How I Cope As a College Senior with Basically No Idea What's Coming Next

College is scary. It was scary from the start. It was terrifying in the middle. And you better believe that it’s an absolute horror show at the end. But now that these four years are almost over, I don’t want to leave. The majority of my peers are applying for jobs and getting accepted into graduate school, and I’m just now realizing that I have absolutely no idea what’s next.

It would be great to tell myself that it’s going to fall into place. That everything will be okay in the end – and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end yet. But that’s not always true.

For the majority of college women out there, a perfect life won’t just fall into our laps. There’s going to be graduation anxiety and the fear of not knowing what’s over the horizon. But alongside those 2 a.m. panic attacks, it’s important to remember that if you don’t know what’s coming next, you’re not alone.

Having transition anxiety is almost a rite of passage. There will certainly be those outliers who have everything lined up (or at least have an idea), but the overwhelming majority of seniors are freaking out, I promise. And because we’re all in this together, here are some tips I’ve collected about how to make this upcoming change a little bit easier.

1. Practice healthy short-term coping mechanisms

Moving from one part of your life to the next is hard and there's rarely an easy way to tackle the issue. However, Dr. Edie Stark, a licensed clinical social worker, told Brit + Co that major life transitions are big stressors. “Transitions to or from college are hotbeds for maladaptive coping skills to arise. When we are in a new environment, filled with new stressors, our bodies and minds can go into panic mode.” So, it’s important to understand that the pressure you’re feeling to create stability is inevitable. 

While some might turn to substance abuse or risky behavior, that’s not the only option. Give yourself a “brain break” and forget about life after college for a moment, a week at the most. During that time, find something outside of your academic life to add to your schedule that can give your day some structure. Maybe it’s eating lunch every day at 12:42 pm, or sitting quietly in your car for five minutes to practice mindfulness before you go inside.

Aurora P., a senior at the University of Southern California, says that stretching twice a day has given her something to look forward to. “I did this in my senior year of high school, too. But with graduation just around the bend, I’ve started stretching five minutes, twice a day. Once when I wake up and again before I go to bed. I get to feel good for most of the day and relaxed right before I get to sleep.” Although stretching works for Aurora, it might not work for you. That's okay. But try to add something to your day that's consistent and won't change, even after you've moved your tassel to the left.

Related: 4 Ways to Reduce Post-Graduation Stress

2. Actually use the career services provided

It’s natural to want to compare yourself to others. Yet even if it isn’t meant maliciously, it’s not always good for you and your personal growth. Everybody has different strengths, skills, and (most importantly) connections.

Not every instance of somebody getting a job straight out of school is based on a who-knows-who situation, but having excellent networking skills certainly hasn’t hurt any undergrad in the past. You can only control yourself, so just focus on what you’re doing. Also, acting like you know what you're doing until you actually learn the trade is an important life skill that can translate into (almost) any profession, so fake it until you make it.

Create a LinkedIn account if you haven’t already and start adding your classmates. Even if you’re not necessarily looking for a job, it won’t hurt to have those connections already in place when the time is right. Try connecting with alumni within your major to see what kind of jobs they've taken since graduation. Most colleges offer some form of career services, so actually visit them! Take this opportunity to review your resume or create the perfect cover letter.

Believe it or not but schools actually want their students to succeed, so get your tuition's worth of assistance. They might even point you in the right direction.

Related: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Compare Your Post-College Plans to Your Peers'

3. Keep moving forward

I know, you’ve been hearing this piece of advice from everyone, and it’s exceptionally frustrating. It’s basically the central focus of Meet the Robinsons. But hey, even Disney is right sometimes. If you’re feeling stuck and are starting to panic about the future, make sure you’re taking active steps to keep your momentum going. Try filling out an application once every two weeks. Maybe once a week, if you want to explore your options.

Even if you’re crawling, you’re still moving.

Morgan L., a Carthage College alumna, says that her favorite strategy when it comes to applying for jobs is to “throw as many darts at the board and see what sticks.” Unlike college, applying to a job is free, and the worst thing that can happen is that they say "no." Gearing up for graduation, you don't have much to lose, so take risks with applications and get your name out there.

It’s also crucial to remember that your first job won’t be your forever job. If you’re panicking and have no idea what you’re going to do, don’t be afraid to apply for a job that has nothing to do with your major. Not only will it give you the motivation to keep searching for that perfect fit, but it’s a surefire way to pad your resume with transferable job skills that you would have never been able to gain anywhere else.

Although the end of college can be intense, and it can seem like a never-ending onslaught of deadlines and due dates, don't forget to occasionally stop and smell the roses. The future will always be there but the present is ever fleeting, so take the chance to appreciate what's around you. Your undergrad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make some memories. (And some connections on LinkedIn). Spend these next few months finding that balance between preparing for the future and enjoying the present. And always remember: you've got this.