Senior Year: 22 Things Every Undergraduate Should Do Before Graduation
Your senior year of college provides little time for reflection. You have a million things to do and a few seconds to do them. Or so it seems.
Regardless of the numbers, you’re not going to be able to do it all without first devising a strategy. In the following article, we’ll be discussing the importance of building your senior year checklist as well as what should be on it. Let’s begin!
1. Determine whether you’ll go to graduate school.
Part of a successful senior year of college is thinking about the future. But this isn’t daydreaming future. No “someday I will” to be found. No, this is where you start making real decisions that will greatly impact the trajectory of your life.
Among those decisions, you’ll want to decide whether there’s value in going beyond the undergraduate degree. More often than not, there is. In fact, numerous fields have a Master’s degree as a prerequisite to making any real money doing anything related to the field of study.
Psychology is a good example of this. While the degree itself can lead to very lucrative careers, you’re not going to get there with a four-year degree. You need to attain your Master’s and, likely, your Ph.D. So make sure you’ve done your homework to ensure that graduate school is a step worth taking.
2. Get your submissions in early.
If you do decide to go to college beyond undergraduate work, then make sure you’re well-attuned to the submission deadline. The Princeton Review has an excellent example here of how to plan your timeline around those deadlines.
Each plan will be different, and it will wholly depend on the program to which you are applying. Reach out early and make sure you’ve pulled all your paperwork together well ahead of the date.
3. Find a way to stay busy.
This seems like something you won’t even have to think about, but senior year of college can be deceptive. See, you’re doing high-level stuff at this point, and that means more mental “markers” slowing down your flow and routine.
Flow and routine are instrumental in giving you that feeling that time is going quickly. If you have more clouding their development — as in, you’re learning more new things — then time is going to start to drag. And it’s going to drag with the addition of stressful challenges.
We’ve said all that to say this. You have to find things you can stay busy with that allow you to build your anticipation. Things you can look forward to, in other words! By stuffing your senior year with such events or hobbies, you’ll be able to maintain the right attitude about what’s to come.
4. If working after college, line up a job.
No one could blame you if you wanted to put the Master’s degree on hold. You’ve just been through four years of major life transition. You’ve proven you can “adult.” Why not give yourself a shot in the “real world”? See if those wings can fly!
Of course, that means working will become your new reality. It’s important to set your expectations in the right place. There aren’t many top-notch jobs that you’re going to get with a four-year degree. At least, not in an advanced field. But you can generally find something that’ll pay you more money than usual.
Why is this important? Because you’re going to face challenges like finding a place to live, paying (God forbid) credit card bills or student loans, and building toward the life you dreamed of when sitting through boring class after boring class in years one through three.
5. De-clutter your life.
We’re not saying you should get rid of everything. Far from it. The things that bring you joy, they will need to stay with you through the uncertainty ahead. They give you something to cling to when life is scary or confusing.
But there are other things you’re probably keeping around that are dragging you down. They can be physical items, relationships, stressors of another kind. Whatever they are, get rid of them, or at least put their impact on your life into perspective.
Don’t let the past continue to be your present. Set your eyes forward, and go full steam ahead. If that means you have to reevaluate the people in your life and the plans you have made, do it.
6. Get your graduation materials ordered.
Cap and gown aren’t necessarily a major thing to worry about, but the sooner you can get them taken care of, the easier your senior year will go. That’s because you’ll have your mental bandwidth channeled towards the most important challenges.
So don’t procrastinate. At least when it comes to this. Order quickly so it can stay on the backburner of your brain where it belongs at this point in your life.
7. Do the student loan math.
Pay extra close attention to the materials your lender sends you at this point in the game. You’re getting critically close to that first student loan payment. What you’ll find is that the fear of student loans are a bit of a mixed bag. That’s because student loans are largely contingent on these factors:
- How much college credit you had coming out of high school
- Whether you went to an out-of-state university
- Whether you spent any time in a free or cheap community college
- Your field of study and what’s to come
- The money you borrowed versus money from other sources
Hopefully, you’ve done the pre-college student loan math ahead of your senior year. Either way, you’ll need to know what that monthly obligation is going to be once payments start after graduation.
If you can’t afford your student loans just yet, you’ll need to check into a possible forbearance. That’s worth looking at now as well.
8. Meet with your advisor about what you must do to graduate with honors.
This one is self-explanatory. You should do it very early so you don’t find yourself facing a final semester surprise or the dreaded summer school. Double-check and triple-check your hours and ask your advisor to verify all your findings.
9. Schedule any remaining required courses.
If you do still have required coursework to complete, don’t wait around. Schedule it as early as possible. You don’t want to get muscled out of a class you need because you put off enrollment.
10. Leave room for a little fun.
This is hard to remember when you’re in the throes of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on your undergraduate college career. But senior year is just as important as all the other years when it comes to spreading your wings, expanding your social circles, experimenting with love, and finding your way to the person you want to be.
You will never get this time back, so make the most of it by carving out time each week to have a good time with the people who complete you. You may never see this much of them again — in fact, it’s guaranteed that you won’t — so make sure the impression is firmly entrenched by the time you step across the podium, degree-in-hand.
11. Provide a forwarding address to your alumni center.
Your college may not have been all fun, all games, all the time. You may have had a few bad experiences with professors. But all in all, this is a place where you made a lot of memories, and you’re going to take those memories with you.
And as those memories tag along, they will begin to shape-shift any of the negative emotions toward school that you might have felt. So be a sport and leave your forwarding information with the alumni center. You may not be in the position to support the school monetarily, but you can take pride in it and let them know when you have a major life accomplishment so they can forward that along and build some marketing rank around it.
12. Clear all charges from your account.
Still owing money in fees and other charges is a bad way of starting your new life as a graduate. Besides, the student loans are bad enough. You don’t need something else that could keep you from getting your degree following you around as well.
Paying any remaining charges will lift the embargo and clear the way for you to leave college or go to graduate school with a clean slate and a clean conscience.
13. Do your exit interview.
The exit interview is something anyone receiving financial aid should do. Again, it can be a requirement to getting your degree. It’s easy, computer-based, and your campus’s information center will dummy-proof it for you. Check the box!
14. Look into short-term insurance plans designed for new graduates.
Short-term health or car insurance plans offer a great layer of protection — affordable protection, we should say — as you work from transitioning out of undergraduate school and into either graduate or the work chapters of your life.
Shop around online for the best deals or touch base with your campus information center to make sure you’re not missing out on any resources.
15. Stack up on transcript copies.
So much of everything is electronic nowadays that this may not seem necessary. But you never know when there will be a job that asks you to supply an original copy. Therefore, stock up on them now. They’ll never be this cheap again, nor readily available. We recommend getting about 10 official copies. Those should last for a long time.
16. Start a reference database.
It’s not as hard to keep up with your references (or future references) today as it used to be. Thanks to social media, you always sort of have an idea of where they are. But some types of jobs go into an inordinate amount of detail regarding what they want in a reference.
Home address, phone numbers, email addresses — it’s a good idea to keep all of that stuff handy. And while networks such as LinkedIn make it possible to keep written references from your references on file, you really should have an independent database in case some of your favorites don’t use that network.
Another good thing to hold on to in this regard: recommendation letters or letters of reference that were formally written. The whole package is something you can draw from as job opportunities demand.
17. Write thank-you notes for any graduation gifts.
These same people giving you money or gifts today could be your future employers or your links to a future employer. Treat them like you appreciate them. And don’t make them wait too long for the thank-you. Try to have all your thank-you’s written and sent by two weeks after graduation. (And yes, they need to be sent via snail-mail. Formality is your friend in this case.)
18. Attend the grad fair.
Graduation fairs are where you can pick up your cap, gown, announcements, etc. They also usually are thrown with style, flair, and fun. This is your opportunity to take part in the festive nature of graduation, join in on the anticipation, and maybe even have a few treats and refreshments with friends in the process.
19. Finish strong.
Even if you’ve killed it your entire undergraduate time, don’t take senior year of college as a chance to slough off. Do your best, even if it doesn’t turn out to be your best grade. Get involved with an extracurricular project. Study for each exam. Really make your end-of-term projects something memorable.
You never know what piece of school work might end up opening a door or serving as a solid piece in a portfolio to support future employment opportunities or to get you into a prestigious educational program of some kind.
20. Show up for graduation.
It may seem goofy and pointless and long, but you’ll never have another one like it. Graduation also gives your loved ones a chance to celebrate you. And if they mean as much to you as you do to them, why take that away from them?
21. Hit all the career fairs you can.
Dozens of employers who are there to attract your attention? Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? Considering that most job offers don’t occur from blind applications, this is your chance to establish connections that will later pay massive dividends or at least give you the opportunity to get in front of the right people for a potential dream job.
22. Start building your resume now.
Now is the time to get what you’re good at and the experience that proves it down on paper. At first, your resume may not be much to look at. But you have to start somewhere, and the simple act of getting organized will reveal to you that you’re better at more stuff than you think you are.
Resumes force us to inventory our skills and education and work experience to see how it all works together. If you don’t have work experience, it gives you the opportunity to drill deeper into what you’re good at and find tangible “proofs” from your undergraduate work that might demonstrate it.
And as you make your resume, remember one thing: they’re never “one-and-done.” You’ll be making new resumes your entire life because they’re not static documents. They’re living, breathing documents that give you a chance to improve your station in life day-by-day.
Follow This Senior Year Checklist, and You’ll Be Ready for the Next Chapter
Senior year of college is no doubt on your mind as you wrap up this final semester of your junior year. Heck, some of you may be even younger and worried about it. But if you keep the 22 items above at the front of your thoughts — make them the centerpiece of your checklist, if you will — then you’ll have everything you need to maneuver into the next phase of life. Good luck!
[Featured Image by Leinster Senior College]