning from college life to the realm of independent work can be challenging for any young adult. Navigating the unfamiliar terrain of a professional landscape and establishing connections in new contexts can be daunting. There is no handbook, no formal training, and certainly no “Adulthood 101 crash course” available. These challenges become even more formidable for those navigating the impact of mental health issues. The good news is that with the right skills and support in place, an empowering journey to independence is possible. 

In this blog, our experts at The Dorm will address some of the frequently asked questions from our parents and families regarding the best ways to support a young adult’s experience of independence following college or university graduation. We will provide insights into when young individuals should get serious about their “job readiness,” outline crucial money management and financial literacy skills that every young person should possess, and offer guidance on fostering sustainable friendships and community connections.

Key Article Takeaways: 

Young adults can begin building self-esteem and job readiness skills by exposing themselves to new experiences and different settings.

Financial knowledge and independence is not innate; teens and young adults need education and training to learn how to navigate finances.

Productive relationships and community are key to sustained independence after college. Many young adults could benefit from targeted group therapy support, especially if they’re overcoming mental health challenges.

When Should a Young Adult Begin Thinking About a Career and Independence After College?

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

We spoke with Miguel Edwards, Clinical Coach and group facilitator of Job Readiness at The Dorm. Miguel says that the best time to think of the transition from college to the workplace is around sophomore to junior year. This is the time at which young adults are often getting into their core classes that coincide with their major, and this would be the point where they would want to start thinking of how their experience can translate into opportunity and a job path after college. 

Part of becoming an independent adult involves support in the early stages of transition. We asked Miguel where young adults can seek out support as they embark on this journey to life after college. His response is: 

The support will often come from networking and finding ways to reinforce self-esteem. Putting yourself in situations where you gain exposure to different things can be really helpful in setting the foundation so that you have options later on when it comes to making career decisions.

How Can a Young Adult Develop Money Management Skills and Financial Independence?

Finances for young adults can be a challenging lesson to learn, especially if the learning occurs while making high stake decisions or working one’s way out of debt. However, regardless of when a person learns about money management, it is essential to seek out a basic understanding of finances–how it all works, how to set short and long term goals, what interest is, and even gaining clarity on how to navigate health insurance or a 401k. 

Miguel believes it’s important to be introduced to money management as soon as possible – ideally before college (though it’s never too late to learn). 

One practical exercise Miguel suggests is for parents/families to try out a credit card with a small balance, of which the young adult can make the payments on their own. This helps the individual start to understand the process of interest and how it works (at low stakes)! Exposure is always going to be the most effective method for developing new habits.

At The Dorm, we offer programming centered around money management skills, to make the post-college transition a smooth process. We believe in the importance of empowering clients to take control of their finances in the following ways:

    • Understanding the ratio of spending and saving, as saving for young adults can be difficult in a fast-paced, consumer-driven world.

    • Awareness of interest and how it can grow.

    • Setting boundaries and life expectations that align with financial goals.

    • Budgeting in all areas of life (gas, groceries, social outings, entertainment, subscriptions).

    • Delineating between the necessary expenses and the superfluous ones, to help facilitate autonomy and control over money.

    • Help clients with the hands-on practical application of saving money, using tools and apps that make it easy and sustainable.

    • Analyzing the emotional aspect of finances–uncovering whether the individual spends money as a coping mechanism or a reaction to a certain trigger. This work can help clients to protect themselves in future decision-making and highlights areas of opportunity for developing positive coping skills that improve their financial status as a byproduct.

Attitudes and mindset are also incredibly important when it comes to money management, personal finances and young adult financial literacy and healthy independence. We encourage parents to have open conversations about finances regularly, not just when “big” discussions need to be had. When something is not talked about it can be deemed unimportant or even a subject of shame or fear. 

On the other hand, having open, regular, honest and fact-based conversations about money with a trusted adult can build confidence in a young adult’s skills and competency. 

What About Living at Home After College?

Life after graduation and young adult independence after college looks different for everyone based on family dynamics, individual goals, and cultural norms. Some young adults are living independently at 18 whereas for others, signs of transition in life include living with roommates or remaining in multigenerational homes. 

While living back at home after college is a privilege that allows clients time and space to make a plan and save money for next steps, this isn’t a reality for every young adult. This is why learning how to budget as early as possible and surrounding oneself with individuals who are able to encourage and teach how to save money, is always of utmost importance, regardless of a family’s financial status. 

How Can a Young Adult Make Friends Post College Graduation (and Why is That Important to Sustained Independence?)

Whether a young adult is moving to a new city after college or not sure what to do after college, building a community of like-minded individuals is going to be a really stable support for finding a sense of belonging, safety, and well-being through the transition from student life to professional life. 

We are all about community at The Dorm, and part of how to prepare for life after college is building friendships that support the growing versions of you. Miguel says, 

It’s about what you like to do and don’t like to do, and finding places that reinforce that.” There are many in-person or virtual events and communities where you can find people like you. Miguel always reminds his clients to keep trying new things and avoid isolating. He adds, “As you get older the things you like change over time and it’s good to have a diverse array of options available to you so you can find what you like. You’re not going to know what you like if  you don’t try things, so start doing things you think you might like to do but do them with people around. Practice makes perfect.

Attaining Job Readiness for Young Adult Independence After College

Evolving from student to full time-job can be a big transition, but as our Founder & CEO, John McGeehan, LCSW, says we empower The Dorm clients “…to be the architects of their own life; our team is simply the scaffolding helping them realize their fullest potential.” 

The key to job readiness is practice and a foundation of resume writing, building relationships, interview preparation, and learning how to follow up potential job leads or network for new opportunities. Through The Dorm’s programming, our clinicians guide clients to gain knowledge with their peers through psychoeducation, skill-building activities, and tasks to gain job readiness. Below are some of the groups we offer that assist with these important skill sets.

Job Readiness Group Therapy

The Job Readiness Group is a process-style group that helps clients prepare to enter the workforce. In this group, facilitators lead clients through readiness skills such as interviewing and accountability around job searching. Facilitators also work with clients to break down fears or concerns around working through dialogue on feelings and barriers that arise in the process of securing and maintaining employment.

Executive Function Group Therapy

The Executive Function Group is a key ingredient to success in the workplace. This group assists clients with boosting their ability to manage or regulate a collection of basic cognitive and emotional processes. It also focuses on developing the skills necessary to secure a job and function in the workplace such as effective planning, initiating conversations, being organized, and executing on tasks as well as coping with transitions and regulation of emotional responses. This is a task-oriented group with weekly goals and direct practice to incorporate these new skills into daily life.

Activism and Volunteering

Finally, the clinical team encourages volunteering & activism in the greater communities as a cornerstone of treatment at The Dorm. Every client has monthly group opportunities to volunteer with organizations that matter to them. We know that this type of altruistic work can have a positive impact on a student’s career trajectory by up to 27%.

Together, we have found that through these supports, 87% of our clients have returned to academia or are gainfully employed at the time of discharge. The journey looks different for each client and this is why the program is individualized to fit each person’s needs. Below is a case example of a Dorm client who is achieving her goals, to illustrate what a journey to independence after college may look like:

Young Adult Independence After College: A Case Study

To illustrate how treatment can support young adult independence after college, Miguel offered the following case study of a real client whose name we changed to protect privacy:

“Jane Doe” is working a job and living with her parents, to save up before moving out. Jane found that she would often be caught in her own mind, spending weekends alone and habitually overthinking, which contributed to further isolation. 

    • Through The Dorm’s support, Jane began to explore her interests in places where she could meet like-minded individuals. During this time she started going to book clubs and concerts, which successfully translated to building a social group around those particular activities, both inside and outside of treatment at The Dorm. 

    • Her newfound friend dynamics began to allow her to express herself and explore her interests in a way that was conducive to her growth as a newly working professional. There was a sense of consistency with socialization that she didn’t have before. 

Miguel added a final thought in reflecting on independent young adulthood post-college: 

“The most important thing to remember about young adulthood, and especially life after college, is that this is the time to explore. Post-college is a young adult’s time to build the blocks for a future and instead of sticking to one path, creating many avenues to choose from. With a college degree, for example, you have many roads you can go down–an open-mindset allows you to put yourself in a variety of situations that create the opportunity to be emotionally happy, excel at activities of daily living (ADLs), and open doors for yourself. Explore, explore, explore. And while you’re at it, embrace the fear of exploring.”

To learn more about The Dorm’s intensive outpatient programming around career and job readiness support, reach out to our team.

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