There’s a cartoon moment perfectly analogous to the last semester of a student’s university degree. Road Runner has run Wiley Coyote off a cliff, and as he hangs suspended in the air he turns to the camera. His expression conveys fear and then defeat. He knows perfectly well his fate. He slowly raises up a sign that says “That’s all folks”. Then he plummets out of screen.
This moment of suspension, the moment before the fall, before all stability is removed from underneath you, is what I like to call Last Semester Syndrome.
Many students experience this overwhelming feeling of anxiety in their last semester. This anxiety stems from concerns about the future. Financial concerns, job prospect concerns and social isolation concerns. These threatening premonitions lead many to seek help from psychologists and counselors alike in their last semester.
Anxiety is the most common mental health problem on university campuses. In a 2014 Penn state study, anxiety surpassed depression and took the leading spot in mental health issues plaguing university students. A whopping 54 percent surveyed felt overwhelming anxiety and 30.3 percent of students found that anxiety had affected their academic performance in the last year. In a survey done in 2008 by the Associated Press, 80 percent of students said that they frequently or sometimes experienced daily stress.
This debilitating feeling is especially unhelpful in your final years of study, when grades count for more, professional careers begin to creep into your field of vision and your social and economic stability is removed. If you are not prepared for this, you may very well fall out of screen like Wiley Coyote.
Here is what you should expect for your last semester and some hints on how to prepare yourself for these major lifestyle changes:
- Suddenly everyone is looking for internships and jobs that will give him or her some ounce of work experience to compliment their seemingly useless bachelors degree. The global economic slump has made career prospects after graduation an increasingly stressful experience. Expect to be constantly comparing cover letters with your peers.
- How to cope: Start getting internships and experience early on in your degree. If it is too late for that then just start applying to everything (even if it is something you don’ think you’re interested in). You never know where an experience will take you. Besides a reference can always come in handy.
- Comforting thought: Most people will get rejected more than accepted. Those that do get lots of acceptances won’t like their first jobs anyway, plus they will be paid a pittance.
- There is an epidemic of relationship breakups in the last semester as students begin to imagine their own futures in lieu of their significant others. After all, battling your own future is hard enough without trying to make room for another.
- How to cope: Prepare to be both comforter and comforted in these trying times. Tissues, chocolate, movies and alcohol tend to help.
- Comforting thought: No one is safe.
- Friends begin to make plans without you, in countries far away. Everyone you know seems to have plans for the next year. You, on the other hand, start facing the prospect of moving back in with your parents.
- How to cope: Make your own plans. Get a job at Coles and start saving for a trip. Give yourself a goal for the year. Stick to it. If none of these things work….just lie.
- Comforting thought: Those friends who decide to go travelling are just putting off moving back in with their parents.
- These so-called “loving” parents start tightening the financial belt and using the word “independence” far too much for comfort.
- How to cope: Start budgeting on excel. Get a job scooping gelato. Every little bit helps.
- Comforting thought: Your parents will never leave you homeless.
If you are anything like me, and the flood of changes and anxieties in your last semester begin to drown you, don’t be afraid to seek help. Talking to psychologists or careers counselors is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of being proactive. Talk to students or adults that have gone through this before. Get some ideas from them. Try to keep everything in perspective. And try to remember that everyone is in the same boat. Lean on your peers because they will be leaning on you.
After all, the common shipwreck is sweet.
[fall out of screen]