Your post secondary decision is a big one, but it won't define your future. In this episode, I’ll change the way you look at this decision and share tips on how to relieve the stress associated with it.
Disclaimer: This episode won’t tell you what program and what school to apply to but it might change the way you look at this decision and relieve some of the stress that is associated with it. This doesn’t replace professional advice from a paid counsellor or even a paid consultation with myself, each story and journey is unique but these tips will help you along the way.
The stress is REAL, but it’s artificially imposed
The stress you’re feeling is real, but the reason why you’re feeling it is artificial. All the students I’ve worked with have said they felt this sole decision would set them on a path of success, fame, fortune, happiness, or send them to their parents' basements with no job prospects in sight. This is simply NOT true! Take a deep breath with me. This one decision won’t make or break your future.
School is important, I’m not anti-school at all. We are lucky to be in Canada because every school is a good one, it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Don’t believe me? Do a survey of the adults in your life, how many of them are directly working in what they studied for diring their undergrad? It’s probably the minority! For example, my undergraduate degree is in biology from McMaster. Am I using this in the work that I do? Nope. Was it a waste of time? Nope. It was one part in my journey. From it, I developed hard skills, employable skills and life skills.
Hard skills: I can identify chemical compounds, I understand cancer on a basic level, genetics and evolution. This all comes into play when I visit my doctor or buy cleaning products for my house.
Employability skills: The classes I took taught me to be a critical and analytical thinker, which comes into play on a daily basis.
Life Skills: Post-secondary taught me Independence, confidence and prioritization. It also taught me how to make decisions and build relationships (professional and social).
What you will learn in undergrad is a stepping stone, not a one-track destination. Be gentle with yourself, this decision will not define who you are, how happy or successful you will be, or how much money you will make. This is one decision in a lifetime of decisions that will shape all of those factors.
There is no wrong answer
I have some good news and bad news for you. There is no wrong answer but there is also no right answer, just what you think is right for you in the moment. We have great schools and programs and if you show up curious and ready to take on your higher-ed journey, you will be moving yourself forward.
No decisions you make on your application are final. You can change your mind, you can change programs and schools and you can push pause if you aren’t ready. Take a breath, applications are also buying you more time. You likely won’t have to accept an offer until May and you likely can defer your acceptance up until August.
TIP: Apply to things you THINK you want to do and then spend some time really exploring the fields you chose before you have to accept. The application fees are much smaller than your tuition fees so you can literally buy yourself more time.
Identify where pressures are coming from
It’s a noisy time of year to find the quiet time to sift through all of the messages you are receiving. Your school, teachers, guidance counsellors and parents are all putting pressure on you to start those applications. On top of that, you are constantly bombarded with announcements, emails, targeted ads and social posts about it.
Parents may be super-supportive or they might be pushing their dreams onto you, providing all sorts of advice, and guidance laced with expectations – all from a place of love, but can also be stressful. Meanwhile, your peers are all chatting about their decisions too. Most of them may seem super confident – spoiler alert, they probably aren’t. You might want to go to the same school or apply to the same programs as your friends because it is familiar or comfortable.
TIP: In all this noise, don’t forget to listen to yourself. What do you WANT? What interests YOU? It is your life and living out someone else's dream for you will end up in mental health struggles, family battles and resentment.
I am not saying throw all of the advice and data you have in the garbage and study your passion. If you want to be a Youtube makeup influencer, that’s great, but if you don’t know anything about makeup, video editing, lighting and business (for setting up contracts with those who will pay you), you are not going to make it out of your parent’s basement. I am also not saying go into a program because it makes lots of money and that’s what your life goal is. What I am saying is that this decision needs to be a stepping stone for YOUR overall life goals. But you need to know what those goals are and they may be similar or different from those around you.
Acknowledge we are in a global pandemic
We don’t know what the future will look like. Will school be online or in-person? Will residences be open? What will happen to the economy? How will the pandemic affect what jobs are available in the future? We can make educated guesses and that’s the best we can do. And you know what? That’s okay. We can work with the data we have now and adjust our course as we get new information. Your high school, university or college experience will be VASTLY different than someone who graduated five years ago or who will graduate in five years. And that’s okay too.
TIP: Think long and hard about what you want to get out of your post secondary experience. Is it the material you want to learn, or the piece of paper and letters after your name? Do you want to connect with professors and mentors? Or is it the experience of living on campus and making new friends? These answers can help make your decisions. If you just want to get your degree done and over with, jump into school right away. If you are still unsure of what you want to study, look for schools that offer undeclared first years before choosing a specialization. If you want to have flexibility if things flip between in-person and online, consider a school within driving distance. If you want to live on campus, think about deferring a year.
Before you submit your applications, check out which schools and programs offer this as it is not universal. The easiest way to find out is to google the name of the school with the word ‘deferral’.
When you get your offer letter, you can apply to attend September 2022 instead of September 2021 and they will hold your spot for you. Most schools and programs have this option available to you until August. This is a great way for you to see what COVID will do and see how your mental health and energy is before jumping into additional stress.
Don’t be afraid to take a break
To piggyback on the deferral conversation, taking a year off might make sense for you.
Pushing pause on formal education is not stopping your learning or putting you behind. It actually gives you time and space to be in the best position to make the most of your university learning the following year. If you plan it correctly, your gap year will give you more clarity on what you want to study AND give you time and space to be in the best physical, mental and emotional space to take on higher education.
Take this dinner analogy using Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. Deciding what you want to eat for dinner only takes five minutes or 5% of your total dinner experience. Now if we apply that 5% towards your entire working career, it would take two years to get clarity on your career path.
If you are going to take the time, the key is to spend it purposefully by working, volunteering and connecting with activities and experiences that will get you clarity on your future, set you apart from your peers and bring you joy after a long and stressful high school career during a global pandemic.
This decision is just one step in your life journey, it does not define your happiness and success like the world sometimes tells us it does
Don’t forget to show yourself compassion while you navigate this process.
Your application isn’t a final decision. Deadlines to accept aren’t until later in the year and if you include the deferral deadline, you have until August
Understand where pressures are coming from and factor that into your applications without drowning out your own life goals.
Identify what you want to get out of your post secondary experience and see how you can make that happen for yourself.
Overall – put this decision in perspective, it’s a big decision, but it will not define you and you can change it at many steps along the way. Make the best educated decision you can.
I hope this was helpful as you wade through your decisions. If I can help in any way, feel free to book a call with me www.cangap.ca/call