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Seniors should be able to stop prioritizing academics

It was 12:22 A.M. on a Thursday night when I got the notification reminding me that I had an annotated bibliography due in less than 24 hours that had completely fallen off my radar.

Naturally, I hadn’t started it yet. I had spent around 12 hours of that day working, between going to class, doing homework, working on an assignment for my internship and researching an independent project. Then, after I got home, I had worked on my project for another hour before cooking a very late dinner and heading to bed around midnight. The days preceding that had looked similar, composed of a miscellany of classes, homework, meetings, work and, of course, lots and lots of writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast. Since I was nine, I’ve dreamed of being a writer, and over the past few years, that dream had slowly solidified into a reality in which I get paid to write things I’m genuinely passionate about. Even after my 11-hour days, I still feel invigorated, constantly seeking out the next story and feeling thrilled whenever a new idea is able to take root.

It’s all I think about, which sometimes means that schoolwork falls to the wayside, as it did on that fateful Thursday night.

The panic quickly set in. Friday was booked with meetings from morning to evening, and I had plans with friends at night that had been so hard to schedule that I was reluctant to cancel. And while I’m not such an anxious person that I thought that turning this assignment in late would cost me my grade, I was worried that this would be an indication of the rest of the semester. If I could completely forget about one assignment, who’s to say I wouldn’t forget about two? Five? And what about the classes where the teachers were real sticklers about deadlines? Could I get away with being this careless in those classes?

Rest assured, I did turn the assignment in, though it meant I was still writing for about an hour after my friends came over. Since then, though, I’ve missed a handful of assignments and classes in the interest of keeping up with my outside work. But those weren’t moments of forgetfulness or oversight, as the incident with the annotated bibliography. I recently decided that in my last semester at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I would place gaining work experience and expanding my portfolio above all else on my list of priorities.

So far, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in college.

When I graduate, the last thing potential employers are going to care about is whether I aced every test in my final semester of college. They’re not going to care whether I dutifully attended a few largely irrelevant classes every week, and they’re certainly not going to care whether I rolled up late to class one time because I deemed my daily latte more important than the first two minutes of lecture.

What they are going to care about is my portfolio and seeing that I’ve put my utmost effort and care into every article I’ve published. This — or some variation of it — is true across most, if not all, majors. Will a B in an elective matter if your lab PI is so impressed by your work ethic that he passes your info on to his colleagues? If the work you do at your internship is so remarkable that you get offered a full-time position after your graduation? If your independent research becomes the singular element of your graduate school application that puts you above your competition?

This isn’t to say that college seniors should be slacking off in school entirely — though, as the adage goes, Cs do, indeed, get degrees. But your last few months of school are the only opportunity you have to start transitioning from college student to working adult, and if you spend it all studying for quizzes in that one general education course you put off for four years (looking at you, lab science credit!), you’re going to end up behind.

The onus to free seniors of their academic shackles (or at least to loosen them up a bit) doesn’t fall only on the students themselves, though. Professors, too, need to understand this restructuring of priorities and be willing to give students leeway in situations where doing so will help them in the long run. I’m fortunate enough that three — yes, three! — of my professors this semester have allowed me to miss class, without penalty, to conduct a few hard-to-schedule interviews.

But, honestly, before the first one, I was terrified to even ask. It seemed like such an unreasonable request at the time: “Please, exempt me from your attendance policy, which is laid out clearly in the syllabus, so that I can miss class to go do something else.” It felt like it should be offensive to them, like it was an insult to the quality of their classes to work on an extracurricular project in their stead.

But all three said “yes,” presumably because they are reasonable people who could tell from my description of the project that it was important to me, that it was important to my education and that it was, in some small but valuable way, important to my future.

I was relieved, if not overjoyed. The only thing that deflated me was knowing that there are likely dozens of professors on this campus who would not have honored that request, thinking that their 200-level philosophy lecture deserved to be the sole focus of my Wednesday afternoon.

So, future seniors, bearing in mind that not every professor will be happy about it, bearing in mind that it might result in a slight drop in your GPA and bearing in mind that it will probably feel wrong, here is my advice to you: Let your academics be your last priority. Let the things that matter to you take up the bulk of your time. If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, do what I could not and let a few bibliographies go unannotated. Your last semester of college can be your best if you make it so.