If you thought that being a senior in high school was stressful, wait for your senior year of college. Thanks to demanding midterms, job applications, internship requirements, full-time jobs and pressing student loans, senior stress levels are being pushed to the max.
The pressure is much greater for seniors graduating now than in the past when jobs were easier to come by. This leaves seniors to wonder how they will ever get hired and if they will have to relocate to land a job. The national unemployment rate has reached 9.8 percent, according to the United States Department of Labor, the highest rate in over 20 years. Michigan is far beyond that with a rate of 15.3 percent.
Not only the unemployment rate but rising standards for entry-level jobs make it difficult to get started. Many career fields are requiring that seniors have at least one internship before graduation. For some that internship has become almost impossible to find.
“I thought I had forever to get an internship, but now I’m thinking that it might be too late. I really hope to get a full-time job after graduation, but I’m coming to the realization that I might have to do an unpaid internship first,” said advertising senior Lauren Santucci.
An increasing number of seniors may have to work for free after graduation because the job market has become so competitive that employers only select the applicants with the most experience. Others have to complete an internship as part of their graduation requirements; without an internship there’s no diploma.
“Because the internship was required it was very stressful to interview and find a position. The application process itself was stressful because it had to be completed ahead of time, and it’s unpaid so I’m wondering how I’m even going to live. Now that it’s over I definitely feel a lot better though,” said Hanna Kleiner, a family community services senior.
With so much to worry about, seniors are really feeling the physical effects of stress.
“I’ve had stomach pains before because I’ve been so worried, and I know many of my friends have too,” Stantucci said.
Stress does not have a quick fix or a miracle pill like one would hope.
“College students will be stressed. It’s unavoidable, but to feel less stress you must cope in pro-social positive ways,” said MSU psychology professor Gary Stollak. As a clinical psychologist Stollak advises people on how to cope with stress.
Stollak said daily meditation or prayer is very helpful. It may seem difficult at first, but he said meditation is a skill that improves with practice. Listening to soothing music or tapes also has the same effect. He says it’s all about calming down and being alone with your thoughts, which is actually harder than it sounds.
Having meaningful relationships with intimacy can also help reduce stress. Regardless if it’s a best friend, boyfriend or family member, having a support system helps. When a relationship is intimate it is easy to talk about insecurities and become vulnerable with the other person.
“I definitely feel better after talking things out with my best friends. When I keep things to myself, I only end up worrying about them more and feel worse. We’re all in the same boat, looking for jobs and trying to do well in classes, and it’s exhausting,” said retailing senior Molly Schaffner.
Communicating with those who know you best is a sure way to feel less stressed out.
Stollak also suggested finding an activity that is challenging and requires practice, something that is not a role demanded of you.
“The activity becomes the other side of stress, an energizer. Look forward to something and improve at it,” he said.
Learning and practicing an instrument or a foreign language can become very rewarding over time. Even practicing 15 minutes three times a week is helpful. Learning something new is also a fun opportunity to strengthen a friendship if the activity involves a friend.
A lot of students use drugs to cope with stress. And not just obvious drugs like Adderall and marijuana, but caffeine too. It’s easy to forget that caffeine is a drug, but the jittery side effects can actually make a person less productive. As a rule of thumb, using any substance to reduce stress isn’t a solution, only a short term distraction.
Watching movies or TV shows are other common distractions from stress. They only provide a short escape from problems, however.
“It’s really about balance,” Stollak said. “The negative side has to be balanced with the positive side. What are you doing from waking up until going to bed?”
The real way to experience less stress is to have small joys or moments of happiness throughout the day. To combat the negative feelings of stress, other parts of the day should be filled with happiness.
“Pay attention to the balance. What is meaningful to you? What’s exciting?” Stollak said.
People say do what you love and you’ll be a happier person, but is worth all the stress?
“I started out double-majoring in fisheries and wildlife and advertising, but I had to drop my fisheries major. It was always my passion but I dropped it because I knew graduating in four years would be too difficult,” Santucci said.
Seniors are changing their plans to survive in the competitive job market. The thought of doing what makes you happy is nice, but it is not always decision seniors make. This fact in itself is reason enough to have seniors stressing about their futures as they find themselves having to drop what they love in order to keep open a realistic career pathway which can lead to a job.
“Advertising was just more practical,” Santucci said. “You can’t exactly follow your dreams when they don’t lead to a job.”