Four Months until Graduation: A Senior Navigates Her Post-College Plans
Written By Natalie Horan
“What are your plans for after graduation?” “Do you have a job yet?” “Are you going to grad school?” As a senior, up until three months ago I dreaded the various moments in which these questions, and any number of similar ones, came up: at the optometrist’s office, in professor’s and TA’s office hours, when meeting my parents’ friends, at networking events. The people who ask about my plans post-college are generally well-meaning and simply curious, and may not recognize that these questions notoriously trigger anxiety in college students.
“In today’s job market and economy, having a realistic, executable plan for graduation has become a necessity, intensifying the pressure on college seniors to find a job or be accepted to grad school.”
For most of fall quarter this year, I felt as if I were drowning in that anxiety. Amidst taking upper division classes for my Gender Studies major and English minor, working as a student assistant with Parent & Family Programs, volunteering as a member of the Student Alumni Association, and saving time for relaxing and enjoying my senior year, figuring out what to do after I graduate seemed an impossibility. I have never been the person who has always known what I want to do with my life. I enjoy many different fields and like to keep my options open, while still planning for the future. At various points in late high school and college I’ve considered being a journalist, teaching elementary or high school, working for a nonprofit (specifically promoting gender equality, community engagement, or global literacy), being a reader at a publishing company, and more. I am majoring in Gender Studies, in part because it is so interdisciplinary—I’ve taken sociology, musicology, history, world arts and cultures, English, comparative literature, and political science classes as a Gender Studies major.
However, my various academic and career interests, and open personality, at times contributed to a lack of clarity in my plans post-graduation. I have often felt compelled to compare myself to my friends who boast a remarkable resume of internships and extracurriculars, or their relentless job hunting that has resulted in a job post-graduation, or impressive networks of professional contacts. Learning not to compare myself to my peers and embracing the fact that my interests largely do not mirror theirs while still navigating the necessary senior-year “what am I doing next year?” questions has been nothing short of incredibly difficult. Yet halfway through fall quarter this year, I found out how relieving and gratifying this same process could be when I finally recognized my passion for student affairs and solidified plans to pursue the field professionally.
In a way, I feel like the student affairs path fell into my lap as if it were meant to be all along, though I have made several conscious decisions at UCLA that brought me to this path, as well. To give you an idea of how my “next steps” plan for after college formulated, here is a snapshot of those decisions, in chronological order. Perhaps some of the concepts, programs and resources I have consulted (which are linked) can be helpful to your student as they near graduation.
September 2013: Eager to find my niche at UCLA in one of its many campus organizations, I joined the Student Alumni Association (SAA) at the beginning of my sophomore year. SAA is a student volunteer group working with the Alumni Association that strives to connect students and alumni through professional development events, like Interview with a Bruin and Entertainment Networking Night, and school-spirit-building events, like the Beat ‘SC Bonfire and Rally and Spring Sing. SAA has fundamentally shaped my college career, and it has given me a sneak peak into one of the many parts of student affairs. I feel very lucky that an extracurricular that I love so much can translate into a career path.
September 2015: I started working with the Office of Parent & Family Programs (PFP) at the very end of last summer. I had wanted the job for a little over a year and immediately fell in love with the job and the work, which felt less like work than any other job I have had. This was the lightbulb going off over my head that student affairs was the field for me. Working directly with parents, whether by providing them with help and guidance on our phone and email helplines or by assisting with Parents’ Council meetings and other PFP events with parent volunteers, has been the most engaging and rewarding part of the job. PFP does not necessarily fit into the student affairs field in a traditional sense, but it offers services and support to parents of students in the same way that student affairs departments aim to serve students.
Working Parents’ Weekend 2015 with Parents’ Council volunteer Angelica Hurtado
December 2015: I started researching graduate schools with student affairs programs just before winter break and continued over break. The UCLA Career Center offers a comprehensive guide to the grad school application and program selection process. One of the unexpected parts of pursuing a masters in student affairs is that it has made me look at graduate schools I never otherwise would have considered, in places I might never have considered: Cal Poly SLO, Miami University of Ohio, and many more. My plan now is to take a year after graduation to work in student affairs and/or travel while studying for the GRE and applying to grad schools. I have found Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education’s (NASPA) Graduate Program Directory incredibly helpful, for anyone who is also interested in student affairs. Handshake, the Career Center’s online portal, also offers extensive job and interview postings, for current UCLA students and eligible alumni.
January 2016: At the beginning of winter quarter, I started applying for summer jobs in the student affairs field. I am pursuing a job in student affairs right after graduation before I attend grad school in order to gain a wider range of experiences in the field, to become a more dynamic candidate for graduate programs in student affairs, and to connect with more professionals and engage with more students and families served by student affairs departments.
February 2016: As senior year becomes more hectic, with a full course load, my job with PFP, and significant time commitments as a member of the Spring Sing Executive Committee in SAA, I continue researching grad schools and summer and fall 2016-and-beyond plans. My ultimate goal is to enroll in a student affairs graduate program in fall 2017. I feel lucky to be working with PFP, for the professional staff has been beyond helpful and motivational in directing me towards post-grad job opportunities and master’s programs. It is a delicate juggling act for sure, but an enjoyable and enriching one nonetheless, knowing that working in a field that I love is on the horizon if I stay focused and motivated.
Spending a day at the Getty with SAA’s Spring Sing Executive Committee for winter retreat
My experience exploring options for after graduation and deciding on my next steps has reminded me that everyone in college follows different passions and makes decisions according to different timelines, but that none is better than another. In today’s job market and economy, having a realistic, executable plan for graduation has become a necessity, intensifying the pressure on college seniors to find a job or be accepted to grad school. I have not been spared from this pressure, as I mentioned, but I also feel lucky that my parents have always been hands-off and encouraged me to pursue a major and field that I love. By giving me this space, they allowed me the freedom to explore extracurriculars and jobs in my time at UCLA that interested me and inspired passion in me and that, quite luckily, translates directly into a career that does not feel like one. I love the work that I have done with SAA and PFP and am confident I will continue to love whatever fields of student affairs that I explore after graduating. It is a unique type of work that allows me the opportunity to help students and parents, to enhance their experiences with higher education, and to connect with incredible individuals on a personal level. More important than just having an answer to the once-dreaded “What are your plans for after UCLA?” questions is that I now have an answer that I am excited and confident about.