November 15, 2013

8 Pieces Of Advice For College Seniors

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My own college graduation was nearly a year and a half ago, but I can still remember the mixed emotions that were senior year as vividly as if they were yesterday. When my good friend called me last night in a panic about her own looming graduation, it got me thinking. Here is some of the advice I gave her and would give to most other college seniors:

1) Your GPA is only important if you are applying to Law School, Med School, or any other Grad Program

Your grades are important, but the reality is that a stellar GPA alone will not guarantee you a job. Moreover, a not-so-great GPA will not necessarily deter you from finding a job either. Of course, it depends on your field and your career goals, but in general, here’s what matters more than your GPA: internship/work experience, your connections, your determination, a very well written and effective cover letter/resume, and incredible interview skills. I’m going to be honest, my GPA was much lower than it should have been and in no way reflected my intelligence. What it did reflect was that I cared more about my extra-curriculars, spending time with my friends, and yes, probably partying just as much as I cared about my grades. Not to mention that I am a chronic-daydreamer and find it hard to concentrate in certain classroom settings. Not to mention that time I failed precalculus my freshman year (But I was a journalism major, so, honestly what did it matter if I sucked at the math class I was required to take?)

The thing is, I’ve always known that my grades do not define me. Just because you received a few mediocre or even poor grades in a few classes doesn’t mean you took nothing away from college or that you are a failure of a human being. Take your classes seriously and don’t purposely fuck up, but understand that college is about becoming independent and expanding your mind — qualities which can develop inside a classroom as well as outside the classroom. Don’t think you are any less of a person because your roommate has a higher GPA than you.

I never supplied my GPA to a potential employer unless they specifically asked for it. Most of them didn’t ask for it. If you don’t think your GPA reflects your intelligence or capabilities, make sure you have the other qualities I mentioned for finding a job in your field (if that’s what you plan to do after school). Which brings me to my next point…

2) Keep an Eye on the Future…

Senior year goes by incredibly fast. One minute you’re crunching around in the fall leaves, mystified by the fact that you are the oldest group of students on campus, and the next you’re donning your cap and gown and staring the Real World in the face like a deer in headlights.

It’s important to think about what you see yourself doing after G-day. Research jobs or other opportunities — you have the entire Internet at your fingertips. Search through job descriptions and requirements to get a feel for the kind of opportunity you are qualified for. Reach out to your school’s alumni asking for advice. Reach out to your professors, talk to your counselors, talk to your friends’ older siblings. Go for informational interviews (but first research how to properly and professionally ask for one!), ask a ton of questions. Network. Spend time having someone critique your resume and cover letter. Revise your resume and cover letter. Figure out what makes you stand out. Try to connect with someone who has a job you might eventually want, and be a little sponge soaking up information from them.

All that said, the title of a job is not as important as the lifestyle you want. Do you want to move to a different city or state? Would you be financially able to do so? Do you want to move back home and save money? Do you want to move to a different country or take some time off to travel? Do you want to work really long hours and/or have a long commute or do you want to try to create a different kind of schedule? Consider all of these options. After all that, understand that no matter how much you try to think about and plan for the future, no matter how much anxiety you get when you realize your whole world is going to change, remind yourself that there is nothing more you can do.

Your life after graduation will most likely be totally different than you thought, so all you can do is try to prepare yourself but understand a lot is out of your control. Also, just because you secured a job in November doesn’t mean you will automatically be happy or fulfilled after graduation, because jobs sometimes turn out to be totally different than they seemed. If you find yourself unemployed come May, don’t freak out either. Our job market is rough and as long as you aren’t sitting around waiting for a job to come to you, you will eventually figure out your next step.

3) …But Live in the Present

I cannot stress this enough: senior year is a special time. A special time that is fleeting. You’re going to stress yourself out about your future. STRESS. STRESS. STRESS. You’re going to cry. WAHHHH. You’re going to feel scared. AHHHHH. You’re going to find that a lump of rage forms in your throat whenever someone asks you what you’re doing after graduation and by the 25th time that happens you will have to restrain yourself from punching the person who asked. You will find that your friends either talk obsessively about their future plans or try to avoid the topic altogether.

All of that is normal, but don’t let it take away from your last year in college. You can’t plan out what’s going to happen four months from now, and you won’t be able to ensure that everything is going to be okay until you get there. Post-grad life is kind of like parenting — you can prepare for it all you want but you won’t actually understand what it’s like to be a parent until that baby comes bursting out of your vagina/your wife’s vagina/the place where you’ve adopted it. Make sure you do a little bit of future planning each month/week, and then shut your mind off to thoughts of the future.

Soak up your time on campus because you’ll never have it again. Immerse yourself in the present as much as possible and try not to worry too much. I’m serious. I will repeat this until I am blue in the face; I will find different ways to say the same thing. My older friends gave this advice to me and it helped immensely. Once I graduated, I gave that same advice to my younger friends. It’s all going to work itself out — just enjoy what’s left of college.

4) Savor Your Friendships

Most people form lifelong friendships in college. Especially if you lived on campus, your friends eventually started to feel like family.

Once college is over, you may be shocked to find that you drift from some of your friends. What were once solid bonds may begin to fade. However, others will remain as strong as ever and will continue to grow even more unbreakable. That’s normal, that’s okay. Either way, savor all of your friendships. There will be some friends you might have nothing in common with after G-day, so allow yourself to spend as much time making memories with them now as possible. Other friends will be the shoulder you cry on when post-grad life is overwhelming you.

Your friends will all be off doing different things, but if nothing else, what you do have in common is that college ended and you were all thrust into the Real World like a baby who just left its Mother’s warm squishy womb. And who will you go to when you feel wildly anxious and uncertain? Your friends. College friends see you through so much, through your highest highs and lowest lows. There is a very real possibility that you will never make friendships quite as deep again. (It’s not a myth that it’s harder to make friends after college, unfortunately!)

My college friends have become like sisters to me and I cannot imagine the past few years without them. Some I talk to many times a week, some I talk to a few times a month, but no matter how much time goes by — with the true friendships we always pick up where we left off. We understand each other; we know each other to our core. And when you’re totally lost and confused in your first year out of school (and likely many years after), it’s always helpful to have an old friend remind you who you are and bring you back to reality.

In short: treasure the moments when you’re all hanging out in sweatpants watching a movie. Treasure the errands that feel like adventures. Treasure the overcrowded pregames and nightcaps. It will be very, very difficult to get all of your friends in one place after college — so bask in it while you can.

5) Be a Crazy College Student

In just a few months, most of the things you do in your spare time/nights out will not be considered socially acceptable. If you don’t care about society’s expectations, there is still the reality that it’s difficult to keep up your college habits while still holding down a job. So, drink on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or even Sunday if you so desire. Make memories with your friends. Go on a road trip at 2am just because. (But DO NOT do that if you’re drinking). Make ridiculous music videos with your roommates. Smoke weed (if you wanna). Do all those things that were on your college bucket list but you still hadn’t accomplished. Whether it’s as innocent as biking from one end of campus to another or experiencing some old school tradition you had yet to cross off your list — or as not-so-innocent as having that threesome or hooking up with someone totally out of your league — just go for it.

I did some crazy things that I won’t mention here my senior year with help from YOLO being popular at the time, and regardless of how you feel about YOLO, it holds a lot of truth. You will never be this young again, you will never be surrounded by so many people your own age again. YWOBICFAFMM (You Will Only Be In College For a Few More Months). Don’t take things so seriously — do the things that will make you laugh or smile or even cringe-while-secretly-laughing when you reflect on them later in life.

6) Reflect on How Far You’ve Come

Remember when you were 18 years old and you first walked around this campus with fear and excitement pulsing through you? Who were you back then? Chances are, you are a completely different person now. Reflect on who you became in college and what decisions or events contributed to your growth. Write a journal entry about it. It’s always important to remember who you were and where you came from — whether you just want to appreciate how much more mature you are now or you want to be thankful you are no longer that 18-year-old who doesn’t know how to handle a breakup or you want to get back in touch with some of the positive aspects of your freshman year self. There are many reasons to think about the journey and progression you made in college. Happy Memory-ing!

7) You Will Experience Culture Shock

The four years you were in school will seem so long, you won’t even remember that this time is only temporary. Your campus and the people on it (not to mention the lifestyle) feel like home. And though it will always hold a special place in your heart, it is hard to cope with the fact that it’s not forever.

Think of it this way: when you were 18, you graduated high school a mere little caterpillar who was somewhat naïve and probably sheltered. Then, you entered the cocoon phase of your life: college. College was the place where you experimented, learned new things, broadened your knowledge, opened your mind, and matured. College is dense with change in a relatively short period of time, and then you emerge a butterfly ready to take on adulthood. Leaving that cocoon is shocking at first.
You will realize you can’t just sleep in until 11 and skip work if you don’t feel like going. Your life will depend on you being able to hold down some form of employment, unless your parents are going to support you forever. People go to bed when you would have been just getting ready to go out on a Friday night. Life. Is. Expensive. Moreso than most students ever could have grasped while they were still in school. (Cough: student loans.) You will not be able to wear the skimpy clothes you wore to your college bar without being judged. People a few years older than you don’t know who Avicii is. In just a few months time, you will not know who the latest pop culture sensations are, either. These things happen when you’re not surrounded by people your age.

People you work with will talk nonstop about their kids (WHAT!?). You will try to contribute to conversations with older employees over lunch, but then you will realize your college stories are probably extremely inappropriate. It will be awkward trying to navigate talking about your personal life in front of some of your coworkers. There will be times you will feel foolish and young in a bad way. There will be other times where you will look at the adults around you and be thankful you’re still young and foolish. You will realize that the beach chairs you considered acceptable furniture in your off-campus college house were actually really embarrassing. Then you will remind yourself that your boss probably had the same taste in décor when he/she was in college, and you will calm down once you remember that your coworkers weren’t always this professional and sophisticated.

Basically, be prepared to have a ton of epiphanies at once while also being happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way. Yeah, could’ve summed up this entire paragraph with a Taylor Swift song….

8) The Real World Isn’t So Bad

Finally, let me leave you with this: The Real World is not as scary as you thought it would be. In fact, it can be pretty fucking awesome. You won’t even miss college as much as you thought you would. (I PROMISE!) Come May, you will actually feel excited for the next chapter and ready to leave your school. You will meet a TON of new people, and it will be refreshing. Talk to everyone, learn from everyone. Your life will be in your own hands. It is what you make it, which is really nice.

Don’t listen to people who have become cynical or jaded; don’t believe that you need to work the same old routine job and that anything out of the ordinary is an overly optimistic dream. You can literally do anything you want to do — you just won’t be able to do it at the snap of your fingers. Projects and goals will take planning and hard work, but if you want it badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen. TC Mark

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