According to our parents’ generation the key to having a successful future is getting ahead; which in their days translate directly to “go to university.” However many things have changed in the last thirty years or so. Today, everybody goes to university, and if not they could have. The campus, which once meant something elitist and almost intimidating, is now a playground for youth, and the student union building: a cafeteria with an ATM. On one hand more people are finding ways to succeed without a university degree. Anybody can have a start up with just a killer 12-page business plan and a prodigal angle investor. On the other hand if you speak to anybody who has graduated in the past 15 years they will tell you that your undergraduate degree is completely useless. “Your first job probably won’t have anything to do with political science or psychology.” In 2016 universities are taking on a cultural role of a young adult daycare. With their 9-5 and an extra $40K in the bank account parents have the perfect guilt-free excuse to get their lazy 18 year olds off of their couch and on their own asses. Though the question remains: does the fact that university has lost it’s elitism both customarily and scholastically make it a more essential step in reaching adulthood, or is it becoming something that one could bypass without consequence.
Story of my university career so far:
I enrolled at Western University first year in Business Management and Organization (still makes me chuckle) as prerequisite for my conditional acceptance to Ivey Business School. So as long as I maintain an 80 average in my first two year I can start third year at Ivey and graduated with an elitist business degree after forth year. I never wanted a business degree but long story short my dad did and I wanted to make him happy so I guess I kinda did.
The 80 average should be a piece of cake for somebody with a 4.20 GPA in high school, right? wrong. It is not until I got to Western that I realized pretty much everybody had that conditional offer… awkward. To be frank my degree of choice at that time was Global Studies. I was really into service club in high school and had a strong passion for domestic social changes. As cliché as it is, I wanted to make changes, be the change I wanted to see in the world.
So in addition signed up for Introduction to Global Studies and some other classes on NGOs and other nice crap… “Hey maybe I can do a double major, that’s pretty GNARLY” I thought ambitiously out loud to my father. This was the seed that spawned my underlying motive to major in anything but business by forth year. All I need to do now is make sure I don’t have that 80 average so I don’t have to deliberately choose to opt out of a stable future and job security.
First semester came. Kate, my global studies professor taught me all I needed to know about trying to change the world: I won’t (or at least not by going on a summer long service trip to Tanzania or donating my bucks to Unicef). And so first semester went and I dropped out of all the rest of the global studies crap and went looking for a new major.
On my search I came across Anthropology 1027: Introduction to Linguistics. After a few weeks I stopped going to class because I didn’t understand a thing. Only if you’ve taken Linguistics you’d know what I mean. We started with phonetics and literally to me all I heard was BA BA BA GA GA PA PA PA. It was difficult but eventually I came to live with the fact that I will not be majoring in Anthro/Linguistics… After all life is sometimes about knowing when to give up.
First year ended and I’d realized that with all the experimentation and soul searching I was doing, I’d have to work a LOT harder next year to maintain that 80 average now that I don’t have a “fun” major to fall back on. (Note: here is the first count of how I’ve wasted $7k.)
Luckily I had scored a 5 on my AP Psych exam in high school… And you guessed it I transferred into Psychology meanwhile taking the business prerequisite. I convinced my dad it was to keep up my grades; in his mind I was still a business major. I had no intention of graduating with a psych degree and so I went through the year dreading the question “What are you majoring in?” I also got involved in the English department’s production of Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women for credit and took a class in musical theater. In first semester I had 9 hours of class a week plus 6-15 hours rehearsal and an online psych stats course. And there went another $7k (giving my father a total or $14k he’s never getting back).
During second year theatre rehearsals became my life, and musicals my soundtrack. I decided to go into third year majoring in THEATRE STUDIES. In addition to the annual travelling I do in the summer I also took the English prerequisites, an intensive Shakespeare course, and went through an acting workshop at an additional cost of $2,500. $16.5k later (plus $7k third year tuition already paid in full) and I’m feeling confident I have found my life’s purpose.
At this point my father is just glad I’ve chosen something. My mother on the other hand, still tells people I’m majoring in business but just a little off track at the moment. Though I will take that over my grandmother telling my relatives that I rejected medical school any day.
What about Ivey? Though not landing anywhere close to an 80 average, I was offered an online interview. Frankly I couldn’t go through with it because of my business school phobia. I gave Ivey the worst online interview possible and said goodbye to $60k starting salary and potentially retiring before 40.
So back to finding the universal truth: is university really all that important to success in this day and age?
I’m about half way through my university journey. Could I have gotten to where I am today without those confusing two years? I mean if I had learned anything from completing the infamous Business 2257 (prerequisite to Ivey), it is how to read a financial statement and that healthy eating is just a 21st century trend. And from Psych I learned how to watch youtube videos without sound.
All jokes aside I did acquire much knowledge in those subjects, especially for somebody at my attendance level. However that stuff is as worthless to me as my useless theatre make up skills and color scheming ability are to an accountant (aka half of Ivey’s graduating class). University certainly provides students with education, which is essentially a process of crafting a mental toolbox of knowledge for a job; like collecting coins in a videogame. However Life skills, which is your XP, you gain by living.
Putting all that into perspective, is university education more or less essential depends on how you define success. Personally I agree with Maslow on his hierarchy of needs; self-actualization is the highest of all human aspiration and to me that comes from being certain of who I am, which theatre helps me to be. And thought I owe it to my university education to get where I am today, theatre could have been accessible to me through many other means.
Through accounting I have learned the language of business, but through theater I have found a way of understanding the world. Though Ivey could have been for me, I was never for it. University is a two-way selective process, and only if you choose correctly is university useful. By doing university wrong I was doing it very right. So far I would say I have had a very successful university career.
So is university education obsolete in this day and age? Culturally for sure there is still a stigma associated with a lack of university degree. A friend of ours had just announced her dropping out of UBC to become a trucker in Alberta. Honestly speaking that did not receive the most positive response even amongst our very most open-minded, various field of arts students group of friend. Professionally it is hard to say. There has definitely been a trend for firms to seek out a more diverse field of employees. There is no degree that will get you a job at a Silicone Valley start-up if you have nothing interesting to show for; your resume is the last thing they look into (interesting read: look up the hiring process at IDEO on their website). Though you would definitely need to go through university for the network to even catch a glimpse of a recruiter.
So whether or not you need a university degree you must take into consideration your definition of success. And if you do decide to enroll, make sure you get an experience out of it by choosing the right major for you, and most importantly make sure to have a great time.
Best of Luck!