Seniors combat stress as graduation draws near

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Photo illustration: BYU senior Bryan Eckern balances classes and plans for the future during his final semester at BYU. (Gianluca Cuestas)

College brings varying degrees of stress to students, but seniors also have to worry about what comes next. BYU psychology professor Patrick Steffen said senior year can bring even more stress into a college student’s life than normal.

“There is definitely the additional stress of school coming to an end and saying ‘now what,'” Steffen said. “In addition to your classes now you have to think about what comes next — do I go to graduate school or where do I look for a job?”

Steffen said the stress that comes with finishing school can include some students wondering if they chose the right path.

“They think ‘am I heading in the direction that I want to head?’ When you’re younger in your program you don’t have those worries, but as you’re finishing up you have to decide,” Steffen said.

Bryan Ercken, a BYU senior studying psychology, said all throughout college there are different types of stress that can occur, but senior year is something completely new.

“(Senior year) is a different kind of stress,” Ercken said. “I’ve had more difficult and homework-heavy classes than I do now, so that was stressful but now this is more of a major life decision stress.”

BYU sociology student Taylor Ramsay said senior year seems distant when students first start college, but it eventually arrives and students have to make important life and career choices.

“Graduating is something that always seems so far away and then once it starts to set in that it’s your senior year and you’re almost there — then it’s kind of stressful,” Ramsay said.

Ercken said concentrating on what needs to be done for the future and still having the ability to know what to do right now in school is difficult.

“Staying focused is one of the hardest parts about being a senior because a lot of the time you’re looking forward to the future thinking you need to get this job, this internship or where am I going to live after I’m done,” Ercken said. “It makes it harder to focus on the classes that I’m in right now.”

Mapping out a day-to-day list of tasks can help take the pressure off, Ercken said. He uses priority lists to help accomplish both school assignments and necessary future plans.

According to Steffen, senior year is a sign that one’s life is transitioning.

“The future can hold anything for a senior, and graduation brings that perspective into place,” Steffen said. “This major life transition can bring stress into one’s life.”

Ramsay said she knows that unexpected problems will arise, but she said she tries to cope with the stress by focusing on what she can do right now and not about what she can’t control.

“I try to handle it by just worrying about what I can change,” Ramsay said. “I can plan for my future and prepare the best that I can, but I won’t be able to have everything figured out. I have to accept that there are going to be a lot of changes, but just realize how exciting this time is.”

Steffen said having a goal in mind from the start of school can help students with their stress of the future. He said taking small steps each semester will help students toward their goals.

Although thinking about the future can be daunting, Dr. Steffen said having a clear, specific goal in mind will make it a lot easier to plan for the future.

Steffen said procrastination is the one thing seniors should avoid as they get closer to graduation.

“Students should not avoid what needs to be done,” Steffen said. “Don’t think ‘I’ll worry about this when I’m older’ or ‘I’ll think about this next year,’ because you’re just procrastinating the inevitable. Avoidance feels good in the immediate, but it just creates more stress down the road.”

Ramsay and Ercken both recommend students get started early and plan out the steps needed to graduate and what comes next as the end of college gets closer.

“Get started early; don’t put everything off to the last semester,” Ercken said. “From the beginning keep in mind that this moment is coming, even if it seems far away.”

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