Senior Year: Before you go

Senior Year

By Ari Finkelstein

Are you having trouble getting up at noon to make it to your first class?  Does the sight of a book make you queasy, and are you generally dismissive of anything that doesn’t taste good or provide instant entertainment?  Have you been in college for roughly three years?  If so, then you’re probably suffering from a condition known as Senioritis.

A case of college Senioritis can have long-lasting consequences, and it’s worth your while to turn down that music for a bit and think about what you intend to get done over the course of the year.  I’m not saying freak out.  Just remember that it’s your final year as a college student, and while the number one priority is to enjoy yourself, you also need to make sure that you graduate and that you consider, at least a little bit, what people keep ominously referring to as “your future.”

The beginning of senior year is a pretty sweet time.  You’ve completed the bulk of your studies, you’re familiar with the campus and its myriad mini-societies, and you’ve become fast friends with at least a few people.  You may even have priority housing.  Now is the time to take advantage of any campus organizations you’re involved in.  Don’t feel shy to throw your weight around as a senior, and since you’ve figured out what you enjoy doing on campus, take the time to do it properly.  That could mean anything from leading your rowing team to the national championship to spending long afternoons at your favorite campus café.  In a few months, there’s going to be a lot more to do.

First of all, consider your academic situation.  Are there any specific requirements you still need to fulfill in order to complete your major, or more important still, in order to graduate?  You may have to look ahead and organize your schedule around those courses.  The next big question is whether you want to do a thesis.  Many students will have started this process during their junior year, but if you haven’t, then you should begin by finding a thesis adviser.  A thesis is usually not a light undertaking (though they range in form from long research papers to short videos), and you should be prepared to put many hours of labor into the project.  Another consideration is graduate school.  If you are planning on applying to graduate school, a thesis (as well as graduating with honors) can make you a more competitive candidate.

Now, if you are planning on going directly into graduate school, then there is a whole other set of things that you need to consider.  You have to take your exams on time, which means signing up for the GREs, LSATs, MCATs, GMATs, etc. well in advance… sometimes there are very specific testing dates, and if you miss them, you’re out of luck until the following year.  In addition, these are not tests that you just walk into.  Some studying, and often a lot of studying, ought to be a time commitment that you plan for. 

You should also get your teacher recommendations early, so that your professors have plenty of time to write you the best letters possible.  While most deadlines are not until after winter break, it is a good idea to ask for your recommendation letters and start studying for the tests at least a month or so before then.  That way you can focus on the essays and applications themselves over winter break.

When you come back for your last semester in college, you are likely to be extremely busy.  If you are not planning on continuing your studies immediately, you may want to start looking for a job while you are still in school.  Recruiters are coming to college campuses earlier and earlier, in many cases starting to go after students early in their senior year.  They are then joined by a host of other outreach programs and employers, such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.  By the start of your final term, you should have a working relationship with your career center and a career counselor.  Take the time to find out how they can help you start applying for jobs and participating in career fairs and recruitment events.  Among other things, make sure you compile a professional resumé that is separate from your academic resumé, and are comfortable writing cover letters.  You may also want to familiarize yourself with job-search websites and databases, and, as lame as it may seem, read up on effective interviewing techniques. 

In the end, though, things tend to work themselves out.  Don’t be paralyzed by your future, and make sure to enjoy your last year in college.  After all, you’re a senior, from the Latin senex, meaning “old man” and carrying implications of respect.  You’ve come a long way already.  Savor it, and feel free to rest on your laurels a bit.  Just don’t fall asleep.