Suggestions for Seniors Graduating from College
By Daniel R. Schwarz
Last August I published a Huffington blog, "Ten Suggestions for Incoming Freshmen," that received more attention than I expected.
Since I have been a Cornell professor for 45 years and am in touch with hundreds of former students, I have been asked if I had similar advice for graduating college seniors. In fact some of my suggestions for graduating seniors are quite similar and a few of them are exactly the same. They are in no special order.
1) Learning has many dimensions. Understanding how your new environment functions in terms of its expectations and culture sometimes requires more imagination, flexibility, maturity and judgment than working through a course syllabus. This is true particularly but not exclusively in employment situations. If you are in graduate school, you are both a pre-professional and a beginner/freshman, but isn't this true in a new employment position?
2) Whether in medical school, graduate school, or law school, or beginning a new career, time management is crucial. Keep a chart of how you are using your time, including recreational time. EMC--Every Minute Counts--will serve you well. No matter how much you enjoy your work, do not become your work. Be sure you do not become a workaholic without any life outside work/school.
3) Remember that time is not money; time is time and it is what you have on this earth. Every day do something that is fun and relaxing. In contrast to college where the activities were there for the taking like a smorgasbord, you may have to take the initiative to find groups-- athletics, fitness, drama, music, cooking, learning new skills, etc.--that interest you.
4) Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Be sure to get enough exercise and sleep. Eat healthily. If you have emotional issues, seek help. Substance abuse, including alcohol, is as much if not more a possible distraction and danger in your post-college life.
5) Be a part of a supportive community of friends and family. Isolation and loneliness are not your friends. Keeping in touch with college friends, or if you are employed in a big city, living with friends is a good way to bridge your journey from college into a new world. Your community may come from an alumni association, a religious group, a volunteering commitment, an outdoor or nature group, a choir or orchestra, a book group or any combination of these and others that I have left out.
6) The kindergarten criterion, "Works well with others," is at least as important after graduation as before. Self-presentation in terms of speaking well, showing your initiative, convincing an employer or program that you have much to offer, and, yes, having an appropriate appearance is most important in interviews. But self-presentation is also important on a day-to-day basis and you will be judged on it. Respect diversity in the work place, and seek diversity among friends. Understand that everyone has not had the same experiences as you and be open to learning from others.
7) Use the academic, practical, and interpersonal skills you have learned in college through classes and activities in which you participated. Interpersonal skills help networking--and this is helpful in opening doors--but don't spend your life worrying about making connections. If you are involved in activities, networking will come.
8) Speaking articulately, writing lucidly and precisely, reading carefully and thoughtfully, and thinking critically will serve you well.
9) Once you take a position or enroll in a graduate program, you have a chosen a path. Give it your full effort and every chance to work by making a full commitment. There will be plenty of time to change direction, and it is fine to do so if you find after time that you have made the wrong choice.
10) Develop new skills and interests--both in your professional and non-work life-- even if you have limited time to cultivate them. Open the door to new experiences such as travel. If you are living in a city or visit one, try art museums, opera, ballet, and other cultural experiences that you may not have given much of chance.
11) Be bold and take reasonable risks. Have a dream, but be sure it has roots in reality.
Let me conclude with two suggestions that I have borrowed almost verbatim from my aforementioned Advice to Freshmen:
12) Remember the three R's: Resilience (falling down and getting up are one motion.); Resourcefulness (use your skills and intelligence.); and Resolve (pursue goals with determination and persistence.).
13) Laugh a lot and continue to develop your sense of humor. When things are not going well or you make mistakes, remember you usually can't fix the past. But you can start where you are.
Author of the Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times, 1999-2009 (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press, 2012), Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. Follow Daniel R. Schwarz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/danRSchwarz He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org