Is university useless? If you’re considering attending post-secondary then you’ve likely asked yourself this very question. And you’ve probably gone back and forth between yes and no. There are a growing number of career paths you can choose that don’t place the same value on a university degree as others did in the past. This means the answer is very specific to what you want to do with your life, and with the growing cost of education, that’s an important thing to figure out before forking over the big bucks.
After graduating from high school, I did what many privileged kids do when they’re not sure what’s next…I went to university.
I was 18, a good student, and completely clueless when it came to a career path. Some of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do; be a firefighter, a teacher, an engineer just like their Dad or a nurse because the parties were better. Then I had friends who had no plan…I fell squarely in that group. I also had parents who highly valued education, both had university degrees, and saved up money in an RESP for me to follow in that path. That meant that the easy decision for me was to go the post-secondary route. And what do 18 years olds with a lack of direction and a strong distaste for math choose as their degree? A bachelor of arts with a major in history and a minor in sociology. Talk about narrowing down the career options! The world is your oyster baby…except for all those jobs that require a slightly more specific level of education.
“What’s the difference between a history degree and a large pizza? One can feed a family of four.”
I liked, maybe even loved, university (except for all the midterms, finals, reading, and term papers). School is kind of my jam, and it surprises me that I haven’t found my way back to grad school already.
Flash forward to the present day, and you’ll find me with a job that relates very little (you could argue not at all) to what I learned in university. Because of that, I’ve been asked more than once if I regret going to school. It’s a valid question. I spent four years of my life and a lot of money to get a degree that has no bearing on my current career. Seems stupid right? But honestly, I don’t regret it one bit. Here’s why…
I Didn’t Pay For It
Here’s my privilege screaming out loud and clear. I was hardly an accurate budget keeper during university, but my best guess places the cost of my university education at around the $25,000 mark. My Dad and his math brain could probably recall that number down to the penny, but let’s not go there. Compared to others, that might not seem like a huge number (it’s still a lot of money though!), but remember, that was in Canada, 10+ years ago, and I lived at home. If I was on my own and had to pay for rent and food that number would be significantly higher.
Looking back from where I’m sitting now, would I still be happy with that degree if I graduated with $25k of student debt? Heck no. I value education. I still think post-secondary is important. It provided me with marketable skills that helped me get and keep a job, but student debt is crushing.
And this is why I can’t recommend post-secondary for everyone. If you know exactly what career path you want then absolutely, get that degree and pursue your dream job. But if you’re like me and feel a little lost; don’t. Don’t force private student loan debt on yourself because you think school is the right thing to do and you’ll find your path. You might, but you might also find your way by taking a year off and working. Positive instead of negative money flow.
Maybe you’re blessed with parents who have saved for your education and strongly encourage you to go. Take advantage of that, but realize how lucky you are and don’t waste it. University is a lot of fun, but make sure you come out with more than new friendships and a masters in beer pong.
An Understanding of Hard Work
University was a wake-up call for me. I coasted through high school pretty easily by doing the bare minimum, but that mentality didn’t cut it anymore. All of a sudden, I had to focus up, finish the readings, participate in class (ugh) and put in hours of studying to maintain good marks.
I couldn’t research and write a 10-page essay on the socioeconomic impacts of cholera in Zimbabwe the night before it was due. I tried…it didn’t go well. Usually, I work well under the pressure of a looming deadline (hello every blog post ever), but that was too much.
University made me a scheduler. I always thought I was organized, but it took on a whole new definition that I’ve maintained even now. Ask anyone who knows me…I’m a planner to a fault. Spontaneity plays a very limited role in my life. If we go on a road trip, I know how long we’re driving, where we’re stopping and have a hotel booked. Fly by the seat of my pants, no thanks. University made me that way; for better or for worse.
My degree may have very little to do with my work, but I give it credit for getting my foot in the door. Like it or not, having that on your resume is never going to be a bad thing. A BA was not a requirement for most of the positions I applied for after I graduated but I’m confident I got more callbacks because of it.
After four years of studying history, I came out with a lot of random knowledge about past world events, but I was also a better writer, reader and communicator. Practice makes perfect as they say, and writing hundreds of pages and reading thousands will bring improvement. You might not think that reading and writing are vital for my finance job, but you’d be wrong. Being able to write a newsletter that puts people at ease when the markets are in a tailspin is a skill. You can be the most brilliant analyst in the world, but if you put out an update packed with industry terminology and grammatical errors, people will skip right over it and judge you harshly.
My Dad recently found a stack of my old university papers in their basement and I skimmed through a few of them. There was a definite change for the better in the tone and delivery of my writing throughout my university career. Those first-year papers are garbage. I honed my skills though, and by the time I graduated my writing had improved substantially.
I grew up in a very white, very middle class, very suburban town. It was safe with good schools and lots of playgrounds, but hardly representative of greater society. University helped break down some of those walls and open me up to a lot of new experiences. I was no longer swayed by the beliefs of my parents and was instead able to create my own set of values based on what I was being taught both in and out of the classroom. The conservatism I grew up with gave way to a more liberal mindset.
I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to experience new things. I didn’t always like it, but that’s ok. My introverted self will never be comfortable doing group presentations, but often the things you hate are the things you need to work at the most. Sitting in a classroom with 50 other kids from different backgrounds gave me insights I would never have gained if I had stayed in my suburban bubble.
To sum up, I don’t regret getting a university degree, but if I had to pay for it myself, I probably would. I hate that I feel that way. I’m such a firm believer in the benefits of a post-secondary education, but when I look where I end up, I just can’t justify the cost, especially considering how much more expensive school is now than when I went.
Your college or university exists in its own bubble. It might be more real than high school, but it’s not quite real life. Remember how you felt walking in on that first day, full of excitement and apprehension. You’ll be dealing with that again when you graduate and have to find a career. Don’t get too comfortable.
The freshman 15 is a real thing. You will drink too much and eat too much junk food (even if your mom still cooks for you). Your social life is half the fun of going to university but do take the education part just as seriously.
Let’s talk about education…Did you go to university or college? Do you regret it? What benefits did it give you? Are you dealing with student loans? Are you on the career path you thought you’d be on?
This post was proofread by Grammarly.