The Graduating Warrior: Forethoughts, fourth years?

Kevin Veloso - 4C Software
Posted on: January 23, 2013

Fourth years are students in their last year of their five to seven year journey through undergraduate life. They are also taking their final term of university this term (provided that they have submitted their Intent To Graduate form, of course). Like first and second years, they will probably have no idea who some people are in POETS. With the younger years, it’s probably because they haven’t checked it out or because they are still learning names. With students coming from Fall co-op, that is a large number of names to learn! With fourth years, they’ve realized that they have four class years under them. With a new class coming every year, that’s a lot of strangers to come through. Their upper-years have moved on to the world of the ringed graduate, leaving fourth years as the oldest (by school term) upper-year undergraduates on campus. It’s also possible that some fourth years don’t recognize anyone in POETS because they still haven’t been inside during their five-to-seven years at Waterloo, but that’s okay.

With their final term comes the very fun and exciting time of planning their fourth year events. The long anticipated Iron Ring Ceremony is happening in less than a month, GradBall due in March, as well as picking the last of their courses. By now, their choices are set and done, but they are free to late enroll in some courses and drop unneeded extras. For those looking for full-time jobs, it’s job hunting season, which means some companies with full-time positions may invite them to an onsite interview. It’s pretty much an excuse to travel for a couple of days, hopefully paid by the employers. Fourth year projects are also being completed, with some departments hosting the Fourth Year Design Symposium in March. There is definitely more than what I have listed that goes on in fourth year (no spoilers, of course), but from what I have listed so far, it sounds like a busy time, doesn’t it?

Unless they are planning on heading to grad school, there isn’t a next study term (unless they’re taking courses in the Spring and graduating in the Fall), or another four-month co-op job. Fourth years have to make those scary choices and answer those scary questions such as, “What are you going to do after you graduate?”

The answer to that question might be simple if they just consider the time after their last final exam ever and convocation. After exams, they could go on an extravagant road trip or adventure, making it back by the ceremony. Or, they could go on a longer, more extravagant intercontinental trip and skip convocation. (The degree will come in the mail, hopefully.) Others may head straight to work after exams, either returning to a previous employer they have found in one of their previous co-op positions, or working for a new company that has offered a full-time position. There are also those who might be taking it easy, having either a stay-cation or heading to the cottage or another city before heading to convocation. There are also those who are in great anticipation for grad school, continuing their pursuit of higher education by exploring more of their field. There are those who might not find a job by then, and there are also those who don’t pass. It is unlikely, especially since they have made it this far, but it still happens. I could continue listing off things that can be done between exams and convocation, but that list is way too long and possibly riddled with spoilers. The above are just things that I have seen most of my upper years do after finals.

The point is this: fourth year is very complicated. It could get quite overwhelming when faced with all kinds of decisions, and unlike looking for their next co-op, it’s not something they can easily say, “It’s just four months; no big deal”. I recall many first years who have chosen Engineering over similar programs in Math and Science because their Study/Work sequence was arranged and their courses were either predetermined or on a list that they can pick and choose from.

I think I am speaking too generally when talking about all this post-undergraduate planning. The question of “What are you going to do with your life?” still scares me, especially whenever I hear some lucky fourth years elegantly answer this question. As of now, I don’t have a job lined up, and I’m not planning on going to grad school at the moment. I’m probably in the same boat as a lot of other fourth years, overwhelmed by various options and exploring possible career options based on likes and interests. If you are a fourth year and have a plan on what you want to do for your last term and post-undergrad, fantastic! Stick with it! For those without a plan (such as myself), breaking out of the co-op/study term cycle gives you a chance to take on fun but risky opportunities. Some fourth years may plan on starting their own companies with their fourth year project, or some may join smaller companies with hopes of it becoming the next Facebook or Reddit. Fourth years graduate with a degree and at least 20 months of work experience on their resume. If they are taking risks after graduation, they have this to fall back on if things don’t go smoothly.

To sum up fourth year: it is like riding a huge roller coaster. Having seen your graduated upper years go through the same thing with huge smiles and anticipated worried-but-excited feelings, fourth years right now probably have a pretty good idea on what to look forward to. At the same time, the roller coaster tracks are pretty long and you can only guess where it will go after going through the tunnel known as convocation. If you are really, absolutely, positively petrified of what could potentially happen next, or if you feel like you need a small nudge in the right direction, go seek career counselling, as they will probably have better things to say than I do.

Fourth year isn’t easy, but they gotta fight their way through it, sort of like a graduating warrior.