For soon-to-be-grads, the senior year of college is both an end and a new start. Finishing up a university degree can mark the beginning of a career or diving into grad school.
Senior year in college can mean the start of mapping out a more independent adulthood. While each college senior has a unique situation, there’s one constant: life after college involves change.
Here are some tips on navigating the senior year of college, from polishing up that resume to hunting for a job, and from understanding student loan obligations to creating a more professional presence on social media channels.
Related: Do student loans count as income?
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Preparing for Life Beyond College
Post-secondary education in the U.S. has been on the rise for decades. There’s a growing number of seniors preparing to wrap up their college educations and move to the next stage in life, whatever form that takes.
In the year 1900, just 27,420 Bachelor’s degrees were awarded nationwide (back then, the vast majority of graduates, 80.9%, were male). Those numbers look a quite different today, with 3.9-million students a year graduating with a college degree.
For U.S. college students, graduation rates for four-year degrees were 60.4%, while completion rates for two-year programs was 31.6%. And although college is often the last stop before pursuing a full-time job, a lot of college seniors feel ill-prepared for the changes to come after graduation.
According to one annual survey of college students, only four in 10 students say they feel “very” or “extremely” prepared for their future careers. Some college seniors may be searching for tips on how to position themselves for life after graduation.
The above-mentioned study also found that students feel they’re lacking in key areas of preparation for life beyond college. Fewer than half of students say college has imparted critical skills for transitioning to the workforce, including solving complex problems, resume writing, interviewing, and job searching.
And while 77% of students felt good about their professionalism and work ethic, there’s a significant gap in how employers see new grads on these key areas.
Global forces haven’t made it easy on new grads, either. As the novel Coronavirus pandemic drives high unemployment rates and shutters businesses, some data shows that college seniors have access to fewer entry-level positions, with openings paying less than in recent years.
As such, it’s never been more important for college seniors to plan in advance for life after college. Here are some tips for turning that senior year in college into a lily pad for post-grad life.
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1. Confirm degree requirements
For students embarking on their senior year of college, it can be a good idea to confirm that they’ve met all the prerequisites for graduating.
Whether it’s a forgotten phys-ed requirement, general education credits or a class required to complete a specific degree, it’s helpful to double-check that all required courses have been completed while there’s still time to make up for any missed credits or must-complete classes. This can be especially important for students who have transferred schools during college.
According to one study, of the one-third of students who change schools during their post-secondary education, nearly 40% get no credit at all for the courses completed before the move. On average, students who transfer lose 27 credits, the equivalent of a year in school.
Even for those who confirmed their credits at the time they transferred, it’s smart to double-check to avoid any unpleasant (and costly) surprises during senior year in college. While they’re at it, outgoing students may also want to confirm there’s nothing else standing in the way of collecting their degree on graduation day.
Depending on school policy, outstanding library fines and overdue books or other penalties may prevent a student from graduating on time.
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2. Brush up on skills
Each year, the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT exam, surveys recruiters to better understand what hiring companies want to see in new graduates. Communication skills, including oral communication, listening skills, written communication and presentation skills are among those that top the list.
These skills are values across industries, with employers in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, technology, products/services and government/non-profit all ranking oral communication as tops. Skills tied to teamwork also ranked highly.
Even if it’s not possible to gain on-the-job experience during your senior year in college, future grads may want to hone these important skills during their final years in college.
Extra-curricular activities, whether a team sport or debate club, can help to deepen core competencies, provide demonstrable experience to prospective employers and even help to deepen one’s connections to their fellow students (ahem, networking, ahem).
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3. Start a resume
An up-to-date resume is needed throughout one’s career. Generally, a resume lists things like:
- Work and educational history
- Professional skills and capabilities
- Accomplishments and successes
It can be helpful to understand the resume format that companies expect from job applicants. At some larger companies, resumes are initially filtered by AI software, not a living person in the human resources department. So, it may be a good idea to seek out model resumes online as seemingly small things, like the choice font, can impact how the resume is (or is not) processed.
For some college seniors, applying for a post-graduation job will be one of the first times they’ve needed a professional resume. But without formal work experience or a job history related to one’s desired field, it can also be difficult to know what to include.
Even in the absence of formal work experience, college seniors can write a resume that highlights what they offer to a prospective employer. College seniors could take some time to think about jobs and activities they’ve participated in to date. What does this documented experience demonstrate about them as a worker or team member?
Part-time jobs (even roles like a camp counselor or on-campus tutor) can show a proven history of increasing responsibility, leadership and teamwork abilities, all things that recruiters may look out for.
Foreign language skills and extracurricular activities can also demonstrate cultural competency and drive. Listing academic achievements, including a high GPA and/or awards won, may help college seniors to stand out in the crowded job-applicant pool.
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4. Time for a social media cleanse
For many college seniors, social media profiles are a proud record of good times with friends over the last four years. But social media can also be a career liability.
According to one survey, 70% of hiring managers look at an applicant’s social media when deciding whether to offer employment. And, for those that think fun times in college won’t come back to haunt them: 57% of HR managers who looked at a candidate’s social media profile found that it contained content that caused the applicant not to get the job.
As such, senior year in college can be a good time to “professionalize” one’s social media presence. Seniors don’t need to delete their profiles — in fact, nearly half of recruiters say they’ll ignore an applicant if they can’t find them online — but they could pay closer attention to how they are representing themselves.
Among the types of things recruiters say could disqualify an applicant are some obvious inclusions — for example, photos that display drinking and drug use or discriminatory comments about race, gender and religion. But less obvious infractions, such as that now-embarrassing profile handle that was set up years ago and never changed, bad-mouthing employers or teachers, or even posting overly frequently, are all things that can potentially make an employer think twice.
A social media cleanse is also an opportunity for college seniors to stand out. While new grads’ resumes may be thin compared to those who have been in the workforce for years, a dynamic, creative social media profile that highlights one’s interests and hobbies, positive college relationships and achievements, can help bring a candidate’s application to life.
In addition to crafting a resume, college seniors may also want to set up an up-to-date profile on a social network used by both job seekers, recruiters and employers, sites such as LinkedIn or GlassDoor. This is one more space to display accomplishments and self-presentation skills.
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5. Get finances in order
For some college seniors, transitioning from college to work life can present new financial obligations.
For students with financial aid, senior year is a good time to start thinking about how they will pay off student loans once they’re due. Because student loans are subject to interest, which compounds over time, the sooner they can be paid off, the less their education will cost in the long run.
To start, students may want to make a list of all of their educational loans along with the interest rate and repayment terms for each. Because some student loans are not subject to interest during school, seniors with extra money from part-time employment or other sources may want to pay down a portion of their principal while still enrolled.
Doing so can reduce the amount that will be subject to interest later on. (It’s worth noting that some student loans do accrue interest while a student is enrolled, so doing your fine-print homework is key here).
Some college seniors may want to research different ways to repay their educational debt. For federal student loan borrowers, there are specific repayment programs that some seniors may be eligible for, including income-driven repayment, public service loan cancellation, and forbearance.
After exhausting all federal repayment options, some students may want to research refinancing a student loan with a private lender. It’s important to note that private lenders do not guarantee the same repayment options as federally backed student loans.
Replacing a federal loan with a private loan can cause the borrower to forfeit federal repayment options.
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Positioning Seniors for Success
Senior year in college is a bittersweet time. For many it marks the end of carefree school days, and the start of exciting new adult responsibilities. But more than just a time of impending transition, senior year means undertaking some next-step preparations.
From learning how to position oneself for employment opportunities to mitigating the long-term burden of a student loan, what a college senior does now can help them to get ready for the life ahead.
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For some seniors in college, the conclusion of classes doesn’t truly mean the end. It’s the start of a time of change, ripe for further honing one’s professional skills and mapping out a plan for the years that lie beyond college.
Student loan debt is one long-term obligation for millions of recent college graduates. Refinancing educational debt to a lower interest rate can reduce monthly repayments ( lengthening the loan term can do this even more). A lower rate can also mean paying less interest over the life of the loan (shortening the loan term will further cut the interest paid).
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