A “To-Do List” for the Final Year of Your Undergraduate Education

1. Are you ready to apply to grad school?

Decide early if possible. If you apply to graduate programs during your senior year, you will need to take some necessary steps: powering through the GRE, drafting personal statements, soul-searching, and narrowing lists of programs. The alternative is to delay the application process so that you can instead focus on your final schoolwork and personal growth.

But Jennie, how do I know if I’m ready to apply?

It can definitely be anxiety-inducing as a driven student (which, I would bet you most likely are if you’re reading this blog). You may be flip-flopping between programs or uncertain if you are ready to commit to more schooling without a break period.

This decision requires confidence and honesty with yourself and with your mentors. If you know exactly what you want and how to achieve it – go for it and give it your best shot, why wait? But if you have other ideas in mind and you want to hold off for a moment to gather your priorities together, then take time if it will keep your motivation up! Use that extra time to consider working on the rest of this to-do list.

2. Emulate and befriend your professors

Your professors and advisors are so proud that you are in their department. They brag about you to their colleagues (It’s so true!). They write slews of recommendations for you because they know you will be successful no matter what you set your heart on.

Support your supporters!

Go to their gallery shows, concerts, and presentations, read their books or articles, and take interest in their research. Be sure to visit their offices regularly for advising, but to also catch up on life. Getting to know one another on a personal level is so important because your professors will give you stronger advice and direct you towards your goals with greater promise. Perhaps most of all, prove to them that you would be an excellent person to work alongside. After all, someday you will become their colleague, and it is never too soon to build your professional network.

3. Give yourself an edge

Internships + Work = Experience. Experience will show you what career you can have with your college degree. Take a good look at your resume or curriculum vitae and ask yourself: am I impressed with what I’ve accomplished so far? On second thought, we often can be a bit hard on ourselves, so be sure to take this question to your advisors (now your trusted friends and sounding boards), and determine where you ought to build upon your skills and explore your interests. That “edge” might be anything from having fluency in multiple languages to having toured the country with your country rock band. Your experience has shaped you – use it to stand out among the applicants. The more experience you have gained, the more valuable graduate school will ultimately be for you as your career comes into focus.

4. Conferences and events

Do your best to attend events involving your academic department, SEM, your internships, or for your own research. Conferences and presentations are often the most accessible occasions where you have the opportunity to set first impressions with names you’ve been waiting to meet. Inspire conversation and exchange business cards with professors and fellow students alike. Your presence is a testament to your values and commitment to the field.

A view from my SEM 2014 annual conference hotel room window in Pittsburg, PA

A view from my SEM 2014 annual conference hotel room window in Pittsburg, PA

5. Support your close friends

While you’ve been directing so much of your energy to your graduate school applications, schoolwork, and whatever else is on your plate, did you unintentionally put your friends on the back burner? Your friends need you just as much as you need them for support and encouragement. Catch up regularly, reserve time to help them with their final papers, and be in the front row of their presentations and shows. Sometimes we do not realize how much we take our friends for granted, especially when we are under pressure. When your friend calls on you, clear your mind of anything that may distract you from their needs and listen. I do not have the writing ability to describe just how important it is to nurture your friendships.

6. Make it work and finish strong!

Your final year of undergrad should be occupied only by things that keep you busy doing what you love and will be beneficial in the long run. Do not say yes to everything, but be sensible and absolutely say yes to anything that will enrich your life experiences. Take the trip across the country to the SEM conference, present your undergraduate research at your university, finish that album you’ve always wanted to record, and ace your final semesters of classes. This is your life and no one else’s, so take ownership and amaze yourself.

Good luck and enjoy every moment!

– Jennie

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