Fourth Year: Navigating Change

Graduation is just around the corner for your senior. While moving beyond college can be a time of excitement and hope, your student is also thinking about the next step. Whether planning to get a job or continuing on to graduate school, the uncertainty can produce a variety of feelings, especially during the second semester.

As your student experiences a time of transition, it can help to be aware of what they may be feeling. During the fourth year, students are trying to navigate a time of rapid change. They are preparing to leave the place they have lived for the last four years, and the people who have been an essential part of their time at the UW. Students are wondering what it will be like to not be a student, which has been a main part of their identity for many years.

Focusing on solutions can help your student create a more seamless transition, and thinking about goals — short-term, mid-range, and long-term — can make change feel less overwhelming.

Keep in mind that your student is leaving what is most familiar. It’s a lot of change, and you can help ease the stress. Begin by reminding your student that they are not alone, that along with you, numerous campus resources, including advisors, faculty, mentors, mental health resources, and student life staff, are available to help.

Note, too, that your student has already dealt with many changes throughout their college years, and those experiences will make it easier to deal with changes in the future. In a sense, your student has been preparing for this transition since freshman year.

Listening to your student is an important step in helping to come up with solutions to whatever uncertainty they are feeling about the future. Sharing the transitions you’ve experienced in your own life and letting your student know that it’s normal to feel unsure can be very reassuring. Remind your student that how they feel today isn’t necessarily how they will feel tomorrow.

Your student is in a new phase of adulthood, which means that the relationship they have with you may also change. But you still have wisdom to share, ranging from information about budgeting, insurance, and savings, to ways to continue being an active citizen through volunteering. Encourage your student to think about what it means to be a lifelong learner: that learning doesn’t need to stop after college graduation.

Senior year is a time to celebrate major life accomplishments, both in school and in their personal lives. It’s a time to be excited about change. While every transition presents challenges, each presents far more possibilities. And soon, your student can be proud to say that they are a graduate of UW–Madison.