BY: JESSICA BEUKER
For most of my life I never imagined going to university. At a young age, being as dramatic and theatrical as a kid could be, I wanted to be an actress. At the very least I’d perform on Broadway, or become a novelist or poet, or host a talk show. In grade nine, I told my mom that I likely would not go to university. Even though I was only fourteen, my mom made it clear that I would be going. No buts about it. Throughout my four years of high school the idea grew on me slightly, largely because of the focus and push that my teachers put on higher education. I remember receiving pamphlet after pamphlet for numerous universities and colleges. The one thing they all had in common was the picture on the front: a typical student, plainly dressed in khakis and some sort of wind jacket, carrying a full backpack and a pile of books, laughing cheerfully. These kids looked like they were having the time of their lives. With the pamphlet students smiling brightly at me, and my teachers telling me how university would be the best and most crucial four years of my life, I bought into it. Now, here I am years later, about to graduate from Ryerson University’s journalism program and I can’t help but stress just how much those pamphlets lie.
First of all, university classes are not always what you think. For the most part I liked my journalism classes, they were engaging and interactive, but my electives consisted mostly of reading big, shiny $200 textbooks, and then spinning the information into a big, shiny, 2500 word paper. Regurgitating useless information is not going to help you in life. I took a class called ‘Fairy Tales and Fantasies,’ which was definitely fun, but that fun cost me nearly $50 a class and my acquired knowledge of the Grimm Brothers has never come up in a job interview.
In an article for The Telegraph, Alex Proud writes about how expanding higher education has led to too many useless universities, useless degrees and useless graduates. “When a sizeable chunk of today’s students leave, they discover they’ve been sold a pup,” writes Proud. “Graduate with a Bachelor’s in a soft subject from a low-rent uni and you jump a couple of places in the line for a call-centre job. You’d have been far better off spending the last three years working because by now, you’d probably be a manager in the call centre and you’d have a decent car, not $40,000 in student loans.” Don’t go to university to ‘try things out’ or ‘find what you like’. Undergraduate arts and science classes are too expensive and often too pointless to get you anywhere. If you have no clue what you want to do, my best advice would be to take a year off and work or travel. Find out what your strengths and interests are in a practical way. Do some self-taught learning; everything I learned in my Fairy Tales class is available at the public library for free.
Which brings me to my next point. University pamphlets never tell you just how broke you will be. When I graduate this coming fall, I will be roughly $60,000 in debt. Ontario universities generally pay the highest tuition in Canada, at over $8,000 per year. Plus, the cost of living in downtown Toronto is not cheap. The article, ‘Is University a Waste of Money?’ breaks down some math: “If instead of college or university you graduate from high school and start working immediately, even earning $10 per hour you have earnings of $20,000 per year. After four years you will have earned $80,000, as compared to the student who did not work full time while in school, and paid $50,000 for their education. That’s a $130,000 advantage for the person who didn’t pursue post-secondary education.” Usually, a person with a university degree will acquire a higher paying job over time than someone who does not, however this is never a guarantee.
Another thing that no one tells you is that you may not even use your degree at all. If these four years have taught me anything, it’s that people change. Constantly. My roommate was so passionate about working with a non-profit organization in first-year, only to become even more passionate about nursing in fourth-year. One of my fellow journalism friends went through his first three years loving the program, only to end up hating it come fourth year. He is currently travelling Thailand for the next year and a half and teaching children English. In short, for every five people I know, it seems as though three of them have either changed their majors or done absolutely nothing with their degree.
Or in some cases, the degree has done nothing for them. As I noted above, upon finishing university, a job is not a guarantee. Having a better education does not necessarily mean you will have a better job. This is especially true, given that we are in an age of innovation and ideas. The next Zuckerberg or David Karp, who founded Tumblr, could be standing next to you in line at the grocery store. “Quite simply, great ideas don’t belong in one simple category,” writes Gary Shapiro for Forbes. “Innovators can be any age, come from any background, with any level of education.”
As of now I am still planning to pursue a career in journalism. But I’m aware that that may not be the path I necessarily end up on. I don’t regret my decision to attend university, but I also know that it is largely overrated and not for everyone. Some people find out what they want and don’t want in other non-conventional ways and that’s okay. Don’t let parents or teachers or pamphlets with smiling students tell you that university is the only path to success. Do what works for you and what makes you happy and that’s the biggest success you’ll have.