Post-secondary education is one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your life. According to the Government of Canada (2016), full-time students “can expect to pay between $2,500 and $6,500 per year – or more” and that’s just for tuition. On average, full-time students paid $16,600 for the 2014-15 year (Government of Canada, 2016). By traditional standards, what you study in school will likely define your career path and there’s some truth in that – it’s what an education is supposed to help us achieve. We’re taught, and hope, that after spending two-four years in post-secondary education (aside from those pursuing professional school), we’ll end up reaching the goal of landing a good and “stable” job immediately after graduation – bonus points if we happen to love what we do.
In retrospect, as I was graduating from high school, I admit that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue in university. All I knew was that I wanted to help people and that I had interests in business, health, and digital arts – graphic design, photography, and videography. But coming from a science-oriented high school education, I felt like I didn’t have enough expertise or formal education in those interests to invest in them. I didn’t want to make a hasty decision based only on sparks of interest. With my high school science background in mind, I ended up applying to study medical sciences at Western University.
Signs existed but they are always clearer in hindsight. In high school, I knew I didn’t find sciences that appealing but I saw it “as a means to an end” – a career as a physician allows you to help others and I felt that my sciences background would best lead me there. However, as soon as I started taking science courses in university at the first- and second-year levels, I found that I was becoming apathetic to them and soon I wasn’t performing well. However, I was excelling in classes outside the sciences– anthropology, multimedia and communications, and digital creativity (a course that combines innovation in different fields and business) –courses that had elements of my high school interests. Eventually, my performance in first and second year led to some major reflection and I ultimately transferred to York University’s global health program. It’s a program that combines my concerns about social issues and health with technology through my eHealth specialization. Once I started at York, I went all in – while I was involved in other activities at Western, I opened myself up to more of my interests and looked for places where I could explore them at York. I diligently did my readings and participated in class. I was doing well and I finally felt like I had found my fit.
Whether you’re in high school and are considering post-secondary options or already are in post-secondary ed, my advice is: don’t wait until time has passed to start thinking about how what you do now will help create your future. Think about what your interests are. Pay attention to what you’re good at and explore, explore, and explore some more. Go for things that genuinely interest you. But don’t simply go through your activities and courses, reflect on them and realize the knowledge and the kinds of skills, hard and soft, you get from each one. Reflection will help you realize the many ways that you can bring those two together in your career – how to apply what your interests are to what you’re good at.
My Advice to You
As a High School Student
(Public) High school will most likely be the last time that education will be “free” so try out a bunch of different courses and see what you like. Go see your school guidance and/or career counsellor to review the resources they have – career quizzes, brochures, websites, videos, etc., go to presentations about the programs you’re interested in, research well into these programs, and talk to others – friends, students and/or alumni from the program of your choice, teachers, and your family. If you have a specific career in mind, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in the field through your network, on LinkedIn, or at an event. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there but remind yourself of your goal and remember that each interaction teaches you something. Take it step by step and branch out further each time.
As a Post-Secondary Student
What do you do if you’re in a situation similar to mine – you aren’t happy in your program and want to do something about it? What I did, switching programs, isn’t for everyone and it’s a process that can mean more time in school because of courses you’d need to catch up on. Other things to explore include resources and support systems on campus for academic success and mental health. For example, York University has Student Counselling and Development services, peer mentors, Peer Assisted Study Sessions for many of the larger courses, program-specific student associations, and academic advisors. Your classmates, friends, teaching assistants, and teachers are also great resources for help and guidance. You can find a list of self-care resources right here (hyperlink) on our website!
As advised above, explore your interests – join clubs and find communities that you fit comfortably into. And if your major/program feels like it lacks certain topics that you’re interested in, consider doing a minor or taking other courses in something that you’re interested in to diversify your learning experience. This can also be a way to encourage you to get through your other courses. And while it’s good to live in the future – to dream, to work towards your goals, and to remind yourself that time will pass, sometimes gritting your teeth and pushing forward can get overwhelming – I’ve been there. For those moments, and it’s easier said than done, be mindful of the present and beat any bouts of anxiety with counting and breathing exercises or physical exercises – any outlet that can calm you and bring you back to the present.
I don’t regret picking Western and I don’t regret enrolling into a sciences-based high school but I would tell my high school self to genuinely pursue interests and to take the time to cultivate them – whether they were in school or out of it. In a nation-wide study by YouthTruth, a non-profit in the United States, involving 165,000 high school students in more than 260 schools across 31 states, only about 44.8% of respondents felt positive about their college and career readiness (YouthTruth, 2016). Choosing the right post-secondary education and going through it can be scary but it doesn’t have to be.
Dive into school, your interests, and jobs and see where your drive for the work you do takes you. Take care of your academic success but, above all, take care of yourself.
Government of Canada. (2016). Cost of post-secondary education. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/post-secondary/cost.html
YouthTruth. (2016). Learning from student voice: College and career readiness. Retrieved from: http://youthtruthsurvey.org/college-and-career-readiness/