T cell maturation was once thought to occur entirely within the thymus. Now, evidence is mounting that the youngest peripheral T cells in both mice and humans comprise a distinct population from their more mature, yet still naive, counterparts. These cells, termed recent thymic emigrants (RTEs), undergo a process of post-thymic maturation that can be monitored at the levels of cell phenotype and immune function. Understanding this final maturation step in the process of generating useful and safe T cells is of clinical relevance, given that RTEs are over-represented in neonates and in adults recovering from lymphopenia. Post-thymic maturation may function to ensure T cell fitness and self tolerance.