I don't regret my university experience, but I wish I knew these things beforehand.

What I wish I knew before university

As soon as I graduated from Memorial University in 2008, I vowed never to go back to school. I was a bit bitter about my lack of job prospects, yes, but considering I had a BA in English and a diploma in professional writing…what did I expect? (However, I DID find a job, almost immediately. We’ll come to that later.)

I never once doubted in my studies or whether or not I was on the right track. I loved studying literature. I loved writing. I’ve done quite well with it…but not well enough. I get discouraged sometimes. Does the world care about literature anymore? Sometimes, I think not.

Fast-forward seven years, when I’m struggling so hard to make things meet, and I want nothing more than to go back to post-secondary. Not just because I wish for more financial stability, but also because I wish for a career where my work is valued. And I wish to keep learning.

If I had the resources, I’d be studying world history, classical archaeology, and political affairs.

(Yeah, I’m aware that those subjects probably won’t pay the bills either. But I can dream.)

So here I find myself in a conundrum: it’s taken me years to pay off most of my student loans. I’m not willing to go back that route again. I want to make more money, but I need to re-educate myself. In order to do that, I need more money.

Life. It’s a fickle bitch.

I don’t regret any of my educational choices, but I’ve realized the system is flawed. It’s like I’m punished for my desire to learn. And considering the state of the world right now, don’t we need more education?

Although I have no regrets, I’d still do some things differently. Like this.

 I would never have taken out student loans

As far as debt goes, student loans aren’t terrible. Credit debt is what kills you. (Believe me, I know.) But I spent my student loans like they were free money, without thinking too much about the consequences. Mine were higher again because I had to leave home to attend university, and so I had to pay rent, bills, etc.

But my university had reasonable tuition compared to the rest of Canada. I had convinced myself that a job would cut into my studies, but I mean, I also just wanted to party my face off all the time. It was fun.

It really was fun

(Seriously. A lot of fun.)

In my fourth year, I was doing a full-time course load and I picked up a full-time job. I rocked it. I made the honour roll; I graduated with flying colours.

If I had worked through my degree, I wouldn’t be in this position now. Even if it took me longer to finish.

On the other hand, if I were studying a program that meant a pretty guaranteed job prospect upon graduation (medicine, law), I probably would have opted for the loans. It’s harder to pay off $25k when you’re making less than $20k a year than it is to pay off $80k if you’re a doctor.

I would have learned about finance

Finance bores the shit out of me, and probably you, too. But for something that requires a HUGE DEAL of knowledge in our everyday life, why the HELL weren’t we taught anything about it in school? Preferably even before university.

 There was nothing about practical, real-life experience in my education. I would have picked up some simple business courses in university for the hell of it, if I had my time back.

I remember going to a TD Bank recently asking about RSP and TFSAs. The well-meaning woman behind her desk was jolly and friendly, eliciting formalities before launching into a tirade of acronyms and business speak. I was stunned; I literally had no idea how to respond. Like, is this supposed to be common sense?

Living in Germany makes me aware of our stunted finance education more than ever. I can’t think of single German friend who owns a credit card, for example. It’s just not a thing that people encourage.

I would have stopped worrying about boys

Good lord, I was a trainwreck. Enough said.

I would have appreciated this brief but glorious time in my life

I ache so much for education these days.

I’m studying world history from the 1700s and the modern Middle East through Coursera, a free online platform. And I LOVE it. But it’s not the same as being in class, surrounded by books and people and dorky professors.

Although I’d imagine university is a bit different these days. I mean I didn’t even have a smartphone in 2008.

In my fourth year, most of my courses were smaller. Historical fiction discussion took place around small tables. I went to dinner parties with Classics people. But mostly I looked forward to the time when class ended, when I was free.

I don’t think I’d do that anymore. I think I’d soak it up. I think I’d learn better.

all nighter

(Pulled a lot of all-nighters in fourth year. Notice the phone.)


(Proof I actually got some shit done.)

University was one of the most defining periods of my life. I looked forward to it all throughout high school. I met my nearest and dearest friends at MUN. I did my first international travel through university. I had a freaking blast.

If I knew back then, I would have soaked up those experiences a little more.

For all the struggles I have now, I’d still tell myself to study what I want to study. And I encourage anyone who asks me to do the same. I know that if you’re really passionate about something, you’ll make it work. I did get a job straight out of university – it just took me awhile to realize I didn’t want that, either.

I guess I’m writing this post because going back to school has been so much on my mind lately. There are international opportunities for free study abroad, yes, but so far I haven’t been able to track down the courses I’m interested in. Whatever the case, I’m still learning beyond the campus walls.

What would you do differently?

  • December 04 2015

    YOU HAD A DESKTOP??? I can’t get over the depth of that screen. I can relate to a lot of this though. I couldn’t wait for university, but I wish I’d taken the time to really consider what I wanted to study. I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to study what seemed practical, because it didn’t really matter in the end. I studied business and I was SO BORED. I hated it. My favorite classes were JR Tolkien studies and Poetry. So, yea.
    Laura recently posted…Friday Favorites

    • December 08 2015

      Bahahaha, yes! Forever! There was one whole year where I didn’t even have a computer. I had to use the LIBRARY. The insanity.

      You had Tolkien studies?!

  • December 04 2015

    Hi there,

    I’m a new reader and I thought I’d take the time to say ‘you’re great!’, as I also loved this post.

    I actually think in the 1700s they did just study for the sake of studying, when there weren’t courses in Golf Management and Harry Potter (seriously, I googled it).

    • December 08 2015

      Thanks, Jade! :)

      Is there really a Harry Potter course? Hahaha, amazing.

  • December 04 2015

    I understand your thoughts and feelings. Higher education has become a trap in certain parts of the world, especially the U.S. Tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree then fighting 10,000 people for the same job to pay off the tens of thousands in debt. It’s a trap. Definitely go for free education if you can. The system is screwed up. 80% of graduates don’t have a job in the field in which they received their degree. That’s brutal.

    • December 08 2015

      Yeah, I’ve got it pretty good in Canada by comparison to what U.S. tuition fees are like. :-/

  • December 04 2015

    So interesting to read your thoughts on university because I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, too. Luckily, I didn’t have any student loans, but I did drop out after my third year. I’ve been considering going back to finish it, but I don’t want to pay a lot of money, and I don’t want to go live in Newfoundland. I might try to do as many courses as I can online, in the hopes of only having to move back for one semester.

    But then I also wonder, is there really a point? I’d have a BA in PoliSci, and where would that get me? Would my time be better spent just learning about the things I’m interested in, instead of trying to complete a degree that may end up just being a piece of paper rather than something that really helps me move forward in my life?

    It’s a tough decision, so I completely understand where your mind is. Why can’t decisions be easier, and why does education have to have such a high price tag?

    Also, Laura: You had Tolkien studies? I would’ve loved to have a course like that.

    • December 08 2015

      Undergrads these days seem to be a stepping stone to MAs and PhDs. I wonder how well Canadian credits transfer abroad?

  • December 05 2015

    I went back to grad school in my early thirties, and it was a waaaayyyy different story from undergrad. I had to work two jobs for two years before I was able to quit my full-time job and go back to school, so I took that shizz seriously. I studied like a maniac and ended up with a 4.0 when I graduated with my Master’s. Meanwhile, undergrad? Not so much. I worked part-time jobs throughout undergrad, but I’m pretty sure all that money went to booze and late night Papa John’s runs and not to things like, say, savings. And I mostly bullshitted my way through classes — luckily I was a creative writing major so I was pretty good at the bullshit, but, seriously, I could have studied a bit more.
    I’m not sure how grad school works in Canada or other parts of the world, but I will say grad school was significantly cheaper than undergrad for me. Not only was the tuition a lot lower, but during my second year I was able to pick up a teaching assistantship which paid for my entire tuition and gave me a small stipend. So, overall, I think I ended up with only about $4,000 in student loans (as compared to the $20,000+ craziness of undergrad student loans). So maybe something like that is an option?
    Also if you work at a university, you get significant discounts on classes (and sometimes they’re even free). The university I currently work at allows full-time faculty and staff to take one class per semester for free. I’m seriously considering applying for the MFA in Creative Writing program… at one class per semester, it would take me FOREVER, but FREE!
    Sally recently posted…Random Stuff List

    • December 08 2015

      Eep! Yeah it’d be pretty weird to sit in a class with a bunch of 20 year olds, hahaha.

      Your tuition was lower in undergrad?! I’m not sure how it works with MAs in Canada. At a lot of universities, you can supplement your studies with research grants and being a teacher’s aid, etc. So same kind of thing.

      I applied to do my MFA at two schools but then I decided against it because OMGGG tuition. One school (in the U.S.) was like, $40k.

  • December 08 2015

    I went to the University of Ottawa for Theatre, and while I loved it so much and wouldn’t change a thing, I’m now feeling the weight of that degree and how unlikely it is to get a decent paying job. I’m now living in Vancouver and everything theatre related seems to be volunteer work or very low paying jobs, so I’m working retail, barely making ends meet, and I’m pretty sure my student loans will never be paid off.
    It’s stressful, but I loved university!
    Brooklyn recently posted…Blogging When Sick

    • December 09 2015

      Yeah, seems to be a worldwide problem in the arts, really. :( I like that I was discouraged from getting a trade at a college because I was more “academic,” and yet those people who pursued such trades are now far better off than I am, haha.

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