Final Year: The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

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I can’t believe I’m sitting here, again, I thought. In this dark lecture hall, one eye on the professor, another on the clock and my hands gripping a coffee cup like it’s a lifeline.

As the final semester of my undergraduate degree started, I was already drowning in deadlines and, to make it all worse, I could see the finish line. It was right there.

How could something seem so close and yet so so far away? I know it doesn’t make sense, but if you’re on the homestretch with me, you know what I mean.

Don’t worry, we’ll get through! We’ve done this how many times already? I can’t count. Whatever. One more time from the top, with some enthusiasm!

OK, just in case you’ve forgotten how you got through the past couple of years, here are some tips and tricks to get you to graduation:

1. Organize and prioritize

I have morning classes this semester and I often ask myself why I am leaving the warmth of my bed for the outside world every single morning. It is easy to get bogged down by it all, curl up in bed and miss that 8:30 a.m. class, especially when you know you only have one semester left. It’s really hard to remember why it matters sometimes.

Getting organized is the key to making sure that you get everything done so you can have more time to enjoy your last months of school (and maybe even squeeze in a power nap).

  • Make note of deadlines well in advance so that they don’t creep up on you. We all know the usual stuff, midterms, exams etc. But what about job interviews, grad school admission deadlines and career fairs? Make sure you don’t limit your options just because you couldn’t get organized.
  • Study efficiently. If your current study environment is no longer helping you get work done, find a new one.
  • Get sleep! Sleep deprivation is often a side effect of ineffective study habits. Fix one and you can prevent the other.

2. Make a plan

A lot of the stress that comes with your final semester comes from the great uncertainty that is the “real world.” There appears to be an infinite number of options to consider. It can be scary, but thinking about where you want to be upon graduation can help you make a plan.

  • If graduate school is the plan, then research programs, attend open houses and make notes of deadlines and application requirements. Set time aside to write personal statements and make sure you get copies of your transcripts before the rush. Meet with professors to obtain letters of reference. Remember, professors are very busy, so ask well in advance and don’t be shy about reminding them. I had to remind my professor several times before the deadline, but it did ensure that he really knew who I was before he wrote my letter.
  • If the workforce is where you want to be, then start your job search as early as possible (hopefully in September, for many industries). Even if you don’t land a job by the time you graduate, you can gain a lot of experience from the job search process: writing cover letters, tailoring resumes and going to interviews.
  • Meet with professors, organizations and employers that you may need references from in the future and obtain their most permanent contact information. You never know when it might come handy. Network, network, network!
  • Finally, make sure you get copies of your transcripts and beat the rush. You never know what you might need them for. If you wait until the last minute, you might have to pay extra for rush service and who really wants to give their university or college more money?

Who knows?  When you start thinking about life after graduation, you may find out what you really want to do, or at least what you really don’t want to do.

I realized that I really enjoy the research side of engineering more than the corporate management side, and so I was able to make a plan to attend graduate school and stick to it.

3. Have fun

It is your last semester, after all. Do you really want to remember it as the time you didn’t leave the library and skipped a few too many showers? Make a “bucket list” of things you want to do before you graduate and get them done. My friends and I made a list at the beginning of the year and made time to finally do all the things we’ve thought about doing since first year but never got around to.

How do we find time? The reward system works the best. You don’t have to wait until you’re done all your work to have some fun (we both know that won’t happen until after graduation anyway).  Plan your study breaks so you can have fun without the nagging guilt. And take some pictures – these are memories in the making!

The final year can be the longest and shortest period of your university career, but you can still get the most out of it. This is what you have been working towards for years now and don’t forget, you are almost free! Power through, you can do it! And don’t forget to enjoy the ride a bit, no matter how bumpy it may be.

Photo credit: Tunnel by Jesper Egelund on Flickr
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About the author

Nilanthy Balendra is a final year Electrical and Biomedical Engineering student at McMaster University. She has completed research internships at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto in the field of cancer research. She hopes to complete her degree and pursue a career in medical research. She is also the co-president of the McMaster Women in Engineering society and hopes to continue to spread awareness about engineering as a potential career option for young girls after graduation.