Ho-ho-ho and a merry senior year to all those struggling through thesis, senior papers, last-minute internship scrambles and the big question wrapped up in mystery: What to do next? As winter break draws closer (cheer!) and the final college semester looms (sigh), we’re all wondering how to spend it. Partying? Studying? Job-hunting? Panicking? Inevitably some combination, with a big dose of the latter.
I can answer these questions no better than the next senior. Instead, I thought we might look to a little graduate wisdom. After all, if you’ve survived college, walked on stage and been handed that diploma then you must know the fool-proof formula to a successful senior year, right?
I talked to four graduates, having received their diplomas between 2013 and 2016, of three different colleges: UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Colorado College. All four of these college-surviving gurus majored in different subjects and now work in diverse fields.
For mechanical engineer John Paul Lee, the path through his final year of UC Davis was pretty clear. Lee graduated this past January. With a room at his Dad’s waiting in San Francisco and an engineering job lined up through a family friend, Lee didn’t worry too hard about what he would do or where he would go after graduation. Although he recognizes he had it easy, he does stress the importance of having a plan. “Break up your time in the future and make aspirations. What do I want to be doing today? This week? Next month? Next year?” Lee said before adding, “But I try to not look too far ahead, because who knows?”
Lee is adamant about what you should focus on senior year. “Take advantage of your classes. Realize that you’re not going to be in classes any more, and appreciate how nice it is to not be working. You never know, you might get a job that’s more monotonous and not using your brain.” The one thing Lee wishes he didn’t do? “Probably not have a girlfriend for so long!” Key advice? “Just f–king do it!”
Joe Peters also followed a linear path from college to work, but as he puts it, “My college experience was completely different to most. I started my junior year at UC Berkeley when I was 24. I transferred from junior college. It was all on my own dime.”
As might be expected of someone who has put himself through college at a later age, Peters runs a hard line when it comes to having a plan and knowing what you want to do. Since graduating with a math major in 2013 Peters has worked as a teacher. Now he plans to attend medical college, hoping to become a doctor. “There’s a lot of clout put behind the idea of ‘you’ll figure out what you want to do,’ but you’ve got to make a decision. I’m pushing 30 and I’m only just about start my medical degree. I’ll be 40 by the time I finally start working,” Peters said.
Peters’ piece of advice to seniors is clear—avoid senioritis. “You should really be thinking about senior year as the beginning of your life. It’s not the time to quit. Don’t think, ‘I just have to make it to here and then I’m done!’ ‘cause what’s next is the real world, and that’s gonna be harder. You should be enjoying the luxury of college!”
Erica Singer also graduated in 2013, from Colorado College with a major in environmental science. Unlike Lee, Singer realized she needed some time to work out what she wanted to do. She spent some time traveling in order to find her true calling–teaching. She returned to CC to complete a master’s degree in education, and now works at an elementary school in a nearby town. Proof that you can take some time off and still end up with a job! An outdoorsy-type, Erica spent much of her senior year camping and rock climbing with friends. Singer said, “My advice to seniors comes from one of my best friends and applies to senior papers, theses, projects, whatever—it’s better done than perfect.”
Maeve O’Connor Bethune, who graduated from CC in 2015, also took time to explore the world. Maeve moved to Ireland for a year, working in a call centre in Dublin and using the city as a base to travel across Europe. She recently returned to Colorado for a job in youth work. Although Bethune recognized her need to relax and explore after college, she still advises structure. “Have at least a short-term plan,” Bethune reasoned. “Even if it’s just to take some time off, have a set time that you’re going to do that.” She regrets not taking more time in college to go on local trips and explore the Colorado area. Good job she’s moved back!
Between these four graduates, with their different ages, majors, aspirations and college environments, we have a wide range of experiences and advice. Some argue to just get on with it and knuckle down, others suggest taking time to figure out what you really love.
So what is the takeaway? First, enjoy your senior year. After all, it might be your last hurrah in the student lifestyle. Second, have some formulation of a plan. Whether this is to travel, work or study more, it’s up to you, but when May arrives it shouldn’t be a surprise, and you should be ready to go.
Until then, good luck! And remember, enjoy it.