Scared about graduation

Originally Published: February 3, 2006 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 15, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I'm supposed to be graduating this spring and I am totally freaking out. This summer I formulated a plan for what I want to do when I graduate (job, grad school, etc) but now I don't know what I want to do. I feel like my life is moving too fast. I don't want to grow up! Is it normal to feel this nervous? I almost feel like I might just die because I can't picture the future at all.

Thanks,
Scared Senior

Dear Scared Senior,

First things first, take a deep breath. The scared feeling that you are experiencing concerning graduating from college is completely normal. Lots of college seniors share some or all of the feelings you describe.   

Any time someone has to undergo a drastic change in their life, a certain amount of anxiety is present. This is why we have the old adage "no one ever said that change is easy." The good news is that you are aware of your fear of leaving college and have formulated a plan for what you want to do when you graduate. With this preliminary map of your future, you are already way ahead of the game, as some of your peers may not have put in the same amount of thought about their futures that you have. The problem may not be the post-graduation plan, but the fear and anxiety itself.

A great resource for you to utilize is the career counseling center at your respective college or university. The staff there is specially trained to help you figure out options concerning different courses of action after you graduate. Discussions will most likely include the right job or graduate school for you and whether or not it would benefit you to work for a while first before heading to grad school. These counselors will not tell you what to do, nor should they, but these professionals can be a great help when you let them in on your desires and fears about life outside of the confines of being an undergraduate. If you're a student at Columbia, check out the Center for Career Education

The following books are also great career resources and are probably in the library of your career counseling center:

What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles

I Could Do Anything if I only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher

Just keeping in mind that your fear is not about the act of graduating itself, it is based on your perception about what you are supposed to do after you walk across that stage and receive your diploma. You've got plenty of time to have some sort of idea about what you want to do after college. Heck, you have the rest of your life to find your career destination. Recent surveys suggest that the average number of job changes in a professional career is now hovering between eight and ten, of which half are made by the age of forty. Thus, there is no "wrong" or "right" plan after you graduate, the key may be to allow yourself to set a goal of gaining general life and work experience. There is nothing wrong with exploring your options during this tumultuous time of transition.   

If you don't find career counseling helpful and that your anxiety and fear are becoming increasingly unbearable, talking to a counselor at your university or in your community may be a beneficial step for you to take. Columbia students may contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.

Next year, you will hopefully look back and laugh because you will be surprised by how exciting and cool it is to be on your own.  But first things first, you only live your final year of college once. Do yourself a favor, go out and enjoy yourself. Have a last hurrah with your friends, undergrad style!

Alice