‘The end of the academic year always sneaks up on you. One moment you’re sitting in the library, staring into books for days and then, all of a sudden, the exam invigilator says “pens down” and you’re done. Maybe you head to the pub for a drink to celebrate or maybe you just go home and head straight to bed. Will you be going home soon? Or will you be taking a vacation? In the blink of an eye everything changes when that final exam is over.
But, I urge you: before you completely close the book on this academic year, take a few moments to reflect. What was your favourite module? Who was your favourite lecturer? Was there any project, essay or exam result of which you were particularly proud? Anything you wish you could do over? What are you looking forward to next year (assuming there is a next year in your degree)? These questions may not seem as fun as a night out, but they’ll pay you back many times over. At the end of my first year, it seemed no sooner had I closed my final exam booklet then I was on a plane back home. In the whirlwind, I never had time to think about the good bits of the year and contemplate what I would like to improve in the coming terms. Needless to say, beginning second year was a greater shock to the system than I expected.
Despite graduating in July — or perhaps because I’m graduating in July — taking a few moments to reflect upon this year seems like a pleasant, welcome task. Final year was a whirlwind; more than second year, more than the year abroad, though perhaps not more than first year. It was also my favourite year. Whereas requirements seemed to dictate first and second year modules, final year was mine to create. From studying travel writing on Italy to researching my own independent study, I was free to focus on what I love about my degree. Sure, I wished I could go back and improve my marks on that first short essay, but I accept that getting the feedback on that helped me get good marks on my the rest of my coursework. As I look for a job and apply to graduate programs, what I’ll miss most about studying is being able to focus on my own quirky interests there. I’ve seen few job descriptions that ask for an extensive knowledge on Italian biscuit brands. Yet, I’ve learnt this year that I have to find my own way to be interested in even the less-than-intriguing topics. Reading Dante? More fun if you get into the commentary.
There are also the practical considerations to take into account as you finish the year. What to do with your textbooks and course notes? How will you maintain what you learnt during the summer? Should you be taking any extra courses? The answers to these questions vary greatly from degree to degree. If you can ask someone in a year above you in your course what they did (or wish they had done), that’s the best option. Studying languages, I found that keeping my textbooks was quite handy, but specific course notes were unnecessary. I kept the books I bought during the years as well, though I could probably have done with getting rid of them. I’ve never kept the documents they’ve handed out to us. Whatever you choose to do, however, be sure to keep old essays and exams! I have all of mine in a large folder on my desk. While looking back over old notes can be helpful when writing essays in further years, it’s also good to have a record of the marks you’ve been given just in case there are any questions regarding your degree.
After some reflection and some organization, there are two things left to end the year properly. Find something to do during the summer. While it might sound fun to lounge about for a few months, letting your brain relax for a few months after a year of crazy-hard work, it’s not exactly the best job planning strategy. Searching for work experience/internship is a fantastic way to begin thinking about what you’ll do after your degree. While it can be difficult to organize schedules as an international student, most companies are more than willing to work with you if you ask. If work experience seems too trying, a part-time job or extra courses related to your field of study are another excellent option for keeping your brain in tune over the holidays. I’ve had friends who have done everything from working in kid’s camps to and in bookstores to interning with investment banks and internet start ups. There’s no single way to spend your summer, but staying mentally active will make the transition back to university much easier come fall.
So, congratulations! You’ve finished the year and had some time to reflect on your progress! What are you waiting for? There’s a glass of Pimm’s calling your name.’