What nobody tells you about your last year of college

You know what’s tough? Your senior year of college. Sure, everybody thinks adolescence is rough, and it is, but there are thousands of books and articles detailing every possible form your teenage angst will take, so at least there’s the benefit of knowing that what you’re going through is completely normal, if not totally predictable. Come to think of it, they have books on marriage and divorce and menopause and what to expect when you’re expecting, but if you notice, there’s not a lot out there that tells you how to survive your early 20s.

By the time I started my senior year of college, I thought I had it all figured out. I’d had a pretty easy go of it so far — there were stressful times, obviously, but I didn’t suffer any crippling anxiety or feelings of monumental failure. I was extremely lucky to have known since I was really young that I wanted to be a writer, so I never wrestled with my professional goals the way a lot of my friends did as they tried to decide where to focus. But this all changed in that final year. I was beyond stressed out. Whereas I could totally mess up and still be fine before (like the time I bombed a summer class and just retook it in the fall), this was my LAST CHANCE. I couldn’t tank any of my classes, or skip an assignment and hope for the best, because if I didn’t pass the class, I would have to push back graduation and no one wants that to happen. And that wasn’t all. This is what no one tells you about senior year of college:

Real life is on the way, and fast!

No one can truly convey to you just how heavily this weighs on your shoulders during your senior year. Sure, you’re meant to spend all of college preparing for the real world, but generally, when you’re sitting there staring at your computer screen at 2 AM, writing paper after paper and cramming for exams, you’re not genuinely thinking about your career. You’re a student, thinking about your classwork (and maybe also that party on Friday), just like in high school, only you’re a little older now. But then you get through the first couple of weeks of senior year and it hits you: Wait, what am I going to do in nine months? There are no courses to enroll in. Oh my god, I’m supposed to work. Where am I going to work?! Or live?! Or eat?!? It’s kind of surreal to think that you could be busting your butt for that B+ from your teacher one week and the next, you’re expected to be busting your butt, for real money, forever (unless you go to grad school, of course). It’s overwhelming. Suddenly, I started to second guess myself. Writing isn’t the most dependable career choice, and good steady jobs can be hard to come by. Was I even qualified to call myself a writer? Is anyone ever going to want to read my work? I didn’t have a backup plan, and this sent me into a total tailspin.

Dynamics will change.

What’s even harder sometimes than the j-o-b situation is looking around at your closest friends and realizing that you’re all preparing to go your separate ways. One friend is moving in with her boyfriend in Chicago, another is going into the Peace Corps, the third is already gearing up for law school. You spend all these years together and suddenly you realize you might never be in the same place ever again. These guys were your support system. Sometimes you just ran across the hall to vent or cry or get their advice. Now, you wonder how distance and time will affect your relationship. Who’s going to be there next September? It’s bittersweet, because everyone’s excited to take the next step, but it’s a little scary and sad, too.

Life becomes a balancing act.

By the end of senior year, you’re getting pulled in all different directions. You have your classes and your schoolwork, which are time-consuming in their own right. You have your family, who not only want to know how many tickets they can get to your graduation, but also what you’re going to be doing after graduation (and for the rest of your life). You have the job that you’re working for pocket money. You may be in a relationship, so there’s the emotional whirlwind of The Future to deal with. It’s like walking on a tight rope every day.

You will probably feel lost for a little bit.

With everything going on and not much time to sort through it, you can easily lose sight of yourself and what you want out of life. You’re faced with a lot of decisions, from the mundane to the massive. Grad school or real job? New York or L.A.? Living at home or finding your own place? Prepare to feel a little confused when you don’t have all the answers. You might even start to doubt yourself or what you’re capable of — at least I did. I worried I wasn’t ready for all of it, and that I wasn’t going to succeed outside the cocoon of my educational institution.

Breathe, because it’s all going to work out.

What I wish someone would have told me when I was going through this was that I needed to breathe. I needed to calm down. I wasn’t the first person to feel this way. The fact of the matter is: You’re going to eventually get a car and make payments on it. You’re going to learn how to cook something other than grilled cheese and ramen. Your bad job will lead to a better job. You’ll find someone who loves you whether you’ve got it together or not. Some friends will drift, but others will turn into lifelong BFFs. Know that it takes time and that your 20s are full of change and growth, so roll with it. You might find yourself in a totally new city/career/personal situation by the time you’re 30, so you certainly don’t need to have all of this figured out by the time graduation rolls around. The most important thing that I don’t recall anyone telling me: You have time, and you’re going to be OK. I promise.

[Image via here]

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