“I know there’s a lot of pressure to go to university,” says Paul Bowman, a career counsellor at Queen’s University. He stresses that despite this pressure, students need to consider all their options before deciding what to do after high school graduation. Along with college or trades, university is just one path you can choose towards your future. The trick though is choosing the path that’s right for you, and knowing when to take the initiative along the way.
As Bowman explains, “[Students] really have to think about what their learning style is, what their career goals and aspirations are, what their interests are, and what their aptitudes are.” Choosing a post-secondary institute is just like shopping for clothes: it’s about finding the right fit and what best reflects your personality. That means getting out there and visiting campuses, talking to students and instructors, and learning about the programs and opportunities the school has available for you. “[Some students] just come here because that’s what they’re told they’re supposed to do,” says Bowman, “they’ve got good marks in high school, therefore you go to university. And many students who don’t know why they’re here drift and bounce around from program to program. There are many students who probably would have been better off to take some time away before going to university, or perhaps considering other options, such as college programs.” Class sizes can be fairly large the first couple of years, a turn-off for students that want to connect with professors more personally. Because of this, he asks students to consider college as well, which offers just as many opportunities for a professional career.
Also, the integrity of the bachelor’s degree is now being questioned. Due to larger classes and the state of the economy, many BA-holders are complementing their degree with college programs, or simply heading into a completely different career from what they’ve studied for. “I’ve seen students who’ve gone into careers in advertising and marketing, but have degrees in political science.
“Certainly for professional programs, the employment rates are very high,” says Bowman. After all, one of the key reasons why people go to university is to put themselves in demand for employment (at least now it is). For those seeking non-professional programs, like a bachelor in arts or history, you would want to look at internships to gain that crucial field experience, including summer positions, and community involvement. “A degree is one piece of the puzzle,” continues Bowman, “but there’re other factors as well.”
Whether or not university is better than college, or if it’s the other way around, is irrelevant. It largely depends on what you’re taking, why you’re taking it, and what you’re doing outside the classroom to make the most of it. But the advantages that university offers are the professional programs and theoretical practices that will always be important. “It’s not enough to know how to do something; it’s also important to understand the why and the context. So the theory gives a broader framework, and also makes it possible for people to be able to see opportunities and possibilities for applications that might not otherwise be obvious.” If you want to be an intensely brooding doctor like something out of Grey’s Anatomy, or a hotshot sophisticated lawyer, you’ll have to go to university. “But aside from the professional programs,” says Bowman, “what a good, solid university education does is broaden your horizons, challenge you personally as well as academically, and really make you prepared to be a global citizen.”