By Ruby Samuels
A few weeks ago, I wrote a short article about senior anxiety and how to deal with it. It’s a big world out there, outside this all-inclusive, vitamin bubble called college, and I want the seniors reading this to know that they are not alone in their terror.
So, I found two anonymous seniors at Columbia University, both women in long term relationships, to give The Barnard Voice their perspective on the impending roller coaster that is adulthood.
What are you most worried about in terms of leaving college and entering the “real world”?
A: I’m definitely most worried about housing. I’m used to supporting myself with my job for the most part, but haven’t had to pay rent which is a major change. I can’t imagine an additional $1000 bill each month with the job I have and I need three years experience to get a better one. Not to mention, just the logistics of finding a place in my budget, that is hopefully within an hour of my workplace by train, is a challenge. There’s also just a lot of unfamiliar territory there like wtf is a broker’s fee? That sort of thing.
B: In the “real world” there is no structure–no one guiding you or looking out for you along the way. I’m scared about losing control over my career because there are no “due dates” anymore.
What sort of conversations with your partner or inner monologues with yourself have you had about how graduating and trying to find a job will impact your relationship?
A: We’ve talked about how post-grad life will affect our relationship a lot actually. The main thing we are negotiating now is a difference in graduation dates. I’m graduating early, and she’s graduating late creating this weird space where she is tied to NYC, and I can’t afford to live in NYC without living with her mom (which I really don’t want to do). As it is, she lives in Queens, and I’m ridiculously busy with school and work, so we’ve figured out how to make things work when things get hectic on the emotional front. Right now we are more concerned with the practical logistics. We’ve talked about temporarily moving back to my hometown to save money and take care of my sisters, but the weird year/year and a half before she graduates will most likely be the hardest part. Does she meet me in MI? Do I work/live here until she can come with me? I’m confident we’ll figure it out when the time comes.
B: My partner and I have talked about the possibility of breaking up post-graduation due to physical distance and practicality. It is something we are still trying to work through and figure out, and obviously things may change as we figure out what jobs we will get/where we will be.
If you have any sort of self-doubt about your ability to find a job and be otherwise “successful” after college, what does that doubt look and feel like?
A: Boy oh boy yeah, there’s a lot of self-doubt, honestly. Imposter syndrome is so real. At the same time, I do generally feel competent to perform a lot of jobs, but constantly not meeting the minimum qualifications is very frustrating. I remember job hunting last year and being so discouraged because here I am getting this great education, feeling pretty on my shit, but I couldn’t even get interviews in food service or retail. These days, it’s manifested in very methodical planning and taking an “everything will work out in the end” attitude. I’m not particularly positive what the space between where I am and where I want to be will or should look like, but I’m hoping if I just follow some formula the pieces will fall into place. It’s this weird combination of “I have control of my own destiny” and “no point stressing about what I can’t control” that doesn’t leave much room for self-doubt. That not stressing part is definitely the harder part.
B: My concern is about getting into medical school after college. While part of me is happy about graduating from a school like Columbia, another part of me is scared that I was not provided the proper social experiences at the school that are necessary for becoming a doctor, this is likely due to the high academic stress level and the competitive nature that is inherent in many STEM classes here.
How does being at an Ivy League school influence your senior stress level?
A: Huh. I think the fact that I’m in between class years has helped me a lot, because my friends aren’t set in their post-grad plans yet, so there is less for me to compare myself to. That being said, being surrounded with thousands of excruciatingly competent and intelligent people does bring on some very capitalistic anxiety, like, “oh shit, this is my competition”. When I look at everyone else and then back at my painfully bare resume, with no internships or many extracurriculars, I panic a little bit. The atmosphere of constantly trying to make comparison without knowing their full context just breeds stressed and *nudge nudge * alienation.
B: There are definitely higher expectations because I will be graduating from an Ivy League, both from family and friends outside of Columbia and friends within Columbia. Everyone expects more of you, there is a higher standard of “success” at Columbia.
What do you think will be most important for you to be fulfilled and happy after graduation?
A: Honestly I think I’m going to be happy as long as I can make enough where I don’t have to pinch every penny, and I am able to support myself fully. I think moving back home, like in my parents’ house, would feel like a failure to me, even though I know it’s normal. I think being in the Midwest effects that a lot though. In NYC, I know tons of people who live with their parents both because of different cultures and the skyhigh rent. In Michigan, it’s more common to just move out as soon as possible, often right after high school. Rent is dirt cheap though, so it would be easy for me to rent an entire 2 bedroom apartment on my relatively low paying (by NYC standards) 15 hrs a week job.
Generally I don’t think it’ll take much to feel fulfilled. I just don’t want to be stuck barely getting by.
B: I would like a stable gap year job and hopefully during that year get into a good medical school 🙂
Have you burned all the bridges or do you feel confident in the network that you have for finding jobs?
A: I think networking – or lack thereof – is one of my other major anxieties. I still don’t really get what that means? Can you just meet successful people, add them on LinkedIn, and get a job from them 5 years later? I’m banking on sheer force of will and my dazzling charisma to get jobs.
B: I think one of the things that Columbia is very good at providing is a good social network, and I hope that will come in handy in the near future.
What would you tell other seniors who are similarly stressed?
A: It’s easier said than done, but basically just try not to dwell on the future too much. Yes, you need a plan, but once you have that plan, come back to the present and take it step by step, knowing the pieces will fall into place as you go. Get a credit card to build credit. Scope out which schools you wanna apply for, if that’s your thing, and write down important dates like when apps open and are due. Figure out how the fuck student loans work.
Also, you might not feel all that spectacular in comparison to your peers here, but I guarantee businesses will think you are. In my opinion, the most dangerous part of Columbia stress culture is the constant feeling that you aren’t doing enough. You are. I promise. Get some sleep please.
B: Everyone has their own definition of “success” so don’t worry if your view of it does not match up with the view of your friends or fellow peers. I am fully confident that we will all be successful in our own way, and just don’t give up on getting there!