As graduation approaches, current seniors will brace themselves for the inevitable question: What are your plans for next year?

Many spring semester seniors start to feel pressure to have either graduate school or a job lined up — and to have an answer to that most common Commencement-weekend question.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”14372″ ]

“The nicest thing about having a job at graduation is having an easy answer when people ask what you’re going to do,” Erika Shumate ’06 said. “People want to be able to answer that question to others, not even necessarily to themselves.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, the pressure, only 2 percent of students in the class of 2004 were unemployed a year after graduation, according to the Yale Office of Institutional Research. Furthermore, 2006 graduates who had job offers and those who did not agreed that in retrospect, having a set plan in May does not affect future success.

Jesse Boateng ’06 said he spent his senior year and the following summer narrowing down his options. By August, he had decided he wanted to do nonprofit research for at least a year before law school and began applying to research positions.

By mid-September, he had six interviews and two offers. He is now working at a non-profit philanthropic advisory firm and said he is extremely happy. Current seniors should not feel pressure to secure a plan early, he said.

“The best thing for your mom is having you around, so you’ve got a place to stay until you actually figure out what you want to do,” Boateng said. “Don’t get discouraged — eventually you’ll find what you want or something close to it.”

Unlike Boateng, Abby Reider ’06 had plans when she graduated — to teach at an international school in Costa Rica beginning in August. But she realized soon after graduation that it was not what she wanted to do.

“I was just as insecure as everyone else at graduation and wanted to say I had something to do,” she said. “But I think I knew the whole time the program wasn’t right for me. Instead, I needed time to figure myself out.”

Reider worked for a non-profit over the summer, and then worked at, an environmental online store, in the fall. She left both jobs for different reasons, but said she has learned from both of them.

“Throwing yourself into something, you have nothing to lose,” she said. “You’re going to gain something from every job because you’ll learn about yourself and what you need and want in a job, and that self-knowledge will help you find the right career.”

Reider is currently working with a nonprofit environmental group called the Envirolution with other Yale students and graduates. She is also waitressing to save money to go to Argentina in the spring, and said she is trying not to worry about the future.

Shumate was far ahead of most of her classmates when she started her senior year. She already had a job offer with MMA Financial, a group that finances affordable housing and renewable energy. But she said she did not decide to work there until May, when she visited a new branch in Boston and found it appealing. Though she now works in the company’s new product development division, she said the early offer was in some ways a double-edged sword.

“My senior year, I probably would have been more stressed without the offer,” Shumate said. “But I also worry that I didn’t take enough initiative to look for other options.”

Some graduates with set plans at graduation never look back. Jon Hollis ’06 was committed to playing professional baseball for a few years, and therefore did not pursue any other jobs during his senior year. A scout for the Texas Rangers contacted Hollis during his senior season and again before the draft, and he was drafted by the Rangers in June.

“I definitely had a greater degree of freedom than my peers at times, not having to do the whole job interview and resume circuit,” he said.

Casey Littlefield ’07 was one such senior who spent much of the fall looking for a job. She called the job search process a “whirlwind” and said it was as much work as taking an extra class.

“Emotionally, the process is draining; to put yourself in front of companies and try to present yourself in the best light is overwhelming, and easily can leave you completely demoralized at the end of the day,” Littlefield said in an e-mail.

After the search season, Littlefield received an offer from Mercer Management Consulting, where she expects to work next year. She said that having a plan is a huge relief, because the pressure to determine plans is starting to build as graduation approaches.

But that pressure might be misplaced. Shumate said that a student’s plans at graduation very often say nothing about where he or she will be within six months.

“It’s funny, some of my friends who had jobs lined up really early ended up realizing they made the wrong choice,” she said.

One of her friends who had secured a job at a New York City law firm during her senior year worked there for three weeks and then quit, Shumate said, while another friend who did not start researching jobs until October got a position after his first interview.

Each student places a different priority on finding a job senior year, Shumate said.

“I feel like each person’s comfort level with security is going to drive what they need,” she said.

Cristina Hession ’07 expressed a similar sentiment, saying that while many Yale students feel a lot of pressure to have a post-graduation plan, she is just trying to enjoy her senior year.

“Yale students tend to be perfectionists, and most are not thinking in terms of next year, but in terms of forever,” she said. “It prevents people from trying different occupations to find out what will be the most fulfilling.”

Regardless of their job status at graduation, several ’06 graduates said they would advise seniors to take risks and pursue something they love.

Rowan Reynolds ’06 is spending the year playing minor league tennis, and though he had doubts while everyone was getting jobs, he said he is happy with his decision.

“It’s tough to look at the long run and fend off the pressures of getting a job,” Reynolds said. “But if you can put things in perspective, do what you really enjoy now, because later, that chance may not be there.”