The final stretch ... from a senior's view

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During your four years of higher education, which were, for me, undoubtedly the best four years of my life, you will receive a lot of advice.

If I could think of a more profound word for "lot" I would, but it's hard to truly understand how much knowledge and wisdom you can receive in such a seemingly short amount of time.

But what happens when all that advice, all the lessons and information, needs to be put to use?

It may hit you while you're taking a midterm, possibly the last of your college career. Or it may happen when you're wearing your cap and gown, trying in vain to focus on the guest speaker's voice rather than your heavy eyelids. Regardless of when it hits you (and it will), making good use of what you've learned in college will serve you well during your transition to the "real world."

Here's a short step-by-step guide to surviving the end of college.

Step 1: The Internship

The jump into the real world doesn't start after your graduation ceremony -- it often starts months before when you enter your senior year of college.

Advisers, friends and family will often reinforce the importance of internships, your first taste of the post-grad workforce. While they have a valid argument, don't be fooled into thinking that interning for any place less than the top company in your chosen field is a waste of time.

Internships are your chance to explore -- think back to your "take-your-kid-to-school-day" experience -- and even an internship that ends without the promise of a job is a success as long as it helps you narrow your possible career choices.

The opportunity to don business casual clothing and force yourself to put your grown-up side on display is something every college student needs. The experiences you gain along the way will come in handy in the not-so-distant future.

Step 2: Taking it all in

While devoting a good portion of your time outside the classroom to an internship is one key to success, using your last few months to capture the memories of college is equally important.

This goes well beyond, and is far less scary than, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Yes, every college student knows that the end is eventually coming, but these are your last few months to enjoy a relatively responsibility-free lifestyle that you will never get back.

This isn't limited to making a mad dash to partake in campus events you may otherwise pass up, but also includes spending time with your friends, something that will be a lot harder if/when you end up hundreds of miles away from each other years after you graduate.

However you decide to go about the second step, remember that your efforts are all directly related to my third instructional step.

Step 3: Brace yourself

One mistake made by an unfortunately high number of college graduates is procrastination. The job market isn't conducive to, "Give me five minutes, Mom!" Apply early and often, and whatever you do, don't wait until after you've graduated, taken a grad trip and loafed around on your couch for a few weeks before finally getting your act together.

This extends far beyond the transition from scholar to employee. Part of your preparation for the real world is a change in mindset. You are no longer going to wake up at noon. You are no longer going to put things off (see above). Life as you know it is quickly fading away, and clinging to it can be one of the worst mistakes a college senior can make.

Yet, just as I did with my first two steps, I'd like to once again (slightly) contradict myself.

Yes, we all know how important it is to prepare for the real world. We've been told this since we were old enough to comprehend words. "Elbows off the table" wasn't taught simply for mom and dad's sake, and while the time to practice what they've preached is near, it's also time to brace yourself for a world where screaming down the hallway is no longer a proper invitation to hang out with your friends.

I can't tell you how to adapt to this; you'll have to figure that out on your own. But the key here is to be cognizant of the fact that things are changing, and changing fast.

As long as you begin your transition into the "real world" early, you should have no problem weathering the storm.


Andrew Gretchko, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, graduated this year from the University of Pittsburgh where he majored in English writing (nonfiction) and history. He can be reached at First Published October 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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