Life as a "Fifth Year" Senior

Author: Randi McQueen

Hello, my name is Randi McQueen, and I am a fifth year Architecture and French Major here at Notre Dame...

This is how I begin my tour guide introduction, and I can’t help but wonder if the prospective students and their families in the audience judge me for my response. Of course, they have just endured an hour-long information session, which does include a short phrase about the Architecture major being one of a select few programs that requires five full years of undergraduate studies. However, it is unlikely that every single person remembers such a small detail about a particular major by the end of the session.

Graduation 1

Being a fifth year Architecture major is initially an isolating experience to say the least. Last May, I witnessed my best friends graduate in the stadium while I watched with their parents from the sidelines.  It was a difficult time for me knowing that while I did get to enjoy one more year Notre Dame, I would have to do it without all of the people that made it feel like home to me.

When I meet someone new, usually outside of Notre Dame, I definitely feel a stigma attached to the phrase “fifth year” that I try to remedy by quickly explaining my unique program. Typically, fifth year students are seen as slackers or underachievers, but over 95% percent of Notre Dame students graduate in four or five years, depending on the program.  In addition, since I am not a graduate student, that puts me and only 34 other fifth year architecture majors in a unique category of undergraduate “seniors” obtaining singular Bachelor’s degrees.

Having a solid group of friends with diverse interests and majors outside of the School of Architecture has always been a blessing to me. One of my favorite memories was racing to North Dining Hall most of my sophomore year to meet all of my friends for 5pm dinner following my four hour long studio design class (which also ended exactly at 5pm). Leaving the stress of Bond Hall to be with a completely different crowd was rejuvenating. I miss moments like that the most.

But after being here for over 5 weeks, I’ve learned that being a fifth year student does have some benefits as well.  Unlike other typical “fourth year seniors,” I inherently carry with me another full year of experiences, both good and bad. I feel more mature, and I have many more responsibilities as an older undergraduate student.

Drawing1 Class

For example, I have had the incredible opportunity to be a TA for the first year Drawing I course taught in Bond Hall. This is the very first class upcoming architecture majors must pass, and I thoroughly enjoy being a mentor for 6 younger students as they experience what it means to study architecture. I still vividly remember the expertise, knowledge, and professionalism of my old TA when I was a first year, and it motivates me to do everything I can to prepare my small group of students for the challenges of becoming an architect.

While my old friends have moved on to law school, graduate school, and full time jobs everywhere from California to New York, I am adjusting in my own way here in South Bend. Even though it’s only been about a month, I have already begun to embrace the “fifth year” title. By serving as a mentor and a leader in both the School of Architecture and Notre Dame at large, I am eager to share my experiences and knowledge to guide others along the path to graduation.