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What next? Futureless fourth years fumble through uncertainty

I've been reading for the past four years straight. Occasionally, I would put a book down long enough to write a 10-page paper on it. By and large, though, I've been a reader, and if all goes as planned, I'll be awarded a degree in English from the University in May.

After that, however, it's anybody's guess as to what will become of me. Spend enough time in the midst of fourth years and you recognize a palpable fear in the air. Ask any one of us where we're going to be next year and you'll most likely be greeted with a shaky, "I don't know."

So we're spending this semester searching for a job, a graduate school, a future.

When people who asked what I was majoring in continually gave a sympathetic smile and said, "Oh, how nice..." I knew I needed to investigate options for what to do with my English major.

Since fry cookery doesn't sound all that appealing to me, I decided to apply to graduate programs in the humanities and law school. This meant that I would once again enter the wonderful world of standardized tests.

The SATs weren't that bad, so I figured the GREs and LSATs couldn't be all that painful. Oh, how wrong I was.

I should have known I was in trouble when I got my LSAT material in the mail. I was reminded to bring my admission ticket, three or four number 2 pencils, and a photo ID to the test center on the day of the exam.

I was also informed that my fingerprint would be taken in order to ensure the integrity of the exam. "You think they'll need a DNA sample too?" I wondered aloud to my sister.

And the test itself is demanding. It requires weeks of preparation with either a thick book or a prep class, both of which promise to help you gain admission to an actual accredited law school. My "Princeton Review" book gave me helpful mantras like, "I will read the question first." They swear these tips will do amazing things for my score.

I was kind of hoping to understand why the analytical portion of the test is referred to as the "games" section. As far as I can tell there's nothing fun about deciding where the pig will go if I have six cages and seven animals and the pigs can't go with the goats, and the goats can't be in Cage 2 with the peacocks.

It's my fourth year of college and I'm in the library trying to order livestock rather than spending time at the Biltmore. Instead of paying attention in my classes, I sit and worry about how I'm going to be able to ask my professors for recommendations.

As the prospective graduate school students run around preparing applications, other fourth-year students find themselves schlepping over to Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium in business suits. Companies have already begun on-Grounds interviewing, and students have to be pre-selected to even rate an appointment with prospective employers.

The other day my roommate Jen returned from her first interview looking grim.

"It was awful," she told me. "They kept asking me to tell them about how I work in groups and how I handle negative experiences. I just sat there with my hands sweating thinking that these people are going to determine whether I wear Payless or Prada shoes next year."

Jen paused for a moment before going on, "The real kicker is that now I have to write them a thank-you note. I actually have to show my gratitude for making me nauseated."

My friend Kelly told me that "this whole grad school thing has me worried because if I don't get into an MFA program, I'm going to have to work at McDonald's. A lot of other people I've spoken to seem to think that's where they're headed, too," she continued. "What am I going to do if even a career in fast food doesn't work out?"

I tried to assuage her fears, but truthfully I was wrestling with the same issues myself. What am I going to do if grad school doesn't work out? I've loved my time as an English major, but suddenly I'm afraid that I should have learned how to quantify something.

Surely, if I was an engineer I wouldn't be so worried about my future, I thought to myself. My engineer friends laughed at me when I suggested that they were lucky, that they had it all figured out, that their futures were set in stone.

"Kate, you've got to stop worrying so much," my sage friend Morgan told me. "I like to think of the future like that Tom Petty song 'Into the Great Wide Open.' We're heading out into the great wide open with blue skies and none of us have got a clue, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't enjoy our last year of college."

Morgan is right. Even though I don't know what's in store for me, I shouldn't allow myself to stress to the point where I can't enjoy my fourth year at the University. I vowed to relax - just as soon as I decide if the peacock can go in Cage 1 with the cow.

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