Remember when going back-to-school meant a new box of crayons and a slammin’ new backpack (L.L. Bean. Initialed, obviously)? If you’re headed back to college this fall, no doubt this bit of nostalgia has probably crossed your head at some point or another. For collegians, a new year usually brings with it new housing, and more importantly, returning to the center of your social universe: friends, parties, and never-ending entertainment all a quad’s walk away.
But if you’re filling out your course schedule for the last time and pre-ordering your diploma frame, then back-to-school excitement may be dissolving into denial. It may seem as though the best years of your life are suddenly coming to a close, but there are still several months left before cap-and-gown season. Class of 2011, this one’s for you: follow these tips for a thrilling, guilt-free senior year, and go out with a bang!
1. Go to a game. Maybe you’re a college sports fanatic, and nothing thrills you more than tailgating on Saturdays with the Sig Ep boys. Maybe your school doesn’t even have an athletics department. The point is, your school is definitely good at something, whether it’s producing Heisman winners or putting on stellar performances of Hamlet. If you haven’t gotten yourself to a game or a show yet, go! Most likely, these events will be low-cost or free to students (never underestimate your access to free events, you’ll wish you had it later) and they’re great opportunities to take pride in your school.
2. Join a club. I know, I know, you’re a super-cool senior with a full contacts list in your cell phone—no need for clubs to make friends! But when the fall club fair rolls around for freshmen, take a look at what’s being offered. Improv club? Hey, you like comedy! Irish Student Union? Well, you’ve always wanted to get more in touch with your roots! Ultimately, consider joining a new club as an opportunity to really explore an interest you have that you may never get another convenient venue to do so. After college, you’ll have to pay for improv classes or a Hibernians Club membership. After graduation, your possibilities are limitless (which is both scary and exciting), and joining a new club may give you a new, or more focused, direction to pursue when that time comes.
3. Take a class purely for enjoyment. Sure, you’ve taken electives before. But you probably thought to yourself, “well, this Intro to New Media class will look good on my resume” or “Macroeconomics will put more credits towards a second minor.” No overachieving allowed here, missy. When you consider that, even if you’re on full scholarship, each and every course you take costs between hundreds (at a public school) and thousands of dollars, education truly is a gift. If you’re a full-time student, your annual tuition is probably purchasing these courses at a bulk rate, defraying the costs of taking four or five classes separately. Really pour over the course listings from different departments and ask yourself, “Are there any courses here that are offering material I want to learn but couldn’t imagine paying for in the future?” Maybe you’ve been on the straight-and-narrow path to med school since you started kindergarten, but you know you’ve always loved poetry. Now’s the time to join that writer’s workshop!
4. Take lots of food from the caf. “Stealing” is a strong word, but let me humbly suggest taking every opportunity you can to indulge in conveniently prepared food. I’d be the first person to tell you that caf food sucks, but weekly trips to the grocery store are a burden on my back and my wallet.
5. Get an internship/part time job. If you’re already wrapping up your summer internship, you’ve got this one covered. But if you haven’t taken on some kind of employment—even if, bless your little heart, Mom and Pops always foot the bill so you can “focus on your studies”—you could be missing out when it comes to the post-grad job market. You also don’t need to go to school in a big city to get good contacts; building meaningful professional relationships, no matter your locale, is always worthwhile. Best advice? Try asking around at local graduate schools to see if they need interns. If you’ve been considering another degree, working with professors in your chosen field can let you “try on” a degree in the same way a more traditional internship lets you “try on” a career. And chances are, those professors have connections to other universities and can write you a slam-dunk reference letter.
6. Travel in between semesters. This is perhaps my one regret of college—that I didn’t travel more. If you’re like me, you probably think to yourself, “I don’t want to study abroad and miss out on fun stuff on campus!” or “but studying abroad is so expensive and I’m already on work-study!” Those may be true, to an extent. But here’s a peek at life on the other side of pomp-and-circumstance: traveling post-grad requires a lot more planning and budgeting. Even if you start making enough money to fund that backpacking journey in South America, will your new job really give you more than a week off to do it? A solution I’d never considered, but wish I had, is to travel between semesters (or quarters, if you’re so inclined). You don’t even have to go anywhere exotic. Never been to the Pacific Northwest? Start researching plane fare now. If you’re really strapped for cash, your college can almost certainly put you in touch with a volunteer organization that can assist your travel as you assist them.
7. Make time with friends a priority. Senior year is prime time for getting distracted, but I don’t mean by Facebook or Thirsty Thursdays. You’re probably applying to jobs or to graduate school, studying for entrance exams, fitting in that last coveted internship, and your free time is slipping away before your eyes. You may not think you need to hear these words, but please: ALWAYS make time for socializing. By your fourth year in college, you might take for granted how frequently you have access to your pals, but they, too, may be moving across the country soon for their post-grad pursuits. Relish every moment you have with the girls (and guys!) who were there for you through it all. Take time for Sunday brunch or a late-night Law & Order marathon with your besties. Ten years from now, you’ll be looking back on these moments and realize they’re the ones that made it all worthwhile.
8. Dress really, really slutty on Halloween. Mean Girls, hereafter known as The Most Important Film of Our Generation, delivered to us the timeless adage that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” And it’s true, to a certain extent. In the years to come, you’ll probably dress like a hoochie on Halloween, too, but be forewarned that the Halloween ho-ho look has an expiration date, sometime after graduation and before you start applying anti-wrinkle cream with regularity. The ultimate message of this advice? Seize your youth! Now’s the time to let loose, because blaming drunken mischief on “my boss made me stay till 9 every day this week” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “those crazy college years.”
9. Do something unique to your college town. Remember when you were looking at those college-admissions packets and taking the tours and all the advisers kept promoting the fact that your school is “sooo close!” to X, Y, and Z? And you thought to yourself, “Gee, how awesome will it be to check out the Liberty Bell on my walk home from class in Philadelphia?” Well, how often have you taken advantage of those attractions? If there are any major landmarks left on your to-do list, make a point to cross them off now! If you go to school in a smaller college town, see if there’s an annual road race you could run or an arts festival you could visit. Make a pact with your friends to try out all of the local restaurants at some point before graduation.
10. Thank Mom & Dad. Not to get sappy or preachy, but you didn’t make it through college ENTIRELY on your own. Whether it was Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) footing the bill, or your suite mates from freshman year forcing you to go to that ’80s dance during orientation, someone surely helped you make your experience possible. Hey, it might have even been that great professor who still gave you an A- even after you turned in your term paper 2 weeks late. Take some time to thank them and let them know they made a difference. Unlike astronomical tuition bills, gratitude is priceless, and its expression signals that you’ve truly become an adult. Even if you don’t feel like it…yet.