Dealing with Regret After Graduation

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Macmillan Employee
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I graduated from Grinnell College in 2021, but that graduation felt like a year-long process. I returned home prematurely from my study abroad semester in March of 2020 because of COVID, but I never really “returned” to campus. I lived in the town of my college and took online classes. So, many aspects of my college experience didn’t return, like the opportunity to try new things. 

In other words, my year-long descent into graduation was a reflection on regret. Here are five things I’ve learned, or things I am trying to learn, as an alumni in the wake of 2020. Comment below if you have more advice!

1. Clubs Don’t End After Graduation

Clubs are easier to find in college. They’re often advertised at some kind of fair or through numerous posters. But, there are clubs outside of college, and they’re often just as easy to find. You can search local Facebook groups, Google, or word of mouth to find others interested in the activities you wish you had tried in college. Or, you can start your own!

2. Learning Doesn’t Stop With the Classroom

You might regret never taking a specific class or exploring an entire discipline, but there are always ways to dig into new topics. Books, podcasts, documentaries, and other resources are great ways to continue learning outside of a structured classroom.

3. Making Your Own Assignments

Maybe this is just me, but I loved assignments in college, especially creative ones. Deadlines gave me the push to finish projects I ended up really enjoying. 

You can still give yourself projects after college--from writing a lyrical essay to making an art assignment to crafting a website. I’ve missed the structured environment of the classroom to help me stick with projects, but giving myself deadlines has helped me continue to still create final versions of my creative work.

4. Reach out to Alumni for Advice

Alumni have gone through this same process of regret and emotional reflection, unless they had the perfect college experience (which I don’t think exists). They’re more than likely happy to answer your questions! 

Whether you’re curious about a career or regional housing or personal growth, reaching out to a career center, LinkedIn, or other connections to find alumni in your area can help your college experience continue to grow. After all, college is not just a place, but also a community.

5. FOMO is real--But It Doesn’t Have to Be!

Recognizing that you have regret or sadness about college can be a difficult process, but not addressing these regrets can be even worse. I completed my online classes at an institution while wishing I had done aspects of my first three years of college differently.

I don’t treat regret as a negative experience though (or at least, I’m working through it). Dealing with regret is a process, and one that has no “right” destination besides the one you’re at right now.


Allison Cottrell
Grinnell College

Allison graduated from Grinnell College in 2021 with majors in English and Math, and she’s now a Marketing Intern with Macmillan Learning. She currently lives in the Twin Cities where she’s probably on a run right now, smiling at passing dogs, or writing poetry while listening to Lady Gaga on repeat.