Somewhere in my illustrious and complex collegiate career, some lucky soul told me that fourth year was really chill.
I don’t know who said that or why, but I will testify that fourth year is not very chill at all. Let me be the first to tell you — it’s not all wineries and McKinsey interviews.
I guess I kind of pictured my fourth year to be like senior year of high school post-college apps — blissful senioritis, that sweet power-trip from being at the top of the school hierarchy, late-night parking lot dance parties and excited conversations over what the future will be like.
Instead, fourth year looks more like total burnout while still deeply caring about grades and an increased desire to stay at home and knit (this could just be me) — not to mention the several demoralizing conversations about your own uncertain future while everyone else displays their shiny five-year plan.
In short, fourth year kind of sucks.
In the midst of this, several angels — that is, friends and mentors who have already graduated — have swooped in on my woes to share their enlightened wisdom of “life in the postscript of college.” They mostly say the same message — that it will all be OK. Although it seems cliche, somehow hearing it from them is exactly what I need to take that deep breath, grab my textbook and step out into the world.
So if you’re a fourth-year and are deeply upset that it is not chill, or if you’re an underclassmen prematurely freaking out about the future — don’t worry, we’ve all been there — I’m inviting you into this little thought exercise.
Close your eyes and journey with me to May 2020. The Lawn is shining, balloons fill the air, Pharell is singing “Happy,” and I have done it. I have worn the cap and gown, barely passed my classes, written my thesis, booked my tickets for that post-grad European tour and I am in it — the postscript.
Now, sipping on Prosecco in Italy, I am infinitely enlightened from my two weeks of post-grad life and ready to impart wisdom to my current fourth year self. So here it goes.
To my current fourth year self,
1. Don’t freak out if fourth year isn’t chill.
Maybe the lucky soul who told you this had already finished their second major, had a secure job lined up, locked down their lifelong partner and put their deposit down for a spacious luxury condo in the Hills — but I’d say hardly anyone has a chill fourth year, at least in the beginning.
As with any school year, fourth year is filled with anxieties over classes, exams, papers, your reputation in your scary professor’s eyes, whether someone will take your unofficial assigned seat. But in addition, there is suddenly a cacophony of voices — real or imaginary — asking you how you’ll turn your pipe dreams into reality.
Whether you have a tentative plan or not, your future looms like a higher order of anxiety over everything. Suddenly it’s not just about whether you will pass this exam, but whether you like the subject enough to make a career out of it. It’s not just about getting lunch with a friend, but whether this person will be in your life in five years. It’s like every action, event, interaction or class is now imbued with so much more weight — as if it’s determining some kind of future lifestyle.
So are you surprised if you feel pressure? That’s a lot to carry. But know that everyone around you is feeling it similarly in varying degrees. Even that lucky soul with the luxury condo probably had several panicky moments of feeling completely unmoored by that innocuous question — “What are your plans post-grad?”
2. Leave your house
Yes, I know you have become quite comfortable with your granny lifestyle. By now, you have fallen into the strange habit of using your TV to play videos of fireplaces as you light your scented candle for a night of zero social interaction and endless studying. But college is not actually only about school — despite what your parents may say.
It’s also a time for spontaneous drives down Skyline Drive, belting karaoke at Pizza Hut, cheering on streakers on the Lawn and going grocery shopping at 3 a.m. in onesies. Sadly or not, you won’t get these years back. So please — blow out your candle and do something every once in a while. Work is forever, but streaking is not.
3. It will truly be OK.
I remember being you — a fourth-year lying on the floor and letting the overwhelming mountain of applications, essays, exams, interviews, emails and social obligations sit heavy on your chest. I remember being you — fluctuating between incredible excitement for the intangible possibilities after college and incredible fear of never accomplishing anything. But now I am here to tell you that it will indeed be OK. No path is straight. Every path has its bumps — but every path leads somewhere.
You may be terrified of the things that happen that aren’t in your original plan — but that is the sweetness of life. So please, dear friend — turn off your virtual fireplace, take a deep breath and step out into the world. Life seems scary now, but you will truly be OK.