Advice for Students Heading Into Their Last Semester of Undergrad

Your final semester of college is going to be bittersweet. Here's some advice to help you process everything you've experienced over the past four years.

Recognize that knowledge lasts

Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Know no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last, but feelings come and go. — C.S. Lewis

You came to school to learn. To grow, to seek out knowledge, to gain a better understanding of the fields you have studied. It is admirable to maintain focus even during your last months as an undergraduate student. Remember what Lewis reminds us—that so many things can come and go in this life and that oftentimes, the only constant we can depend on is impermanence. With change, however, the knowledge you have accumulated in your years in college will stay. What you learn and what you remember will guide you as you move forward.

Take advantage of your surroundings as much as you can

Dear Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist,

While you were busy arguing about the glass of water, I drank it.


The Opportunist

A college campus is a hub, complete with everything from a library of books to which you have instant access to a plethora of intelligent teachers to advisors who want to help you to a layout of all of your favorite restaurants and coffee shops. Opportunities are everywhere. They can be as small as taking advantage of the convenience of enjoying a state-of-the-art gym on campus or as life-changing as taking advantage of getting to know a renowned professor in your field of study. Do you understand how rare it is to have everything you have before you within walking distance? Seize the opportunities while you still have the chance.

Thank those who made this experience possible for you

There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others. — George Shinn

Shinn’s quote has been one of my favorites for a long time. His words ring true in every path we walk in this life and your time in college is no different. Yes, you have worked hard and yes, you deserve credit for your accomplishments, but recognize that you were given a golden opportunity to receive an education, an opportunity which many people your age have not received. Be grateful. Thank those who helped you get there—your parents, grandparents, siblings, guardians, teachers, and anyone who has stood by you and deserves to be called family regardless of blood.

Feeling grateful is not enough. Gratitude is not expressed nearly as often as it should be. Tell them. Thank those who made an impact during your education—friends, roommates, professors, advisors, counselors. Tell them even if you don’t think they know who you are. The professor who taught you perspective about the world in the 700-student classroom? Tell her.

Believe it's not too late

It is never too late or too soon. It is when it is supposed to be. — Mitch Albom, The Timekeeper

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because it’s your last semester, it’s too late to meet someone new, make a new friend, or join a new club, team, or organization. As Albom reminds us, you are here now and the meaning is not how much time you have but that you have time at all. You are where you’re supposed to be. And if you want to say hello to a stranger or play on an intramural sports team or take a stand for an issue you believe in, by all means, take a stand. It’s not too late.

Appreciate your favorite little things

I firmly believe in small gestures: pay for their coffee, hold the door for strangers, over tip, smile or try to be kind even when you don’t feel like it, pay compliments, chase the kid’s runaway ball down the sidewalk and throw it back to him, try to be larger than you are—particularly when it’s difficult. People do notice. People appreciate. — Jonathan Carroll

The emptying stadium after a home victory. The waffle shop downtown that always has long lines for weekend morning brunches. The corner in the library where you like to hide out and read for enjoyment. The place you took walks with your best friend. The people who you see on your everyday trips to class (even if you don’t know their names). Relish in these things. Enjoy them. Enjoy moments. Take your semester one day at a time and really work to be in the day you are living. Allow yourself the simplicity to enjoy your seemingly small, but favorite things.

Look ahead and prepare, prepare, prepare

The best way to predict the future is to create it. — Abraham Lincoln

In the midst of this appreciation, remember that your future depends on your ability to take deliberate steps to create it. For you as a soon-to-be-college-graduate, that means preparing for interviews, job fairs, graduate testing, and/or school requirements. These steps will depend upon where you see yourself and where you can realistically go. The resources mentioned above are key—use them to guide you along the way. Write letters, go out of your way to meet people, seek advice, and ask for help. Work your hardest to be ready when graduation day comes—but don’t judge yourself too harshly if you don’t feel ready for the next chapter of your life. Many people never do—but you will find your way.

Remember what commencement means

The important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become. — Charles Dickens

My last piece of advice as you head into your last semester is this: repeat the definition of the word “commence” over and over if you find yourself falling into the trap that so many things are ending.

To commence means to begin. You should hold onto what you choose to hold onto, so long as it still serves you. You can keep the memories as living, breathing, continuing parts of who you are as you take your next steps. It’s okay. As Dirk Wittenborn wrote, “We are the sum of all the people we have ever met.”

And you will continue to add to yourself when your last semester comes to a close. Allow yourself the excitement of looking toward the unknown—unknown people, unknown places, unknown cities and jobs and struggles and careers and futures. Your last semester is the bridge to a new beginning.

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About Rosemary Cochrane

Rosemary Cochrane, an avid writer, has always been passionate about the written word and its power to transcend the content at hand and bring people together. She studied journalism and international studies during her undergraduate education at Penn State University and spent a semester studying history, art, and political science in Rome. She also combined her love of sports and writing as a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. Some of her favorite experiences during college include her time as a writing tutor for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as NCAA student-athletes, and her time as an advisor with global programs for students hoping to study abroad. Since graduation, Rosemary has worked in business as a manager and leader and in the pharmaceutical industry. She has incorporated her writing into every position she has ever held and is excited to continue working on her craft. She loves Penn State football, Philadelphia sports, spending time with her family, traveling, reading, and running.


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