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To every college senior who is graduating this year: It’s officially *that* time! You’re turning in your finals, the grad school applications and job searches are picking up, and the “firsts” of many “lasts” in college have surely already begun. If you haven’t already, take a moment to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come! I know it may seem cheesy or strange, especially since we tend to jump straight from one adventure to another, leaving little time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. But even if you’re feeling stressed about “what comes next” after college, take a moment to congratulate yourself on all that you’ve achieved.

College graduation can be exciting, but at the same time, you’re growing up — and that can feel scary at times. It’s natural to feel anxious or stressed about leaving college behind! Chances are, the past four years have brought many new people, places, lessons, and challenges into your life — not to mention the pandemic that majorly shook up our college years. Just when many of us started reacclimating to campus life again, we’re now expected to pack our bags and move on from school altogether. 

If graduating and suddenly leaving academia behind feels overwhelming right now, you’re not alone. Here’s how to deal with it, according to a higher-ed professional and college graduates who have been in your shoes.

Take it one step at a time & don’t be afraid to slow down. 

Marcy Newman, the Director of Campus Partnerships for Loyola Marymount University’s Career and Professional Development (CPD) Office, works with college students and graduates of all backgrounds — including anxious seniors. She tells Her Campus that when it comes to battling senior year anxiety, it’s important for students to slow down. 

“Something I always remind students is that their post-grad path is not always going to be linear,” Newman tells Her Campus. “A lot of the graduating seniors I work with who are stressed about leaving college don’t realize that slowing down and taking things one step at a time as you figure out your path is totally okay. You can intern after school, you can do service, or you can take a gap year.”

Despite the pressure to lock in your dream job after college, Newman adds that landing a 9-to-5 isn’t the end-all, be-all. “There’s so much pressure to have a full-time job right after you graduate, but everyone needs to just take a minute and celebrate what you’ve accomplished here [at school]!” she says. “Know that it’s okay if your path looks different than everyone else’s.”

Embrace the uncertainty of senior year (even if it feels tough!).

In addition to the expert perspective, it’s also helpful to hear how other students are dealing with the anxieties of leaving academia. Zoë, 22, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, tells Her Campus how she’s been dealing with the stress related to graduating and growing up. 

“Being a second-semester senior right now is definitely stressful, especially with juggling school and applying for jobs,” Zoë shares. “However, something I do to help manage my stress is to break up my tasks throughout the week. I’m a pretty organized person so I write down the tasks I need to do each day, but try not to give myself more than five tasks per day, that way I don’t get overwhelmed. I’ve also found that openly talking to my family, friends, and therapist about my stressors and anxieties has helped a lot — having a good support system is so important!”

If you’re a fellow college senior like Zoë and me, know that many of your peers are also dealing with uncertainty and are trying to learn how to better embrace it — even if not everyone is advertising it. So, if you’re feeling anxious about leaving academia, remember to talk to each other! Instead of competing or comparing yourself to others’ successes, it can help to stick together in our final year of college.

remember that everyone moves at their own pace.

Most people aren’t running around sharing how stressed or anxious they are about leaving college and/or not having all of their next steps figured out yet. However, the notion that no one else is worried is completely untrue. Everyone is at different places and paces right now, but we’re all in this together! 

Haley, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, is already working in her first full-time role. However, she’s also currently deciding where to go to graduate school, where she should live, and the financials surrounding all of the above. “I have dealt with the transition between college and my job — and now balancing that job and deciding where to go to grad school — by taking everything day by day!” Haley tells Her Campus. “The right job, program, and city will come, so don’t feel disappointed with yourself if you are not in the same place as some of your friends right now. Your time will come and you’re so not alone.”

Newman also reminds college seniors that, although every student is in a different place, many professionals want to see you succeed — and usually, they will do the best they can to help you. “I’m very big on letting your network work for you,” she explains. “When it comes to charting the path of your career, everything is so relational. Working with alumni and making real, social connections are what’ll allow you to build communities that can help you land where you want to.” Whether it’s finding a mentor, scheduling an informational interview with someone in your career of interest, or simply talking to someone you trust, remember: You don’t have to tackle post-grad life alone.

If you’re feeling nervous about leaving academia, it’s important to stay open to all of our post-grad possibilities! Pay attention to the things that really energize you and hone in on your strengths so you can market them and use them to your advantage wherever you go. The past few years have been stressful for college students — believe me, I know, and am right there with you! But cheers to you, class of 2022. We did it and are off to continue achieving our dreams. Great things are in store for all of us.

Rylie Walsh is a senior majoring in Communication Studies and English at Loyola Marymount University! She is President of Her Campus LMU and is also a Her Campus National Writer & Lifestyle Section Editor. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her hanging out with friends, exploring Los Angeles, or enjoying her all time favorite dessert: a freeze from Pressed Juicery.
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