Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Self-doubting college senior needs a change of pace
Panicsville: I'm going to be a senior in college, and I'm freaking out about The Future. I did great in high school, got into a really good college (probably because they thought it'd be amusing to have someone from Kansas), and did really mediocre-ly in college for reasons I'm still trying to understand. Part of it has to do with depression and medical problems, but a lot of it is my personal shortcomings.
I never failed anything, but I don't think my grades or qualifications are good enough to go to grad school in science, which had been my plan. Even if they are good enough, I lack the confidence in my worth as a scientist to make grad school something I want to pursue.
I see plenty of talented, accomplished people unable to find jobs in this economy, which makes prospects look hopeless for me. I'm passionate about a lot of things, but have never stuck with any one thing long enough to be a real asset to anyone. So now I'm becoming paralyzed by the thought that I lack the ability to make something of myself.
Carolyn: You got into a really good college because you stood out.
You had medical problems while you were there.
These are both a part of you — traits that make you stand out, and a susceptibility to self-doubt and depression. If you're going to put together a workable plan for the next few years (and beyond), it'll only work if you include all truths about yourself, instead of cherry-picking the ones closest at hand.
More information to add: Life is long. Sure, a stellar transcript can get you started, but pretty quickly, your work and life experiences will displace grades as a career asset.
More information: Grad school doesn't sound like your ideal next step anyway. You struggled in the academic environment (please note, this is not the same thing as struggling academically, though they do often go hand-in-hand). You've been in school all your life, and you find yourself unhappy and unsure.
That, to me, says it's time to change your environment, to see what else the world offers, and what it can teach you about yourself.
You can get yourself into the working world, even in a field that doesn't lead anywhere special. Your basic, entry-level job can: pay you; teach you about professional behavior and pitfalls; teach you to manage your money; introduce you to people of a range of ages versus just students/peers; finance travel to areas that interest you; feed you while you pursue volunteer work in a field that does excite you; focus your mind on something practical to displace the navel-gazing that collegiate life allows; and ultimately help you clear your head.
All you have to do to get these is set your goals at saving money, developing perspective and accumulating work experience. That's it.
Once you achieve that, and if grad school still appeals to you, then you can take the prerequisite courses and tests as a more mature, focused student, and apply as a stronger candidate.
So really the focus of your attention should not be inward at your soul, but outward at your college's career office. Get in touch with your practical self. Good luck.