PANIC! After Graduation (Narrative Piece)

As a second semester junior, I have recently found myself excited about the prospects of graduate school. I should clarify, that this excitement also comes with an exorbitant amount of anxiety. I study English and Poltics in my undergrad and while both of these disciplines are said to be under attack in the globalized world (ask your local english major how many times they've heard "Okay, but what are you actually going to do with your degree?"), I always felt that my ability to answer this question put me ahead of the game. I want to go to graduate school, I want to get my PhD, I want to become a professor. While these steps seemed all fine and dandy from afar, my year in school began to ask me to think of these steps in more realistic terms. What do I want to study specifically? Where do I want to go? What do I do if I don't get into these schools? What happens if I can't find a decent teaching job after getting my PhD? How do I apply for grad schools? What are the GREs?

The list goes on and on, but you get the point. 

This article is less to provide you, the reader, with specific "advice", and more to quelch my own fear and anxiety. Maybe, if I can work these things out on paper, it might resonate with some of you who may or may not be going through the same fears and anxieties. 

Firstly, there's time. While in my head for years I developed a specific strategy for my future, I need to be comfortable with the fact that this reality isn't necessarily going to play out. It doesn't mean that the goal has to change, but the process can. In other words, while inevitably I want and even need to end up in graduate school, the pressure of applying to go right after graduation is purely in my head. After considering this further, because my degrees do not set me up for a specific program at a specific school in a specific field, I might need some time to sort out the details. Time that is not afforded to me in my every day life as an undergraduate student. Who has time to study for the GRE, put together a writing sample, gather recommendations, research institutions and professors, and network while also taking 15-18 credits (not to mention extra-curricular engagements like Her Campus)? The answer: no one. It is not that it is impossible to apply to graduate school in your senior year, it is more so the case that if your senior year is looking like mine, it is unrealistic to put a full effort into the process. I am realizing that while I could do research and apply to graduate schools next semester, I would not necessarily be finding the places and the people that best suit my needs. Translation: Gap years are okay: even, no, especially for people like me that love, live, and breathe their academic work.

By the way, I totally understand that I'm making myself out in this article to be a freak. I am. 

Secondly, while backup plans are important (backup schools, backup jobs, etc), they don't have to be finite. In other words, while I may need that year, or two, or three, or ten to get where I want to go, it doesn't mean I don't keep moving. This may seem like a different way to say the cliché "fall down 7 times get up 8". What I really mean to say is that worrying about having safety nets too much, takes away from the time and effort I can put into current work and research. It is this work that will allow me to be successful in graduate school. In other words, I need to stop obsessively worrying about whether or not I can get a job after grad school or even whether or not I can get into grad school, and look at my current undergraduate work as just as, if not more valuable than, extensive research of these institutions and opportunities. No amount of planning or research can make me a good learner. Enjoy the process. Translation: Prepare yes, but also chill the hell out.

Lastly, go to professors. Some will make this anxiety more intense, others will relieve it completely. The bottom line, however, is that professors have all gone through this process. Yes, it is true that it may have looked a little different when they did it, but their collegues are your potential future mentors and they can give you the best advice and resources to pursue what you need. While there are other resources like career services or the advising center, professors and people in your department in general can provide you with more specific instructions. 

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