For the typical 22-year old college senior, these are the waning days of the best of times. In a comprehensive residential learning experience, college seniors found an ability to explore, think big thoughts, and demonstrate the passion and commitment that a sheltered and protected life on campus makes possible.
In the best undergraduate programs, faculty and staff appropriately celebrate and encourage the development of the life of the mind. Indeed, it is precisely this training that produces the committed and engaged citizens and workforce that America will desperately need in the 21st century.
There are those who worked hard -probably too hard - at part-time jobs while in college. Further, many college-bound do not fit the pattern of the 18-22 year old's experience of life in a residential academic program. And colleges and universities differ in so many ways, including scale, diversity, type and quality.
Still, there are some common denominators that shape the collective experience of most college-bound students. One dominant feature is that most seniors with enough credits will graduate this spring.
For seniors moving past "senioritis" and other coping mechanisms, the question that dominates their thinking by their final semester is "What do I do now?"
The answer depends on the student. Many colleges and universities have put substantial new resources recently into their career and counseling centers, directing additional support toward students not immediately seeking graduate and professional degrees. Further, students in programs like accounting and engineering have often benefited from internships and other programs that lead to job offers earlier in their senior year. For them, the deal is sealed.
But the majority of students don't fall into this category. For these seniors, the life of the mind runs into a formidable challenge to meet the demands of the workforce beyond the college gates. At this juncture, college counseling programs can only do so much.
Here are a number of suggestions for graduating seniors to consider:
- As the Great Recession sputters to a close, it also brings into sharper focus glaring problems with income inequality in American society. The good news is that a college degree gives you an advantage in lifetime income earnings and has become the entry-level expectation for many jobs. The "macro" view is, therefore, that college is worth it.
In the end, you have two responsibilities. The first is to do something with yourself on terms that only you can set. The second is to improve the quality of life for those who live with you in a society that did not offer them the same breaks that you enjoyed.
Ignore the cracks about humanities majors flipping hamburgers after graduation. Do what it takes to get your start, pay your bills, and repay your debt. You are one of the lucky ones who ended up with a college degree. Make something of it.
The rest of us are depending on you to keep the promise of America alive.