Fifth Year Fever

With academic programs changing from year to year, many students are taking an extra year to complete their undergraduate degree. While the dreaded “fifth year” or “victory lap” might carry somewhat of a stigma, many students are using their extra time on their college campuses to set a strong framework for life after college all while having a little fun along the way.

Rachel Wilson is a 22-year-old graduate student at UM who chose to stay in Oxford for a fifth year in order to complete an expedited master’s degree in Accounting. As she explains in the following Q&A, her extra time in Oxford has not only given her a perspective through which she can more fully appreciate her undergraduate years, but it has also allowed her to understand how to more effectively prepare herself for a career after grad school.

Illustration of a student caught between college and the real world. By Jake Thrasher.

William: So why did you decide to stay in Oxford after graduation?

Rachel: I decided to stay in Oxford because I’m an accounting major. I’m from Tupelo. In-state tuition for graduate school helps out a lot especially if you get in assistantship. I don’t have to pay that much money per semester so it helps out my family and myself. So, the first couple months were kind of awful because every time you see someone it wasn’t like, “Hey how are you?” It was like, “Oh my gosh, what are you still doing here?!” And like I think they meant it in like a happy way that they were pleasantly surprised I was there, but it came off very abrasive, very rude, very like, “Why are you here?” And I’m like, “I’m in school.” Like if you know me, you know what my major is, you know? So that was kind of annoying, and then once someone was like, “Are you finishing up your degree in marketing?” and I said, “No. I’m not.” I was kind of pleasantly surprised that people didn’t think I was an accounting major because you know people think we’re pretty boring. So it’s kind of nice that people thought that I was a fifth-year marketing major.

William: Now, did you have to go to grad school?

Rachel: I didn’t. So you have to have 150 hours to be a certified public accountant. A lot of people who have had to take the next year, like maybe change their major or something, had 150 hours, and they graduated or they double major. I think if you double major you have to have 150ish hours, but I graduated with like 120 something, so I could have either done just one semester of school, which would be dumb, you know, might as well get a master’s degree and go one more semester, and I get paid more for the company I’m working for if I have a master’s. So it kind of helps. It’s really great.

William:  A lot of people do the grad program, right? That’s like a big thing to do for accounting?

Rachel: Yeah there’s like a hundred-something people in our class for accounting. So we have a lot of people that I’ve had classes with the past three years that are in all my classes now so it’s not that bad finding people to hang out with on the weekend or getting drinks with people and going out to eat, and you’re pretty busy.

Cady: How is the classwork different?

Rachel: Graduate school is surprisingly a lot easier to manage than undergrad, and it could be from lack of extracurricular commitments maybe like I don’t do anything else besides school now. So when I’m studying I don’t take a break to go to this meeting and then work for another hour and then take a break and go to chapter and then, you know, it’s kind of exciting, more focused and then you’re only in 12 hours each semester which makes it a lot easier because you know most of us are in like 15 hours. And the classes aren’t that bad either. It’s a lot better. Mental health was at an all-time high this year, which is surprising. I thought it was going to be way worse. Last semester was probably the best semester I’ve had in three years or so.

William: So have your friends changed? Obviously a lot of your friends graduated.

Rachel: So most of my best friends from college aren’t here anymore. But the use of technology makes it easy to stay in touch. I got to see most people at least once a semester either visiting them or them coming here.

William: Did you feel like you needed to get a pet or anything?

Rachel: I didn’t get one this year, but I got a pet last year, my sweet cat Mozzie, who is my whole world.

Cady: What does Mozzie stand for exactly?

Rachel: Maserati. His name is Maserati Wilson. He is so beautiful. Just a stray. ADOPT, DON’T SHOP! He’s on Instagram @mozzie_tov. Like mazel tov! He’s Jewish, but he’s too young to understand it all.

William: So you’re hanging out with more people from your graduate program?

Rachel: Yes, I’m hanging out with more people from my grad program and then a couple friends still here that aren’t in accounting. I think being here one extra year is not that bad. If I had to be here for more than one extra year, it might be different. Because I feel like the year after graduation, a lot of people come and visit. So, I’ve gotten to see a lot of my friends like who can’t let it go yet. But if I was here next year I feel like I would get less and less visitors, a little more desolate. And there’s also like nobody here that you can really date because like the law school people hang out with themselves, and the pharmacy people hang out with themselves and the accounting people hang out with themselves. And I personally don’t want to hook up with anyone in the accounting school where I have every single class with them, you know, every day and like even to like go on a date or something with them; it goes bad; like you see them, you know?

William: So it’s a little bit of a smaller community, school-wise?

Rachel: Yeah. It’s a lot harder like, but I mean I’m kind of fine with that because I’m moving, and I’m not looking for someone. But it does get lonely. There was some boy, the love of my life. So we ended up together after the Alabama game this year, and for some reason I assume he’s from Alabama or had gone to Ole Miss at one point. Neither of those is true. He had never gone to Ole Miss or Alabama, and he went to some small liberal arts school in like Virginia or something and lives in D.C., and I found out like a month later that he was dating someone at the time that we hooked up, and they still date now. And so when I found out I was like crying and being like, “Should I write her a letter? Like should I tell her I’m sorry? Ugh, she’ll never know.” His profile picture was like him in a striped sweater on a boat. Yeah, so obviously his fault. I don’t really feel bad about it. It’s not like there’s any possible chance of us being friends or seeing each other ever again.

William: From the sound of it, you are a woman scorned. I can understand avoiding the men of Oxford. And you’re moving to New York, right?

Rachel: In September. Pretty pumped up. Yeah I’m very excited. I think it’s the only thing keeping me sane. It really cuts down on stress too knowing I have a job.

Cady: When did you get it?

Rachel: In accounting we go on an internship senior year and at the end of it if you do a good job usually you get offered like a full-time offer which is just contingent on you graduating and maintaining a certain GPA and stuff. So I found out last March. Then I got like all the paperwork over the summer and signed and everything. So. Excited. That cuts out stress to feel like, you know, your senior year of college, you’re kind of stressed applying for grad schools or applying for jobs and you can’t even just focus on school, and people say, “Oh, take it day by day,” but you actually can’t because every quiz you get back, every homework assignment, every video that you have to submit if you have a project or something is a grade and that affects like  your transcript and that affects your jobs, your internships or your graduate school entry and so stressful to have that much weight on like every single assignment. Where it’s a lot easier to relax now knowing it’s OK if I make a B in this class because I just need to have like a 3.0.

Cady: How did you get the internship?

Rachel: So the accounting school is a really good accounting school here which is surprising because there isn’t really an accounting industry in Mississippi. So we have all these recruiters from top firms come to Ole Miss and host these interviews. And so I did these interviews for this thing called some leadership program or something. And so then it’s basically like you apply for these programs and you go to their offices, and it’s like a three-day interview basically where you’re doing these team building exercises, and they’re watching every move you make. And then I got offered from three of the four firms to do the internship, and then you have to like pick which place you want to go. Which is kind of harder than you think because they’re all really the same but for some reason you’re like, “Oh no, this one makes one more thousand dollars a year than this or something.” I ended up just picking this one firm I went to where there was a partner from Ole Miss at the firm. So I feel like that’s a better connection, you know. Like get in and know somebody pretty high up there. Which it worked out because I was like, “Oh this is the industry I want to work with.” He got me on the best accounts. Probably that’s why I got a job, you know. Yeah it really helps. It is about who you know a lot of times.

William: So fun stuff—do you go out more or less?

Rachel:  Surprisingly, more than I did senior year because I was less busy.I don’t go out much on weekdays, but I didn’t do that ever because I just can’t get to class after drinking all that. Except I did freshman year. But not after freshman year. I went out more this year than last year probably just from being less stressed. And it’s kind of a mixture of things like you know less people so you’re like what’s going out, if I know less people but then you’re like, “Who cares if I get really drunk or like do something stupid because I know less people, and like you’re not worried about, “Oh I wore this thing like two weeks ago. I can’t re-wear it,” because you’re just with like people you know well who don’t care. You know it’s kind of a nicer feeling to go out and not feel a lot of pressure to like be social climbing, I guess. Which I guess a lot of people don’t care about that maybe it’s just me being basic.

William: Where do you go out?

Rachel: I go to the local Library, but I don’t know why because I don’t really like it that much. I think it’s just where everyone is. I go to the Summit, Bouré, and City Grocery way more than anywhere. And then once I’m there, and I’ve had a couple of drinks, and someone is like, “Let’s go to The Library.” I’ll say, “Yeah sure.” Before that I’m like, “I’m not going to go there, that’s so stupid. Like why would I go there?” Then two drinks later, there I am, front row for The Mustache Band singing “Earl Had to Die.” Like why does this happen? I actually hate The Mustache Band. It’s so overrated. So everyone’s like, “Oh, we have to go the Library tonight, The Mustache Band is there, but they say that every other week. The Mustache Band is always here. It’s not a special occasion. It’s not like you got front row seats to Beyoncé. I like Rafter’s, but I don’t go there as much because it’s all like 19-year-olds somehow. When I was 19 and trying to get into Rafter’s, I got denied there all the time, and I just want to know where the strict security is? Who’s regulating this? Who’s letting them in? I am a concerned parent.

Cady: I worked at Rowdy Rebs for a while last semester.

Rachel: I wish I could go to Rowdy Rebs now. I wish it would have been a thing when I was like a freshman. I would have only gone there. It’s rowdy. Better, it’s like the perfect amount of ratchet for me as a freshman, but not now. I’d probably have an aneurysm.

Cady: It’s really sweaty. There’s no windows at all.

William: What was football season like post graduation?

Rachel: Well, I couldn’t get tickets. I didn’t go into one football game this whole season because I didn’t technically graduate until August, so I couldn’t sign up for my grad school classes, and you can’t get students tickets until you have like a fall schedule. So that was a bummer, but you know I enjoyed the games from the bars. I got really drunk. It wasn’t even that good of a football season.

William: Tell us a little bit about the Alabama game as a fifth-year.

Rachel: So it was a little different because I was just with a small group of people. I had a friend from out of town. We just kind of hung out in the Grove and got a late start, but that didn’t stop us. So then we get to the bars because I was with fewer people I guess, and I felt a little insecure. I was verbally aggressive with many Alabama fans. I went up to them and wrapped my arms around them and congratulated them. And they got really mad. This girl started calling me a certain name. And she starts screaming about national championships which I don’t know what that is. As an Ole Miss fan, I’ve never experienced that emotion. I was very confused by her angst towards me because all I was doing was just congratulating them on beating the 19th best team in the nation which is a pretty big feat. All of my Snapchat story was of me going up to them saying, “Congratulations on beating the 19th best team!”

William: You’re rowdy. Ha ha! So you’re you glad you did it? You’re glad you stayed?

Rachel: I’m glad. Yeah, I am. It’s nice. It’s inexpensive to go to school here for another year, and I needed to get my master’s, so that was a pro. It’s given me more time to really just enjoy the town of Oxford. You know like, I go eat by myself, or like just one-on-one time with people, or go eat more than I used to like go to a lot of coffee shops and walk around and shop a lot more where I didn’t do that as much in undergrad. When you’re not in a big group of people you have more time to be an individual which I guess is common sense to people, but I’m slowly but surely figuring out 22 years of life. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot this year. And I’ve got a better understanding of myself. I also wasn’t really ready to leave here last year, but now that it slowed down I really appreciate Oxford, and I think I will miss it all, I guess.

This article was originally written for The Ole Miss 2017: “Mississippi Magnolia”. The yearbook will be released on April 24, 2017.