What next, Stanford grad?

5 tips for conquering pre-graduation terror.


Let me let you in on a secret: most Stanford grads are pretty terrified.

If you’re a fuzzy (Stanford lingo for students with non-technical majors), you’ve got a diploma, a deep well of theoretical knowledge and absolutely zero skills applicable to the workforce. If you’re a techie, you’ve got a bit of applied knowledge, but it’s overwhelmed by heavy expectations incurred from the successes of countless Silicon Valley whiz-kids who came before you. Take it from me, Kevin Systrom was in my freshman dorm.

Look, being a Stanford grad is an incredible privilege and responsibility. Because of that, it’s going to be hard for others to empathize with your terror. How you choose to navigate that privilege, responsibility and terror can have tremendous impact on your future success. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Ask questions

You might feel that you should have all the answers already, but you would be mistaken. You’re a smart cookie with a lot to learn. Ask questions, listen to the answers and apply them quickly. Your growth will be recognized.

2. Find a mentor

Find someone whose work inspires you and whose method of collaborating with colleagues resonates with you. Then, reach out. You’d be surprised how many people respond positively to recent grads reaching out for mentorship. Besides, what do you have to lose?

3. Look beyond the Stanford network

While a Stanford degree might be an easy litmus test to determine academic ability, let me be clear that it is not indicative of career compatibility. Many of the best individuals whom I have collaborated with don’t have pedigree educations; some didn’t even go to college. It’s our shared commitment, creative approach and emotional intelligence that makes us a great team.

4. Focus on near-term goals

Even you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg, comparison of yourself against the other success stories out there is an act with diminishing returns. You’ve had big dreams your whole life, so take those dreams and break them into small goals. Focus on conquering them and, before long, you’ll be doing great.

5. Connect the dots between interests and specialties

We’ve all tried something out on campus that was fun, but seemed tangential to our major. I have a friend who was a Chemical Engineer and also volunteered at The Bridge. He’s now a therapist who specializes in complex diagnostic testing. I studied both Psychology and Communication, was the Financial Manager at the Roth row house and competed on the ski team. Now, I design financial software and volunteer as a ski patroller. Your major is a starting point, but your diverse interests add depth and open doors for future growth.

Welcome, Stanford seniors, to your final quarter. It’s ok to be terrified. You’re going to do great.


Claire Milligan graduated from Stanford in 2006 with a BA in Psychology and an MA in Communication. She also received an MFA in Graphic Design from Academy of Art University (which advertises on TV) in 2010. She is most likely to be found streamlining expense report software workflows as Director of User Experience for Tallie at SpringAhead. tallie.com

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