Junior year is pretty crazy, not gonna lie.
My third year of college was both fantastic and horrible. The great parts were that I was engaged to be married, I was writing a book proposal for my first actual full-size real-life adult book, and I loved my courses. The bad parts were that I started to get really stressed. Like really really stressed.
I’ve written about my struggles with anxiety before, and this is the year that it all really started. Looking back now, I recognize that there were a lot of things that I was worrying so much about that were completely unnecessary. And, to be honest, it’s sort of sad to see how much emotional energy I wasted over that year.
So in this instalment of the “What I Wish I Knew: College Edition” unofficial series, I wanted to help those of you in junior year who may be struggling the same way I was. I hope this helps!
1. No one else knows what they’re doing
The biggest issue that I had in my junior year was how behind I felt! Suddenly everyone was talking about volunteering in research, picking profs for your honours thesis the next year, and researching different graduate programs all over the country. I was overwhelmed and felt so incredibly behind.
I really hate not knowing what I’m doing, so junior year kind of sucked for me. And a lot of it was because I was so stressed about how clueless I was.
But here’s the thing: no one else knows what they’re doing, either! You aren’t the only one who’s clueless–we’re all ridiculously scared. So you’re not alone in your terror.
2. Your professors are using scare tactics
One of the reasons I felt I was so behind was because all of my profs said that we were! We had gone through two whole years of university already and no one even mentioned that we should be volunteering or researching or anything, and then all of a sudden junior year hits and our profs started telling us we should already have been volunteering for a year! What?!
But the truth is, profs know that in order to get you to get to work, they need to scare you. So they’re trying to help you, even if in reality all they’re doing is helping you get one step closer to developing that anxiety disorder.
In reality, the fact that you haven’t started these things yet doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed. It just means that you’re right on track. Junior year is when 90% of us start getting involved in research–it doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet!
3. The whole world does not rest on your shoulders
Junior year was when I personally started to really feel a lot of psychological distress. Being the perfectionist I am, being told “you’ve done everything wrong and you’re too late” was really rough. And as the first-born in a very high-achieving family, I’ve always taken a lot of pressure upon myself to not only succeed, but to excel.
Junior year isn’t easy for anyone. And if you screw up or have to recalibrate halfway through, it’s really not that bad. You’re going to get through it, and no matter what you do, it’s actually really hard to screw up your life.
4. The courses are harder. Start earlier.
In junior year, your courses start to get harder. Your professors assign more essays and research papers, the exams require actual conceptual understanding, and the content itself is just more complicated. But I didn’t change my study habits until halfway through my first semester. And I did a lot of extra work for nothing.
Were you able to complete an essay in three days in your sophomore year? Give yourself a week for it now. Did you receive an assignment a month before it is due? Then start working on it a month before it is due. Give yourself a break and stay ahead of the game in junior year especially.
5. Use this year to discover what you love
Even though the courses are difficult, they are also really interesting. This is what I loved about junior year–the material was so exciting! Freshman and sophomore years have courses that are very generic. Junior year is when you get to choose from a lot of electives in most programs. And even in the programs where you don’t have electives, the courses are much more specific and in-depth, so you can really enjoy them.
Go outside of your comfort zone this year and find out what it really is that you find joy in doing. For me, it was childhood disorders, specifically behavioural conduct disorders. So long-term, I’d love to be working in that field. And when I had essays or research papers to write, I wrote them about that topic.
Finding what makes you tick academically is one of the best parts of junior year, so don’t be afraid to go outside the box!
6. Don’t stress about how everyone else is doing
Everyone may seem to have things 100x more together than you do, but odds are they don’t. I probably looked like I had it all together. A+ average in third year, engaged to be married, started a college blog, wrote a book proposal. I looked like I was doing pretty well.
But I was freaking out. And I tried to keep it all together. But, as you can tell by this post, it obviously didn’t work.
When you stress out about how you are doing compared to how you think other people are doing, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You only see a snapshot of their experience, and you’ll never be able to see what’s going on inside their mind. We only show people the best parts of our lives, so stop comparing your worst to other people’s best.
7. Don’t forget that your life isn’t confined to school
In junior year it can be really easy to focus so much on school that the rest of the world slips away. But make an effort to stay involved in your church, keep up with your friends, and call your parents.
When we reduce our lives to just one aspect of ourselves, such as intellect, we don’t get to experience all the joys that life has to offer. So don’t limit yourself to just school.
I feel like this post was mainly just telling you how screwed up I was in junior year, but you know what? At least it’s authentic. And I hope that if any of you are also freaking out, you found it encouraging to know that you’re not alone.
And hey, I survived. You can, too.
See the rest of the series here:
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