Is university worth it? This question is one that haunts many young adults. Is it worth the time, energy, and money to essentially put your life on hold to do a bachelor’s degree? Is it going to pay off? Would it then help to get a masters degree after your bachelor degree, would that give you an edge; as there are so many people with a degree these days. Then there are those who end up doing their Ph.D. You can get trapped in a cycle of never-ending school if you’re not careful. What I mean is that sometimes people continue to get degrees in order to avoid life, they feel safe in the role of student. But how do you know how much school is enough school? This takes a lot of introspection, which means you need to be honest with yourself regarding who you are and what you want. In short, you need to know what your priorities are before you decide whether or not to go to post-secondary.
What do you want to achieve in life? This is a rather loaded question, I know, but your answer to this largely determines the course of your life. If you want to be a brain surgeon, then yes many years of schooling are necessary. If you want to be an entrepreneur? Eh, maybe. And if you want to be some sort of artist or in a creative field? Perhaps not. In some industries what matters is how well you know your craft. People will care about how well you do your job, not where you got your qualifications from. This allows people to be self-taught, which is an extremely viable option in the age of the internet. On the other hand, in some industries, it really matters that you went to university and got that piece of paper (and the knowledge too). Sometimes it even matters what institution you did this at. So do you need university? It depends on who you are.
There are other factors that you should take into consideration while making your decision about schooling. The first is: what’s your plan B? I would argue that this is the question that trips students up the most (after the question about whether or not to continue their education). Post-secondary is our default option. It’s drilled into us during our entire educational career that we need to go to university. We are told such rhetoric as we won’t be as successful or employable if we don’t go to university. That we’ll be throwing our future away. Now, I don’t believe this line of thinking is correct. It’s true that you’ll be closing some doors if you don’t go to university, but you’ll also inevitably be closing some doors if do you go. This is the nature of choice. To say yes to something, you must say no to something else. Which path is better? Only you can decide and typically you arrive at your conclusion only after the fact.
Let’s advocate for university for a second here. There are many positive aspects to university. Most of them have to do with making your resume look good. First of all, some employers won’t even look at your resume unless you have some sort of post-secondary (preferably at least a bachelors) on there. Because it’s so ingrained in our societal consciousness that the hardworking and dedicated go to university, you’re often not worth the employer’s time unless you’ve done so as well. University is seen as a rite of passage. That in order to reach the world of grown-up working adults you must go through university first. This thinking is false, but let’s continue to go through the pros of university. What are the components of university that make your resume impressive? Normally it’s not the classes itself, but the extracurriculars. Joining clubs or teams, volunteering at charitable organizations, internships or co-ops, studies abroad, etc. All of these things help you look like a conscientious individual. Can you do these things without going to post-secondary? Some of them, yes. The challenge is you still won’t have the certification, which really matters in some sectors. In addition to this, the courses itself can teach you many skills. Depending on what sector you’re wanting to get into, your courses may contain vital knowledge that you’ll need to pursue your career of choice. There’s also the basic foundational skills that everyone needs to learn like how to make deadlines, create a schedule, maintain some sort of self-care regime, learn to deal with stress, take control of our own time, etc. As you can see, university has got a lot going for it.
Before you decide that you absolutely have to attend post-secondary, here are some arguments against it. Firstly, it’s expensive in many senses of the word. You have to analyze the opportunity costs and decide if it’s really worth it for you personally. This is usually 4+ years (emphasis on plus) that you could be doing something else. I’m a firm believer that our most valuable possession is our time. Once we use it, we cannot get it back. Money can be recouped, but time is gone forever. Also, time passes no matter what we do. This is why our priorities are so important. Your priorities should be what you’re spending your time on. Or else this will lead you to an unhappy life. This is rather self-explanatory, but I find that we don’t usually examine our choices in such black and white terms.
So what can you do instead of going to post-secondary? There are so many options, but I’ll talk about just a few here. The first that is near and dear to my heart is travelling. Take a gap year! I didn’t and it’s definitely my number one regret at this point in my life. Take some time to figure out who you are before you’re forced to make huge life decisions. Explore this beautiful earth, meet new people, get out of your comfort zone, and learn something new. I believe that the most important learning takes place outside of the classroom. I’m not saying that this journey will be easy. You’ll go through some growing pains for sure. But the general consensus is that a gap year is an enriching experience that may help you with finding some direction for your life. You can always go back to school if you find that option appealing or viable down the road.
Use this time after high school to really explore yourself. Think about your options. Do you know the purpose for your life? Have you found your Personal Legend (from The Alchemist)? If not, now is a good time to begin your search for it. Try to take have a bunch of different experiences. Explore potential career paths and ways of life. Thinking about becoming a teacher? Go teach your language abroad! Are you a big city dweller or country folk through and through? Do you enjoy being on top of mountains, in the forest, or by the beach? How are you ever going to know if you don’t experience all of the options? Self-discovery is extremely important. People in your world, as well as the faceless form of society, will try to tell you what to do; how to live your life. Listen to their counsel, but don’t be afraid to disregard it if it doesn’t line up with your values. You are in charge of your life. Don’t be passive. You don’t get a do-over if you don’t live this one well. You have one shot, make it count. (If you need some motivation go check out Shut Up and Go. It’s what their whole channel is based on)
So how did I end up on this long rant about post-secondary? Well, midterms just ended and enrollment is just around the corner. I’m in a weird place; a mixture of stress, exhaustion, indifference, and frustration. I visit here often, usually after an exam, between semesters, or in a middle of a breakdown. And when I’m here I reevaluate my life choices, namely my education choices. Do I even want to be in school? Did I pick the right major? Should I take a year off? These questions bounce around in my head again and again. Just so you know a little bit of my background, I’m a second-year business student who has roughly 4 more years left in my degree. Evidently, I decided to go to school. Will it be worth it? I’ll let you know my conclusion after I’ve completed the program. Why did I decide to go? A few reasons, actually. It’s the default option and I wasn’t sure what else I should do after graduating high school. I thought that it would make me more credible and employable. I’m hoping that I’ll gain some transferable skills, especially through studies abroad and co-op. I’m also buying time, hoping that I’ll figure out what I want to do with my life. It’s not that I have no clue; in fact, I have too many goals, too many dreams. I’m hoping the university process will narrow down my options so I can focus on one, like I’m supposed to. I’m not quite sure where this journey is taking me right now. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately.
I encourage you all to really think about why you do the things you do. I think that we often make our choices while on autopilot. We do the things we should do rather than the things we want to. I know I’m all too guilty of this. Here’s the problem with always making the “right” decisions: it’s boring. It makes you just like everyone else, which is a horrible thing to be. Everyone should be their authentic selves. We are all unique and I believe that we need to share our individuality with the world because only we can do so. So take your own uncommon path. You are in charge of your life. So think, plan, and then do!