The Best (And Worst) Things My University Degree Gave Me

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After 4 years of assignments, exams, stressful nights meeting deadlines, and a strike, I have finally completed all of my university classes! I feel relieved, proud, and reflective. Getting my degree has been an experience full of surprises and stress. And I can honestly say that my degree has given me things that I am very grateful for, and things I’d rather leave behind. 

The best things my university degree gave me

In my first year I couldn’t imagine anything good coming out of university for me. I was living in a depressing dorm room and studying in a program I wasn’t passionate about. But, as soon as I switched my major to Professional Writing and gained more confidence in my abilities as a student, things started to look up.

Knowledge

I suppose gaining knowledge from university isn’t a surprise to most, but as I reflect on what I have truly learned throughout my time at school, I can see just how much I have gained.

The bulk of my knowledge I gained at university wasn’t from my classes, but rather the social environment I became a part of. I learned a lot about workplace interactions, systemic power structures, and owning your abilities with confidence. Despite how easy it is for students to be undermined by university faculty, professors, and staff, we are the lifeblood of universities. We generate ideas.

This isn’t to say I didn’t learn from my classes. Because of course, I did! While some classes definitely proved more valuable than others, I did experience my fair share of “ah-ha!” moments in class that will stick with me for a long time.

Mentors

This might be the very best thing my university degree gave me. I was lucky enough to meet a professor who recognized my talents and put time and effort into encouraging me to hone them, along with other faculty members who have genuinely listened to my post-grad dreams and gave me practical and hopeful advice for achieving them.

Having someone that supports your work makes it so much easier to be motivated to do that work. And knowing that I have that continued support as I move forward in my career urges me push myself and continually strive to do exactly what I want with my career.

Work experience in my field

It’s important to recognize when unpaid work is worth it. And in my case, the unpaid work I did throughout my time at university was absolutely worth it. I’ll be honest with you. I had a quite a few stress-induced breakdowns that made me want to give everything up. Students can easily tell you how tiring an agenda full of assignments is. So when you top that off with work and extra-curriculars, you are bound to burn out.

But, now that the specific exhaustion of student existence is in my past, I am glad for the unpaid work I did. I was able to have the opportunity to be a senior editor of two issues of my school’s literary journal. And I participated in two undergraduate conferences at which I presented papers I wrote. As a writer who wants to continue advancing her career, these opportunities were invaluable both for personal growth and my resume.

The worst things my university degree gave me

A.K.A the things that made me question if my degree was worth it more often than not. 

Debt

Surprise! The worst thing my university degree gave me was DEBT. Young people are often urged, sometimes forced, to attend university after high school. Knowing now what I gained from earning my degree makes me certain that I was meant to go to York University. But, post-secondary education (and signing yourself up for the debt that comes with it) isn’t for everyone.

As of 2015, students graduating from a Bachelor’s degree owed an average of $28,000 in student loans. I’ll skip the rant about the ridiculous cost of education, and the criminality of student loan systems. Because, regardless, here I am, dealing with the unpleasant consequence of debt. On a more positive note, the interest rate for Canada Student Loans was recently lowered.

Mental health struggles

Since 2013, the rate of post-secondary students in Ontario that reported feeling too depressed to fully function went up by 40%. Despite the resources schools offer, it is hard to cope with the expectations that come along with being a university student. Not only that, but affording therapy on a student’s budget is nearly impossible for most.

I can’t say that every thing I’ve struggled with emotionally in the past four years is because of university. But it certainly didn’t help and brought a lot more stress into my life than I had previously.

Limits on life experiences

Being in university ties you to a place. And of course, I willingly signed up for that. But, the countless ads on university websites for study abroad experiences definitely gave me a false perception of the adventures I would go on.

Internships and classes abroad don’t come at a small price. Not only that but they only offer specific courses at certain times and with an already full schedule and a list of required courses for my degree, I became pretty tied to York’s campus.

Not only did university limit four years of my travel time, but it did make it harder to feel motivated to go out, spend time with friends, and ultimately just live without school in the back of my mind.

Luckily within the last year I’ve been able to tuck a bit of cash away in a High Interest Savings Account to save for impending travels and friendship reunions!

So, what does my post-grad future hold?

Frankly, I don’t know. But I think that’s okay. After spending most of my time thinking about university in one way or another for the past four years, I’m excited, ready, and only a little bit scared of what the future holds.

Regardless, it will be full of more bests and worsts and I hope the bests are abundant.

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About Author

Professional Writing student at York University, Toronto. Fascinated by the relationship between oppression, mental health, and money. Writer, avid TV watcher, and poetry obsessed. You can support more of her work at patreon.com/emnortonwrites

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