in article about seniors in college, a blurry photo of students walking on a walkway
Seniors don't have the same wide-eyed optimism as their freshmen counterparts. (Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash)
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in article about seniors in college, a blurry photo of students walking on a walkway
Seniors don't have the same wide-eyed optimism as their freshmen counterparts. (Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash)

By the time they’ve entered their final year, students have moved way past the honeymoon stage with their school.

Being a senior in college is nothing like being a senior in high school. In high school, every passing year is an exciting reminder that you’re getting older and that bigger things are just on the horizon. Your opportunities begin to expand in tandem with the maturity needed to fulfill them. By the time your senior year of high school rolls around, you have all the luxuries of being 18 with minimal responsibilities. The opposite is true when you become a senior in college.

Being the eldest undergraduate class at university dumps you with every responsibility those in the working world must deal with but without the adequate real-world experience required. Though internships and summer jobs are intended to prepare you for adult life, their ability to fulfill this goal is not always guaranteed. This can leave seniors feeling unprepared, uncared for and unsupported by their universities.

Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my college experience, as a senior, there are still a few things I wish I had done differently or known sooner. Some are of my own volition, but others I feel are due in part to my university’s inability to truly guide me in times of distress. I understand that colleges are multifaceted, multileveled institutions that require a great deal of resources in order to operate, but isn’t that what students are paying for? Isn’t that the entire experience we’re meant to take advantage of?

I consulted with a few of my friends, and they all agreed: We’d been duped. We’ve been roped into this idea of a glorified college experience that simply does not exist, and we feel betrayed. We feel let down. There are numerous reasons why other college seniors might feel this way, but some seem universal regardless of the state or university. Therefore, by my calculus, here are the four most likely reasons seniors seem to hate their universities:

1. Universities Are Tailored to the Freshman Experience

When I was a freshman, I felt like my university rolled out the red carpet for my attendance. At orientation, we were given packets with loads of useful information, small groups to bond with and even a personal counselor to help us build our schedule step by step; they even helped us choose which classes were within walking distance and let us know if our schedules look impossibly difficult to navigate. During move-in at the dorms, they provided all the necessary tools and staff and gave our parents peace of mind knowing the university system would care for us — at least, until the parents left. My college even had a first-year experience app to tell you where to look on campus for upcoming events and new ways to make friends.

This support virtually disappeared after my freshman year. I understand after a year, you kind of learn the ropes, but a lot of students change their minds, majors and even friend groups during their first year. It would make much more sense for colleges to have first, second, third and fourth year advisors and advisement appointments along with those from freshman year.

But the only reason they deploy so many resources for your first year is to keep you roped in and paying tuition. Students are much more likely to stay in the same university after they’ve finished freshman year — 28% of freshmen drop out after their first year, but only 12% of students opt for another school during sophomore year. They want to get you hooked and excited to attend so you won’t even dream of relocating elsewhere. And although I appreciate the enthusiasm, it feels all too premeditated.

2. After Freshman Year, You Have A Lot of Catching Up To Do From Poor Advising

If you’re lucky enough to have a halfway decent advisor during your freshman year, your schedule is relatively set throughout your college experience. But most students are not so fortunate. Your senior year is for making the dreaded advising appointment that’s going to tell you how many credits you’ve forgone in lieu of more playful classes like the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll or Ceramics 101. When I made my last advising appointment to finalize my fourth-year schedule, I was floored by how many remaining credits I needed — some general education requirements I should’ve fulfilled as a freshman.

How could this be? I remembered back to my first advising appointment where my advisor forgot to factor in the likelihood of changing my major once or twice, and allowed me to take not one, but two “fun” — yet useless — electives. Though those classes were enjoyable, I wish my advisor had stuck to the basics, at least until I was a sophomore.

3. Unnecessary Fees Become Apparent

It might be easy to bamboozle a doe-eyed freshman in college, but seniors aren’t so gullible. By year four, you start to learn why colleges are multibillion-dollar institutions: They milk every possible cent out of boosters, parents and students. This could be anything from miscellaneous fees, registration or move-in requirements or even unrealistic expectations regarding how much a student is going to need.

For example, as a freshman, the sports pack is all but thrust directly in your face, asking you to buy the football-basketball ticket combination. Students are led to believe that without it, getting a ticket to any event is nearly impossible. This, however, is nowhere near reality. Student section tickets are almost always for sale, and if not, there are plenty of students ready to sell some of their sports packs they promised their parents they’d use. And by the time you’re a senior, you start to look back at all the things the university fearmongered you into paying for. And it’s upsetting.

4. Finally, Seniors Are About To Enter the Real World, and If They Feel Unprepared, Blame the University

The entire point of college is to be an experiential preparation for the intended field of work students want to enter. So, after at least four years of instruction, it’s understandable that students desire a certain feeling of security or readiness upon graduation. But this seems to be rarely the case. If anything, most of us feel like chickens with our heads cut off if we don’t have a job lined up immediately following graduation.

This, of course, depends somewhat on a student’s field of study or career path, but by and large, a bachelor’s degree is at least the minimum requirement for a higher-paying job. Therefore, if the bachelor’s degree in question does little to afford students certain opportunities, we can feel dismayed or swindled into getting one to begin with. I understand the onus is upon students to prepare themselves and research their job prospects, but if the actual coursework does little to prepare students, what’s the point? Where do we draw the line between a student’s responsibility for their own future and the university’s responsibility to prepare its students?

Overall, graduating college is an overwhelming experience — especially if you feel wildly unprepared to enter the working world. But regardless of how many of our peers seem to have their lives together, this is all a facade. I think all students seem to have a relatively naive interpretation of the kind of experience college will afford, so if it doesn’t pan out, we’re looking for someone to blame or a reason to pinpoint.

And although I believe the university structure is partially to blame, it’s an unfortunate game we college students have to play. By the time we are seniors, we’ve uncovered the scam that is colleges and already been wrung out to dry — and it’s a system that’s going to take more than senior year antagonism to dismantle. So don’t mourn the experience you think you should have had because it doesn’t really exist. Instead, relish the opportunities you did take, the friends you made and the lessons you learned — even if they mostly felt like mistakes. Those middle parts are the true college experience.

Writer Profile

Natalie Gabor

Indiana University-Bloomington

Natalie Gabor is a senior studying journalism with minors in business marketing and philosophy. She hopes to one day find a career that tops her brief stint as a Vans employee.

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