Pre-Graduation Jitters from a College Senior...Now What?
Kadacia, a Bronx native, is a summer intern with GRADUATE NYC! She is a second year MSW student at Stony Brook University who enjoys reading, writing, and listening to music in her spare time outside of class and her field internship. She is passionate about helping students navigate their academic challenges and is known for memorizing class offerings and schedules among her friends. She can be found researching random trivia facts at any given time of the day.
You’re a senior in college. You may have a couple of pesky core requirements to get out of the way, or just one more class for your major or minor, but on the whole, college is pretty much done for you. Yay!
So now what? On to graduate school? On to the deep and wide abyss known as the real world? Or something else? Is there something else?
At this juncture in your college career, you may be feeling quite unsure about your options. So many people expect things from you: you hear your parents bragging about you to anyone who will listen, your friends are sharing their plans for after graduation and they want you to share yours. But you can’t. Because the truth is, thinking about life after college terrifies you.
Maybe you feel like your major isn’t the fastest way to a career and so you’ll never find a job. Maybe you feel like you’re missing crucial experience or a real passion that you can dedicate yourself to. Or maybe you just don’t feel like you’re quite ready for a full-time career.
And that’s okay.
Approximately two and a half years ago, I was in your shoes. I get it.
If your senior year was anything like mine, then at this point, everyone wants to know what’s next for you. Besides hunching your shoulders because you just don’t know, you don’t say much.
The first thing you should know is that you are not alone. Take a deep breath and relax. Let that sink in. You are not the first college senior to feel lost or stuck and you will not be the last. And no, being unsure doesn’t make you a failure.
Still, graduation is coming.
Now that you’ve taken a moment to breathe, understand that this is your life. Despite what everyone else expects or wants you to do, you need to make the right decision for you.
The first step to making the right decision for you is to do an honest self-assessment. Analyze yourself. Consider your strengths and weaknesses and those of your chosen field of study. Consider the experiences you’ve had in college (whether it’s a job experience, an internship, or just life experiences in general) and use your analysis to narrow your choices.
For me, as a psychology major, I personally felt that undergraduate studies couldn’t be the end. While I liked my major and don’t regret choosing it, it can be difficult to find a good paying job with just a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology. I knew that from doing research on my field. And when I was deeply honest with myself, I knew that I wasn’t invested enough in psychology to start searching for a position in the field right away. I wasn’t passionate about psychology nor did I feel as knowledgeable as one should be when looking for a full-time position in a specific field.
However, I also knew that I had enjoyed my academic advising internship from my junior year immensely. And so, I started with that. I looked at what I had enjoyed specifically about that experience (the student interaction and mentoring/advising) and began to search out careers that would involve these things, especially a career as an academic advisor. Through my own research and working alongside the academic advisors at Stony Brook, I realized that a number of the advisors (if not all) had advanced degrees in different fields, the most popular option being the Master of Social Work degree. So I asked questions and found that a MSW graduate program was right for me. But this didn’t come without talking to mentors or without intense reflection of myself.
So use your network. Maybe you’re like me and you don’t have a large pool of people you can talk to but reach out to anyone who you think might be willing to listen and give advice. You’d be surprised by how many people actually want to help you, if you show them you want the help. Your professors are there to teach you about more than their subject matter. So armed with my own research and the advice of the advisors and professors around me, I made the choice to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work.
At this point, you may be thinking ‘ugh, more school?’ and that’s a valid response. I chose graduate school because I wanted to and knew it was right for me, but after four years in an undergraduate program, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be committing to another two years either. I was extremely jealous of my peers who were going straight to work, but again, I knew that I wasn’t prepared for that commitment yet. Though my interest lie in advising, I didn’t have enough field experience to hope to land a full-time career armed with only a bachelor’s in Psychology. So graduate school became a commitment that I was willing to undertake for the sake of being able to do something that made me truly happy. But it isn’t for everyone.
Maybe you know it isn’t for you. But you also know you’re not ready for a full-time career due to a lack of experience or a lack of maturity.
What can you do instead?
Three words: Gap Year Programs.
There are different types of gap year programs but for most of them, the goals are the same: to offer students the chance to gain experience in a specific field and to offer students the opportunity to take a semester or year of time to be entrenched in an organization that helps to better a community based on their interests. Gap year programs are all about experiential learning. Two widely known programs include City Year and Thinking beyond Borders.
For someone graduating from college who is unsure of their path in life, gap year programs are a great way to “get your feet wet” or to take some perspective and learn from the environment around you.
There are also gap year programs that have more specific purposes including strengthening one’s GPA or taking requirements for medical school that were missed during your undergraduate years (post-baccalaureate programs).
Though gap year programs can be exciting and fun, they are not commitments to make lightly. Like deciding on graduate school or a job, gap year programs need to be fully researched and analyzed based on your interest and willingness to learn/commit. Yes, gap year programs can be excellent additions to your resume, but a gap year program should be chosen because you wanted the experience and were willing to make the commitment. Choose a program that will look great on your résumé as well as a program that you are prepared to give your all to. Take advantage of a gap year program’s design and use it to help you understand yourself better. Reflect deeply and immerse yourself in an experience that can be as rewarding as it is challenging.
Still, if you are an individual who is done with school, not interested in a gap year, and ready to dive right in to the workforce, then there are things you can remember in your search as well.
Be Patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and chances are you’ll be searching for a job for longer than that too. Don’t give up. Keep sending out résumés and checking job posting websites daily. Make sure you tailor each résumé you send specifically to the position for which you’re applying –assuming you are qualified to perform the job.
Be Positive. Don’t be discouraged. Remember that you aren’t the only new college graduate searching for a job so expect to go for periods of time without hearing back from employers. Don’t see every opportunity that you are not called back for as a negative reflection of you. It’s not.
As someone who will be graduating with a Master’s degree in May, I’ll be joining this rat race known as the job force sooner than I would like. Like many of you college seniors, I’m nervous and unsure of my future.
But if I’ve learned anything in my last five years of study, it’s that perseverance and a true understanding of one’s self is key to any sort of success in life. Know what you can and cannot change in life. Admit your fears and doubts (even if only to yourself) so that you can overcome them. Dive into things despite your fear. For every negative thought you have about yourself, think of a positive thing you have achieved.
And of course, pretty soon you can add graduating from college to that growing list!