- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

Going from high school to college is dipping a toe into the real world. The transition from college to after college is more like an icy plunge. This leap affected Jesse Vickey so much, he started a company, Cap and Compass, that coaches people through that time.

“I graduated from Duke University in 1997,” says Mr. Vickey, who lives in Connecticut and runs Cap and Compass with his wife, Nicole. “I was an economics major, and I could tell you all about supply and demand curves, but no one ever explained so many other things to me. I had to learn by trial and error. When you are in college, it is almost a bubble. Once you get out, it can be a bit of a surprise.”

Cap and Compass has a Web site, books and seminars in various cities, including the District. Some of the topics covered: How to get an apartment, how much of your entry-level paycheck will go toward taxes, the purpose of a 401(k), how to fill out a W-4 form, how to lease a car and how to file taxes. The seminars also devote time to proper office behavior and how to avoid making a faux pas at a business dinner.

Mr. Vickey’s best advice to new college grads:

• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is a certain grace period when it is OK to be naive, provided you learn along the way.

“I think new graduates are given a six-month ‘get out of jail free’ card for dumb questions,” Mr. Vickey says. “If you are two years into the job, though, you might get some funny looks.”

• Stay out of debt, but establish credit.

“Credit cards can be beneficial if you pay them off each month,” he says. “Get credit, but manage it wisely.”

• When you start a job, try to blend in at the beginning. In other words, your weekend antics impressed the fraternity brothers but won’t earn you any points in front of the boss.

“Make an impression, but not on funny stories,” Mr. Vickey says. “Don’t call attention to yourself for the wrong reasons.”

Washington lawyer Homer E. Moyer Jr., a father of four, spent years thinking of all the things his children should know when they left home. What he came up with was the RAT — the Real World Aptitude Test, a sardonic imitation of the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Where the SAT gauges a teen’s vocabulary and reasoning, the RAT covers everything from managing money to etiquette basics to basic household repairs and trivia questions.

“When my oldest daughter began to look at colleges, we asked ourselves, ‘Gosh, what should she know when she heads out?’” Mr. Moyer says. As the rest of his children followed the same path, Mr. Moyer gathered material for new entries in his book.

“The truth of the matter is that the information applies to all of us,” he says. “None of us will get an 800 on the RAT. However, my younger daughter, who is about to graduate high school burst through the door recently and said, ‘I can pass the part about changing a flat tire.’”

In the big picture, the immediate future for many recent college graduates may be uncertain, says Christine Schelhas-Miller, co-author of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years.”

Parents need to understand that the transition may take a while, she says.

“This can be a particularly difficult time if your child is not in a pre-professional training program,” Ms. Schelhas-Miller says. “If they are in engineering, it is one thing, but for many English majors, there is not a direct connection to a particular job. These can be foundering years. It is not unusual to take an unpaid internship or to wait tables.”

It also is not unusual to show up at mom and dad’s house to stay a few months — or years.

Ms. Schelhas-Miller adds that it is not always a bad idea for new graduates to live with their parents, provided there is a long-term goal in sight. In other words, coming back home to lie on the couch is not beneficial for anyone. Coming back home as a transition to save money for graduate school, work at an internship or decide whether to take a job on the West Coast is OK, she says.

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