Graduating College Seniors Often Experience Transitional Anxiety

By Beth Leipholtz 05/21/19

Some colleges have recognized the extent of transitional anxiety for students and have implemented services to address it.

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Graduating College Seniors

College graduation is often viewed as a time of celebration. But for some, the anxiety of not knowing what lies ahead takes over instead. 

The Star Tribune reports that such anxiety is a fairly common sentiment for graduating seniors. 

“I would say at least three-quarters of the graduates that I work with are struggling with similar issues, fears about employment or family issues or moving or things like that,” Haran Kingstan, Acacia Counseling and Wellness interim clinical director, tells the Tribune

Many graduating seniors have been in school since a very young age, and the idea of establishing a life without the routine of education can be intimidating, according to Yasmine Moideen, a clinical psychologist. Kingstan adds that the loss of such structure can lead to what’s known as “transitional anxiety.”

“Transitional anxiety is not a diagnosis, we know that, but it’s almost human nature because human beings are built to feel comfortable with routine and habit and form patterns that take up less cognitive capacities so we’re able to attend to survival,” Kingstan says. 

University of Minnesota senior Addie Agboola says her anxiety was brought on by a change in postgraduate plans. She initially planned to attend pharmacy school but has instead chosen to take a year off. 

“I had this plan in my mind of how everything was going to go, and I think that it’s stressful because you’re doing all these things you want to enjoy and soak up all the moments of [being an] undergrad, but also planning for the future,” she said.

According to experts like Moideen, sticking to a routine is important when experiencing transitional anxiety. She also recommends making sure to seek out connections with people with similar interests. 

“It’s really important for people—especially, I think, young people—to have a sense of purpose and connection,” Moideen tells the Tribune.

Some college campuses have recognized the extent of transitional anxiety for students and have implemented services as a result.

University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, offers an online therapy program called Learn To Live for its graduates, as well as career services. 

“Like other moments of significant transition, graduating from college can produce a complex set of feelings and behaviors,” Madonna McDermott, executive director of St. Thomas’ Health Services and Wellness Center, says. 

In Ithaca, New York, Cornell University has a senior support group that meets over the spring before graduation. 

“The idea for this group was driven by the large number of undergraduate students who would contact [Counseling and Psychological Services] in mid-spring semester due to their anxiety about graduating in May,” group leader Jamie Sorrentino told the Tribune. “Many of these fears and uncertainties are universal, and they are best addressed in a support group format.”

In treating students who are struggling with the idea of postgraduate life, Kingstan says she just reminds them to practice self-compassion and to take pride in their accomplishments while also acknowledging the validity of their feelings.

“There’s almost a grieving period that needs to happen because you are kind of saying goodbye to who you were as a college student and now you are launching into an emerging adult,” she tells the Tribune.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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