You survived the first day of classes as a freshman and you made it through finals week time and time again.
But senior year presents a unique set of challenges as students prepare for the next steps in both their careers and their lives. Since achieving a balance between classwork, spending time with friends and searching for a job can be stressful, some recent college graduates offered their advice on maximizing senior spring:
Take time for yourself
Taking time for yourself is an important way to de-stress, according to Leah Nielson, a 2014 graduate from the University of South Dakota. For Nielson, alone time meant studying at the public library, rather than the university library where all of her friends went.
“I would get work done in a much more efficient way and have much more time to go do things at night,” Nielson says.
Nielson says she also tried to take five minutes of alone time every day for some prayer or meditation to reflect back on her day.
A little stress is OK
“A little stress is a good thing, but too much and it’s just going to ruin your senior year,” says Erin Schoenbeck, a 2013 graduate from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Schoenbeck says, as a senior, students tend to think they need to have all the answers about the future. But she says to not stress so much because things will fall into place.
“I know everyone hates hearing that,” Schoenbeck says. “But there are so many doors that you don’t even know about right now.”
Network, network, network
Students who are overwhelmed by the process of finding a job should start by figuring out a career objective and communicating that objective with their professional network, according to Billie Streufert, executive director of the Augustana College career center.
“Have your network work on your behalf,” Streufert says. “Share your objective with them, the kinds of opportunities that interest you, and they can scout out some possibilities, too.”
Schoenbeck says to reach out to everybody you know and have coffee with as many people as you can.
“They may not have the job that you want,” says Schoenbeck. “But they may know someone who has the job you want.”
Job fairs can also serve as great networking resources because they allow students to reach out to dozens of organizations at one time, Streufert says.
Work smarter, not harder, when it comes to job applications
When it comes to applying for jobs, quality counts more than quantity, according to Kimberly Betz, the director of the Carleton College career center.
“Instead of sending out a generic resume and cover letter to 100 different places, it’s a better use of their time to be really targeted and present materials that speak to the position they’re interested in,” Betz says.
Betz says students should look at the networks they have and be “intentional and thoughtful” in reaching out and cultivating their network in a way that aligns with their career goals.
Start the job search early
Students don’t need to wait until senior year to start thinking about where they want to work. Betz says she encourages people to start networking and looking at internships as early as freshman year.
“The hope would be by the time they get to their senior year, they’ve got a lot of things already underway and are sort of well along in the [job search] process, so it isn’t a stressful experience for them,” Betz says.
For students who do not have internship experience going into senior year, Betz suggests taking advantage of on-campus jobs, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and class projects.
“What they need to do is really think about translating how they can demonstrate to an employer that they’re bringing with them skills that that employer is looking for,” Betz says.
Enjoy spending time with friends
Between schoolwork and looking for jobs, Nielson says it’s important to really take time to strengthen friendships and focus on the people around you.
“Spend as much time with your friends as possible, because this is the closest all of you will ever be together,” Schoenbeck says.
For Samantha Cantrall, a 2014 Augsburg College graduate, it’s as simple as appreciating the “little things” that happen day-to-day.
“There is so, so much stuff to do your senior spring that it’s almost hard to just sit back and be a college student,” Cantrall says.
Megan Raposa is a student at Augustana College and a spring 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.