Seniors: Stepping into the real world

You’re a senior, and it’s late April. By now you’ve been asked the same questions roughly 3.2 million times – by friends, family, professors, doctors and everyone else you meet. By commencement on May 16, that number will likely triple. “Where will you be next year? Any plans for the future? What are you doing with your life?”

You have perfected your answer – whether it’s graduate school, staying in D.C., finding a job in a city or just moving back home – and you consider printing it on a T-shirt so the next time someone asks, all you need to do is point. But no matter what you say, the inquisitor will then counsel you on your decision and offer advice that would have been helpful had you not heard it from the last 300 people who asked.

Most graduates tackle smaller issues – the ever-pressing job pursuit, loan consolidation, insurance concerns and apartment hunting.

“You’re hired!”

Fortunately, seniors do not have to go through the stressful process alone. GW’s Career Center offers guidance, providing resume critiques, workshops, job listings and general advice to prepare students for their first steps into the “real world.”

“If seniors are nervous, they should talk to us. We can lay out a specific plan so they can make an informed decision,” said Brian Rowe, assistant director of the Career Center

Rowe suggested students should not wait until the last minute.

“We’ll want to take a look at your resume. We want to talk about a career plan, advise you on how to find a job,” he said. “We have workshops, too. It’s best to come in freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. It makes it easier.”

Seniors can also make an appointment with an adviser or come in during walk-in hours.

“I see students who are well positioned but nervous because they don’t know how long finding a job will take,” Rowe said. “They are very capable and prepared, they just don’t know it yet.”

Sylvia Siegel, a senior from New Jersey, said she plans to stay in D.C. after graduation but does not yet know where she will live or work.

“I love D.C.,” Siegel said. “I want to get to know the city better and also for the kind of work that I do. There are just a lot of opportunities here.”

Siegel worked at the Career Center during her junior year and said she benefited from talking to people there.

“I’ve had my resume and cover letters reviewed, and I actually just attended a session on negotiating salaries,” she said. “It’s an uncomfortable topic to approach on a normal basis, and considering this is the first time I’m being presented with benefits and salaries, it makes it all the more awkward.”

Siegel is not nervous about graduating – just everything else.

“I’m actually really looking forward to the break,” she said. “But in regards to the job and housing situation, it is kind of nerve-wrecking.”

Paying the bills

Nothing wrecks graduates’ nerves more than leaving school only to collide with a wall of student loan payments.

“My advice to graduates is that they should look to consolidate their loans, which allows borrowers to look into a low fixed interest rate,” said Mark Brenner, executive vice president of College Loan Corporation. “If students don’t consolidate, their interest rates will continue to go up.”

Graduates have a six-month grace period on their first student loan installments, but after that the interest rate will increase unless they consolidate, Brenner said.

Students often put off other debts to pay their student loan first, but Brenner advises otherwise.

“If you take out credit card debt, pay that as quickly as possible before your student loan,” Brenner said. “Students have a tendency to want to pay off their student loans first, but it’s best to pay off the highest interest rate debt first.”

Another expense graduates have siphoned from their paychecks goes toward insurance.

Many students stay on their parents’ insurance plans through college, but once they graduate most students lose their dependent status and must get their own. Luckily, most first jobs offer life, dental and health insurance.

“Insurance is a big thing, especially since I’m the clumsiest and most accident-prone person,” Siegel said. “But most of the places I have applied to have great benefits, so I think I’ll be all right.”

Many seniors have not started thinking about insurance, though; they are still looking for jobs.

Sara Evans, 22, hopes to get a film production job in D.C. but will move back home to Allentown, Pa., if that falls through. She has not worried about insurance yet.

“I haven’t really started thinking about that stuff. I’m still praying I get this job and it’s all covered,” she said.

Evans said that if she stays in the area she will look for apartments in northern Virginia, where rent is significantly cheaper than in the city.

“Tenleytown’s another option,” she said. “I’m not limiting myself to any particular area, but I think I would like a change from Foggy Bottom.”

Tenleytown, Dupont Circle, Adam’s Morgan and other neighborhoods in Northwest Washington have many available apartments for rent, said Re/Max real estate agent Edward Giles. He added that the prices in these areas vary, but depending on someone’s budget, “the good locations are everywhere.”

“Your safety comes first. You have to be comfortable,” Giles said. “You have to be in a place where you can wake up in the morning and say ‘I feel good.'”

When applying for an apartment, Giles said a candidate’s credit record will determine if he or she gets the place.

“For (the owner), what matters is how good your credit history is. They’ll look at your job and see if you have potential and look at your credit reports. Credit is the main issue,” he said.

Giles, like many real estate agents, can help students find available apartments, and since they work on commission paid by the sellers, it costs the students nothing.

That may allow a graduating senior to cross one item off the list, but the panic and stress of graduation remains.

“With so many things going on – my internship, my finals, my papers, graduation weekend – it’s hard not to feel like I’m losing my head sometimes,” Siegel said.

You’re a senior and it’s almost May; time to start printing those T-shirts. n

Adina Matusaw contributed to this report.

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