11/28/2014 05:27 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2015

6 Ways to Make Your Senior Year the Best Yet

Senior year marks another big transition for every college student. But whether or not you're prepared for the changes you'll soon encounter, you can take comfort in the fact that the job market is looking up for new grads.

According to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), "employers plan to hire 8.3 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2015" than they did last year.

For soon-to-be new graduates, here's some advice to help you explore your post-graduation options and leave college on a high note.

1. Join a club or activity you've always wanted to try.

Remember that it's not too late to explore new interests, on or off campus. "Get involved with campus and community groups even if you've never been involved with them before," urges Amy Gerretsen, director of constituent engagement and career services at Ripon College in Wisconsin. Join a club you've always wanted to try, enroll in a class you've always wanted to take, or try your hand at volunteering, Gerretsen says. Make the most of your final undergraduate year by checking those last few goals off of your bucket list.

2. Take graduate school entrance exams.

Some people wait a few years and gain real world experience before getting their master's degree, while others jump right in after undergrad. But whether you plan to go now or later, "consider preparing for and taking graduate entrance exams," says Alexandra Anderson, associate director of career services at Southwestern University in Texas. Your senior year is an ideal time to take the exams because you'll already be in study mode. Anderson also says "most scores are good for three to five years."

3. Set weekly goals for your job search.

Balancing your schoolwork with career planning is tough, which is why it helps to take your job search one step at a time. "Set a weekly goal to develop some aspect of your job or graduate school search," says Sue Tarpley, career center director at Berry College in Georgia. This might include updating your resume, setting up informational interviews, or researching companies you might want to work for.

Carve out four to five hours outside of school to job search, recommends Jenna Azar, manager of academic transition and engagement at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Setting realistic goals in the short-term will make your post-graduation planning feel much more manageable.

4. Research where you'll want to live after college.

Are openings for the job you're hoping to land only in a specific city? Or are you an East Coast kid who has always wanted to live on the West Coast? Weigh your options and consider what's most important to you after college.

"If you are thinking of moving far away, try to visit the area first to be sure this is something that will work for more than a vacation," says Maureen Armstrong, assistant to the vice president for student affairs at the University of Connecticut. "Think about the transition to college and what was exciting and difficult about the experience. Try to apply this lens to the post-college move and make thoughtful decisions about your next steps."

Make sure you also consider the financial costs of living in a new place.

5. Tell your friends and family about your post-graduation plans.

"Networking can sound scary, but start building your skills now with the people you come into contact with every day," says Amelia Hurt, director of career services at Oklahoma City University. "Your friends, parents, a supervisor, co-worker and alumni are important resources that make up your first circle of networking." Put the word out about the kind of job you're looking for so that your friends and family know to refer you the next time they hear of a job opening in their network.

6. Take a deep breath and know there is life after college.

Realize that you're prepared and that you're going to be OK, says Azar, who sees many seniors get wrapped up in the stress of graduation and planning for the future. She says it's important to reflect on your college experience and use what you've learned to navigate this new transition into adulthood. More importantly, she says, get excited about your future.


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