Speaking from experience, Aikta Rajput has some pretty simple advice for Pitt undergrads — be positive.
“Don’t sweat anything. Don’t be upset for more than five minutes, don’t fight with your friends, don’t take anything too seriously because it goes by so fast,” she said. “You’re going to regret wasting any time doing anything negative.”
Rajput is a senior information systems major, and will be graduating next semester before heading to medical school. She and several thousand other Pitt students will find themselves in April 2018 entering a new, post-collegiate time of their lives — pursuing a career path, graduate school or a gap year after graduation.
Rajput said she plans on spending her last months at Pitt completing the last credits left in her major, working as a trivia host at random bars and spending time with her friends.
“It’s the last time I’m going to be with them for a very long time,” she said.
Other seniors are trying to salvage time with friends while also looking forward. Tarina Usher, a senior psychology major, said she plans to apply for jobs at the beginning of next semester. She plans on going straight into the workforce after she receives her degree — but is still unsure of what her career path will look like.
“My palms started sweating when I started thinking about having to find a job,” she said. “It’s kind of relieving because I’m almost done but it’s also like, oh no, I need to find a job and, like, prepare for a non-college life, so it’s a little anxious-ridden.”
Elana DiCocco, a senior natural sciences major, found herself in a similar state of job uncertainty, and said moving home was the only plan she had finalized.
“I had plans to go to optometry school, but I decided to take a year off because I’m not sure if I want to do that, so I didn’t want to waste time applying and spending money on applications,” she said.
DiCocco is applying to work at Catholic Heart Workcamp, a service camp for high school students, so she can spend a gap year deciding if optometry school is for her. If she does not get that position, she plans on finding a lab job in Philadelphia.
“Once I graduate I’ll have to do adult things and get a job, and right now the only thing I have to worry about is passing, finding a job,” she said. “I tell my parents ‘school’s so hard’ and they’re like, ‘well the world isn’t any easier.’”
DiCocco applied to Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering for bioengineering when she first came to Pitt, but was waitlisted, so she attended the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. After her first semester, she decided to continue as a biology major, but eventually switched to natural sciences her sophomore year. Her advice to underclassmen is to explore other major options if they had any doubts about their career path.
“If you’re having second thoughts about your major, get out now before it’s too late,” she said. “Change it now before you have too many courses you can’t change, because you want to get out in four years, I guarantee it.”
Rajput and Usher also changed their major or track during their career at Pitt. Rajput, who was initially a chemistry major, found the field of study to be too hard for her. She switched to the business school her sophomore year and had to deal with the stress of catching up on courses, but other than that she had no regrets about her time at Pitt.
“I had a great experience, I had a good balance of studying and hanging out with friends, I had the best friends,” she said. “I don’t think I would have done anything differently.”
Usher came to Pitt intending to enter the nutrition program, but said she struggled with some of the science classes required, and decided to switch to psychology so that she could graduate on time. She said her sophomore fall semester was painful because she realized things were not going as she planned, but also said she’s better off now.
“I’m happy where I’m at now and all the events that led up to now, so that’s a good thing,” she said. “Looking back I probably would have done something more math- or statistics-related as my major instead of humanities, because I miss math and I didn’t really take math in college.”
Usher said she will miss being in an academic environment, which fosters a different sort of learning than the “real world.”
“[I’ll miss] always learning really interesting material. I know in the real world you’re always learning still, but you’re not reading scholarly articles,” she said. “The professors too, because there have been a lot of really good, impactful professors I’ve had that I’ll miss.”
Usher was passionate about what Pitt offered beyond the classroom, including participating in her service fraternity Alpha P hi Omega. She encouraged underclassmen to find their passion in one of the organizations on campus.
“Find that one that suits you and just stick to it and give it your all, because that’s what has kept me sane in college,” she said. “Definitely my favorite experience was joining APO, so that was like the turning point in my college career.”
Rajput was also involved in Greek life at Pitt, recalling her sorority rush for Alpha Epsilon Phi as one of her favorite college experiences. Despite her plans to travel the world next year — hoping to see places like Thailand, Europe and Australia the summer after graduation — she too is reluctant to leave Pitt behind.
“I’m not ready for it,” she said. “It’s going to be very bittersweet because it’s probably going to be the best semester of college, I’m already in grad school, I get to hang out with my friends, but it’s going to go by so fast.”
Closer to home, Rajput said she is excited to try out things in Pittsburgh she had never done before she graduates, such as kayaking and going on Pittsburgh’s inclines. She insisted it is important for students to have a balance between school work and social life.
“Make sure you do your schoolwork, but like wake up early to do your schoolwork to go out,” she said. “Do anything you possibly can to have a good time, because it goes by so fast.”