Are You Having Fun Yet?

A Senior Year Bucket List is just going to bring you down when you notice all of the unchecked boxes; opt out for your own experiences instead.

By Michelle Criqui, James Madison University


As all seniors know, the last year of college comes with a wide variety of pressures: figuring out what you want to do with your life after graduation, applying for jobs and internships, maybe looking into grad schools and taking the GRE, all while trying to finishing your college career on a strong note.

But there’s another senior year pressure lurking in the shadows—one that usually comes in the form of something seemingly innocent and fun: The Senior Year Bucket List. If you’re like most seniors, you’ll get to your last year as an undergrad and realize that there is far too much you haven’t yet done on campus and around your college town. With the countdown until graduation ticking loudly in your ears, you follow in the footsteps of the seniors who have gone before you and quickly write up a lengthy bucket list.

“I need to do every single one of these things before I graduate, or else I won’t have had the real Wherever University experience!”

Sound familiar? While its intentions are typically good, the Senior Year Bucket List actually creates more pressure than you might realize, and takes time away from what you’d honestly prefer to be doing. So before you begin making that list, think twice, and you might just save your senior year.

Throw Away the List

Take a look at whatever “university traditions” you haven’t yet completed, all the places in town you haven’t visited and everything on all of those online lists detailing what you should have done by the time you complete your senior year. At first, you’ll probably experience some kind of sinking feeling, followed by an immense amount of guilt—“What kind of Duke Dog am I if I haven’t even done these things yet?!”—but that idea is the first thing you need to let go of if you’re really going to enjoy your senior year.

As fun and traditional as the items on these bucket lists may seem, you need to take a step back and ask yourself: Is this something I really see myself doing during my senior year?

Or, more importantly: Is this something I actually want to do during my senior year?

You’d think that that would be an obvious distinction to make, but with the pressures not only of these lists but of friends and acquaintances and all those classmates you added on Facebook for whatever reason, it’s easy to convince yourself that jumping fully-clothed into a fountain in the middle of October or streaking across the quad on a February snow day is a good idea.

But do you really want to be doing those things? Or are you just going through the motions because of social pressure—or the fact that they’re printed on the back of the T-shirts given out at orientation?

Imagine that you’ve just been transported 10 years into the future. What is the first thing you know you’ll truly miss about your college days?

Whether it’s your roommate, the organization through which you found your close friends or specific professors and classes that have meant the world to you, odds are that the way you’ve been told to spend your senior year differs greatly from how you know really want to spend it.

The writing of a Senior Year Bucket List also suggests that you have all the time (and money) in the world to get those things done. But come time for graduation, you’ll probably find yourself looking back at that list with a lingering sense of disappointment at all of the boxes still left unchecked.

“Will the Dean still hand me my diploma if I haven’t been to a single toga party yet?!”

The answer is always yes.

The bucket list implies that everyone’s undergraduate experience is the same, and thus should have a common list of items that all students need to complete in order to have had an authentic American college experience. But the things you choose to do during your last year as an undergrad should not be treated like General Education classes—they should be unique to who you are and what you really want to do with your senior year.

What You Can Do Instead

Have some ideas in mind about fun things to do on the weekend or at the end of a long weekday, and ask your close friends to come with when they’re free. Make sure these are things you actually want to do (and spend your money on), regardless of whether it’s a “university tradition” or “something you need to do before you graduate.”

The activities in which you take part during your senior year should be entirely up to you.

This is your last year as an undergrad—not anyone else’s. What you choose to do with your free time and who you decide to hang out with will ultimately determine how you look back on this time in your life.

Instead of following a structured list telling you how you should live out your senior year, why not just let go of all the extra pressure and simply take whatever opportunities that come your way? Spend time with good friends, talk to that professor who helped to change your worldview, eat at your all-time favorite restaurant in town and don’t worry about what you might be missing out on. The grass is always greener on the other side, but in time you might just look back and see how green your pastures really were.

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