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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Episode 12: Values-based Post-Secondary Decision Making in Uncertain Times

Updated: May 27, 2022

COVID-19 has forced everybody to slow down. With this extra time, people are taking the opportunity to refocus, re-center, and re-evaluate what is really important to them. It’s giving people the chance to clarify what they truly value when everything else that seemed certain becomes so uncertain.

Values are the things in life that motivate us, drive us, and help us to make better decisions. These values help ground our decisions, even when everything else may seem a little unsteady.

But the challenge with your values? Many of us don’t even know what they truly are. Life moves at such a quick pace, every decision you make has so many external factors – which parts of the decision are rooted in your values? Sometimes, it can be hard to really focus on these values and what they are.

And with decisions for the future having to be made amidst a pandemic, it’s more important to focus in on your values to help with these choices. A big decision families are facing now is what to do about post-secondary education. The deadline for making post-secondary decisions is fast approaching, but most are lacking critical information as to what the post-secondary experience will actually look like. Yes, there will be classes and profs and learning, but will it be on campus? Online? Will there be residence and frosh week? There are so many unknown factors that will significantly contribute to your university experience – how do you make this decision without all the information? This is where we need to rely on our values, because unlike the situation, they will likely not change.

Here are some activities you can do to clarify what your personal values are. Make sure you download the pdf worksheet that can guide you.

1) Think about a time in your life when you were the happiest.

  • What were you doing?

  • Who was there?

  • What was making life so great?

  • What are your personal values that shine through when you think about this time?

If you’re struggling to answer the questions, here’s an example that may help. Imagine your happiest time was when you took a road trip to the East coast with your family. What made it so happy and special? If it was being with your family, then family may be a core value. You might look at it differently and the enjoyment came from the adventure and spontaneity of the experience – those could be your values. Or perhaps you learned so much about your own country that you found fascinating, showing you that learning or curiosity are core values for you.

2) Think of something that you are very proud of. It could be an achievement, a milestone or even a relationship.

  • Why is that a point of pride for you?

  • Who else was involved?

  • What are your personal VALUES that shine through when you think about this point of pride?

Imagine your proud moment was making your first sale for your side business. If you’re proud because you worked so hard to get there, maybe hard work or dedication are your values. Maybe you are proud of that accomplishment because you really put yourself out on a limb and took risks - risk taking could be something you value.

Applying Your Values to Decisions Amidst COVID-19

Now let’s get closer to the issue of making post-secondary decisions. Before going through this, you’ll want to download our values worksheet.

To start, we’ll pretend that COVID-19 never happened. Now answer the following question on your worksheet:

What are you hoping to get out of your first year of university? What are you looking forward to?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Meeting new people at frosh week

  • Building independence by moving out

  • Connecting with professors who are passionate about their subject matter

  • Getting out of the high school environment and closing that chapter

  • Taking your learning to a new level and being exposed to new, innovative ideas and subjects

  • The parties

  • Meeting new friends

Hold onto that list while we talk about what September 2020 might look like. I can’t predict the future, especially with information changing on a daily basis, but I can confidently say that this year’s university experience will not look like the experience of previous years. Let’s explore 3 possible scenarios for what your next year might look like.

Scenario One: Most Restrictive

Physical distancing is still in place – or in place again, as some provinces begin to start the process of opening up again. This would likely mean an online orientation, frosh week, and courses, which is very similar to what our current seniors are experiencing. It’s possible this will only be the start of the semester, but it’s impossible to predict.

Scenario Two: Medium Restrictions

Physical distancing has been lifted but large groups are not allowed. This probably means no frosh week, no residence or cafeterias. Classes might be online with small tutorials permitted.

Scenario Three: The Gap Year

This scenario is the least dependent on the restrictions that are still in place as a result of COVID-19. With a gap year, you are designing a plan for yourself, picking how you are using your time and money to move yourself forward in the new reality.

Now that we looked at some potential scenarios, let’s go back to your answers to what you are looking forward to. Look at each of your answers. Spend some time evaluating which of these would be still possible, impossible, or possible but delayed.

Depending on what the reality is, some things on your list will be hugely impacted, while others won’t be impacted at all. Look at how each of those things makes you feel. You might be getting a good gut feeling on what the right decision for you is.

For all of the things on your list that are not possible or delayed, I want you to brainstorm how you could get a similar experience, but in a way that meets the realities of COVID-19 restrictions. Maybe moving out was really important to you. To have a mini-experience, dress up your childhood room to give it a dorm feel or look at moving into your basement or different room in the house.

I want you to think critically about the pros and cons of not heading to school in September of 2020. There are many arguments on both sides of the story, but only you know what this choice would feel like for you, now that you are clearer on your own values and what you are looking forward to.

While restrictions are the same for those on gap years or in post-secondary, those on a gap year are likely spending less money, you're in control of what and how you want to learn AND you are preserving your ideal post-secondary experience by delaying it until we are back to a sense of normalcy.

However, many are fearful that a COVID-19 gap year will feel similar to what they are doing right now. With some planning and support, you can have an amazing gap year regardless of the restrictions in place – I have lots of thoughts on this too.

The reality is that we may be facing another double cohort situation, where the grade 11s from this year and the grade 12s who are delaying will all be vying for the same spots next year. This is where deferring your acceptance will come in handy – you can guarantee your spot now for next year. Please check with your admissions team around what you need to do to defer your acceptance. If they need proof of a gap year, check out our gap year certification program as proof of intent to take a gap year.

If you are considering the idea of delaying your post-secondary, check out our free workshop happening on May 19th, where I’ll help you to design what a gap year might look like in the absence of travel. If you have this information, you can then compare apples to apples: a non-travel gap year to an online semester.

When you spend time digging into what is important to you and what the realities of the impact of COVID-19 on post-secondary experiences will be, you’ll probably start to see some options that are more appealing than others. You’ll get closer to making a post-secondary decision that sets you on a path that will be more fulfilling and give you the best experience possible given the cards we are being dealt.

You may still have to wait on some critical information before you can commit to a decision, but at least you are setting yourself up for a quicker, easier, and clearer decision once that information becomes available.

As always, if you want to walk through this exercise or talk about this decision, please head to to book a free 30 minute chat!

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