Yesterday evening I went to a dinner with younger students on my course. I was tucking into a wedge of halloumi and dodging the dreaded “what are you doing with the rest of your life?” questions when another question bomb fell into my lap. “Are you excited or sad to graduate?”
Both. The simple answer is always both – but I am also scared and confused and elated and hopeful. The prospect of graduation is a constant whirlpool of emotions, spitting out different reactions every time I allow it to swirl around my mind. Part of me is devastated to be leaving the joy of student life behind: living with my friends, late nights spent chatting on someone else’s bedroom floor, homemade cocktails using the cheapest ingredients, and getting an unexpectedly lovely comment at the end of an essay you thought was awful. But I am also excited to embark on a new journey, to learn new things, and to no longer have to spend long nights in the library!
No matter how I feel about the inevitable end of my studies, there are some things I’ve learnt in my final year…
1. To finally find a bit more balance
Final year might be the year with the most academic pressure for most of us (my entire degree rests on this year’s work – my first two years don’t count at all) but I’ve found that the pressure is a lot more manageable when I give myself real time off, too. I’m doing more extra-curriculars this year than my first year, which seems strange, but somehow it works!
2. To juggle essays and job (or masters) applications at the same time
Just when you want to settle down and focus on your finals… here comes the CV writing, video interviews, psychometric tests and assessment centres! If you choose to apply for some of the competitive grad schemes out there, no doubt you’ve had your fair share of career confusion. What’s important is making sure that you find a good balance: put some real effort into your job applications (you don’t stand a chance if you don’t try) but don’t obsess over them. There are always more opportunities.
And if you’re taking a year out from everything or not applying to jobs until after graduation, that’s okay too. Don’t let your CV-focused peers doubt what’s best for you.
3. That life never follows the path you thought it would
You might not get your dream job, or your dream grades. Your final year of studies might be affected by strikes and/or a global pandemic which turn your academic and social life upside down. You might not have a clue what you want to do with your life even though you thought you’d have it figured out by now.
All of this okay and more: if you look around it’s most likely you’ll find that no-one’s path was as smooth or as predictable as they hoped it would be.
4. To chase the parts of your subject you love the most
Because we learn better if we’re actually enjoying it. Whether you’re writing a dissertation on a subject of your choice or you have the chance to focus on certain topics for an exam, think carefully about what you enjoy and then go for it, even if no-one else you know is interested or it’s not the most common theme to study.
5. To love being a student while you still can!
“Student life” is so much more than going on a night out (actually, if anything, I’ve never heard the words “I’m getting old” more often than as a final year student!). Appreciate the flexible hours if you have them, the dozens of free events, the societies, the sports… and the student discounts!
It’s also about the people: your best friends, the acquaintances you say “hello” to in lectures, even the people you once had to do a fraught group project with. Knowing I might never see some of these people again, no matter how close we are(n’t), makes me appreciate them all the more while I still have the chance to be surrounded by so many interesting and intelligent people who are all muddling through this strange thing called university with me.
6. Time gets faster every year
In just a few short months, I will be thrust into the world of graduate life… but you can be sure that until then, I’ll be using every moment to appreciate the best parts of student life while learning to accept the lows. As Greek philosopher Theophrastus said, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” Final year passes too quickly – and above all else, it is teaching me the value of time.
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