by Abbey Martin
Take a moment to think about how you might feel right now if you were a graduating senior. Would you be excited? Relieved? Stressed? I’d likely be feeling all of these things (and more!). I might also feel disappointed that I’m missing out on graduation activities I’d looked forward to, or be worried about finding a job after college—especially right now.
While “what are you going to do next?” or “What are your plans after college?” are common questions, these can feel overwhelming for students to answer. I reached out to ASC student staff and asked what they’d find helpful in a conversation about next steps after graduation. Here are some questions and ideas they came up with:
How can I support you as you prepare for graduation and what comes after?
An overwhelming theme students shared was wanting to feel supported and cared for by faculty and staff as they navigate next steps. Some students would like to hear about tools and resources for career exploration. Maria, a strategist, noted that she’d find it helpful if faculty and staff shared their experiences and what they would have done differently post-graduation. Others thought check-ins with a professor would help them prepare for next steps. What’s helpful can vary by person. The best way to know what each student wants or needs is simply to ask.
What fields, career paths, or positions are you interested in? Tell me all of the possibilities you’ve thought of.
Many students shared that they don’t know what field they want to enter after college. They also mentioned feeling pressure to have an acceptable answer for those who ask. Catie, an Academic Coach, shared, “Usually the question I get asked is, ‘What do you want to do?’ Getting asked that question so much kind of forced me to come up with a routine answer that wasn’t entirely accurate but was at least something to respond with. I think [it] also subconsciously discouraged me from having an open mind about other possibilities.” If students are not ready to name one concrete path, we can support them in their exploration process.
What aren’t you interested in?
Molly, an Academic Coach, shared, “[A] tool that really helped me in finding what I wanted was being asked what I didn’t want… It made narrowing down what I could potentially want much easier.” Students may not be ready to fully commit to one interest area, but they may have ideas for things they definitely don’t want. Exploring those can be a powerful form of self-reflection.
What do you want your next step to be? What do you need to get there?
Focusing on the big picture can feel overwhelming, but breaking things down into smaller, manageable steps can be helpful. Some students simply want to process those next steps aloud. Aarya, a Strategist, shared, “For me, the answer [of what I’ll do next] has always been broad. I want to eventually become a doctor, but what [happens before that] has been—and still is—difficult to answer because the path is long, and the end is still far out of sight.” Other students echoed this sentiment, saying they would find it helpful to identify more immediate next steps vs. only focusing on long-term goals.
Focus on Supporting Students
If you have the opportunity to talk 1:1 with a student and support their thinking, keep in mind that the most important thing isn’t always what question you ask; it’s how you ask it. I’d encourage you to try one of these questions in your conversation. Remember to listen well, validate often, and empathize. Each student I talked to wanted to feel like they had people on campus who supported them and who would listen to and think with them. Let’s be those people!
Want ideas for conversation starters or more informal questions related to the excitement around graduation? Check out 10 Questions to Ask Graduating Seniors Instead of “What Are You Going to Do Next!?”