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Lately, I’ve been having the same conversation on repeat. It doesn’t matter whom I’m talking to or where I am, everyone loves asking the same question: “Do you have plans for next year?”

This question has become such a sore spot for so many seniors at this point in the year that most will flat out preempt it with “I know this is the question we’re not supposed to ask each other but…”

Now it’s not how you ask that bothers me. In fact, unlike most, I don’t even mind being asked. What bothers me is the response I often get when I tell someone my plans are still up in the air — the look of slight pity and concern that I still don’t have my life completely figured out, followed by a weak, “Sorry I asked.”

That response embodies an attitude toward our futures that I don’t like. For the first time, the next step in our lives is not predetermined. There’s no obvious path ahead like high school or college. Our future is entirely up to us, and we have to work for it. This makes me as nervous as the next person.

But I’m tired of everyone acting like we should all have our dream jobs completely figured out by now. Because the majority of us don’t. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Figuring out our futures is a very personal process. Sometimes, it can feel a lot like taking a sixth class. The constant stress of being behind and not having done every possible thing is comparable to that feeling I get when I think about my class readings.

Unlike our classes, however, we tend to go through this alone, constantly feeling behind the pack. This year, it’s especially tough thanks to the economy. And, of course, it’s all made more stressful by being at a school with such a pre-professional focus.

When Career Services Senior Associate Director Barbara Hewitt used to work at a more “liberal-arts focused school,” she found that the general stress level surrounding the job hunt was not nearly as pronounced as it is at Penn. Here, we look at the students who have already secured well-paid Wall Street or engineering jobs for next year and immediately start to feel like we’re behind.

For the most part, this feeling is not founded in truth.

“A lot of industries just don’t make offers that early,” said Hewitt. “If you wanted to go into advertising, it’s very unlikely that you would get an offer until much closer to graduation.”

The same can be said of communications, entertainment and many other fields. Furthermore, small firms tend to hire later in the game because they don’t usually know how many people they want to hire in the fall. Ultimately, many opportunities (especially for liberal-arts students) are not even available until March or April.

Nonetheless, well over half of my friends are starting to reach panic mode. Because they aren’t involved in the visibly stressful process of On-Campus Recruitment and don’t have their dream job yet, they feel that, somewhere along the road, they’ve messed up. They got behind the game. They put their futures in jeopardy.

It doesn’t help that we all came to Penn naively wishing that the Penn seal on our diplomas would automatically earn us six figures in our first year. The truth of it is that, in this economy, it’s extremely difficult to find your perfect job. In fact, many graduates are taking on internships before finding a more permanent job. We’re all quick to forget (myself included) that our first job will not be our last.

So next time I get asked what my plans are next year (which will probably be within the next 12 hours), there will be no sheepish avoidance of the question. I don’t mind talking about it because not having plans yet isn’t such a bad thing. Right now, I get to figure out the rest of my life. It’s daunting. It’s stressful. But, even when it feels like everyone else has it figured out, I know that I’m not alone. And neither are you.

Juliette Mullin is a College senior from Portland, Ore. She is the former Executive Editor of the DP and editor of The Report Card. Her e-mail address is In Case You Missed Me appears on Tuesdays.

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