After three arduous years of work at a college, many young people see their final year of college in much the same way that they saw the final year of high school: an opportunity to make up for the merrymaking they didn’t get to in their previous years. This is a natural instinct, and there will certainly be time to indulge in some of the new privileges that your early twenties provide, but the senior year of college is also the transition point from having a clear structure, support system, and road map for how to accomplish whatever goals a student might have, into the wide world where all of these things become less available. For this reason, the most important thing to do your senior year is to develop a plan for the years to come and start using the resources of the college to set that plan in motion. Here are some useful questions to ask to help you make the most of your senior year in college.
For many students, the answer is more education, whether that is in the form of graduate school, a fellowship, or some occupation-specific training program. For whatever the next leg of your journey is, make sure that you set yourself up with all the tools necessary to succeed. Make sure that all necessary transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation happen early. Getting recommendation letters is a pesky step that is required by most schools and fellowships and professors are getting A LOT of requests for letters. Ask professors early, and as soon as you receive the parameters of the recommendation send them to the person writing the recommendation. It is terrible to wake up one morning and realize that you may miss your deadline because you are waiting on a professor, who you have little power to cajole into working any faster, to give some necessary piece of the puzzle.
How do I get there?
The process of getting fellowships and getting into grad schools is pretty straightforward, but what if your goal is to get your feet wet in the working world? Your school can provide you with great tools in order to accomplish this goal as well. Ask advisors if the university has any partnerships with companies in the field in which you wish to work. If there are former students that work at an institution, reach out. No need to be pushy, a statement that you are a student that loves the organization and would like to someday be involved will suffice. Nothing is a guarantee, but it is good to lay the groundwork for applying to an institution when you still have the luxury of the support provided by the school. Another great tool is an internship. Internships are a divisive topic, as asking people to work for free in the hope that they will someday be able to work for pay can be problematic, but while in school, internships can often be applied for credit and thus provide some compensation beyond the experience of working in the field. Internships are also a great way to get your foot in the door with an organization and to develop the occupational skills and the relationships to increase the probability of getting hired out of school. If you are in a field like math or computer science, you can likely forego the unpaid step and get right into the field, but it’s still not a bad idea to try a paid internship as a way for you to take a trial run of the job.
What do I need?
This topic has already been broached in the previous sections, but figuring out what the institution of learning you are a part of can provide you to help you make the transition to the next chapter of your life is vital. It may be that there are postgraduate research grants that are available to you, or there may be job fairs that are organized by the school. The school might have contacts with recruiters if you are in a field that is highly recruited, and there could be many more helpful postgraduate tools that your school provides. The school WANTS you to be successful and make a ton of money so that they can pester you for donations for the rest of your life, so ask them for help! It is not imposing on anyone to be very clear about your needs and ask for the tools to have them met.
Of course in your final year you want to make the most of the social connections you have formed and the carefree nature of having your basic needs met by an institution, but it’s also important to start planning for the vast future outside of school. Whether it is by solidifying relationships with professors in order to prepare for letters of recommendation or applying for internships to give you the connections to have a job waiting for you after school, make sure to use your senior year to create a roadmap for life beyond your school.
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.