Choosing to go to college, rather than university, was both the easiest and most difficult big life decision I’ve had to make. It wasn’t until I had received acceptances to all the universities that I applied to that I realized none of the options felt right. So, I found myself applying to college three days before the application deadline, and interestingly, the range of programs were entirely more exciting to me. They sparked my imagination and curiosity and encapsulated the type of work I always envisioned myself doing.
College clearly hadn’t been the plan. I was on the university track: I took the university-level courses in high school, I got strong grades, and it was certainly the unspoken expectation of my teachers, close circles, and society as a whole, that as such, I would attend university. But, I’d like to think that maybe this was the start of me breaking the status quo – because that’s exactly what it felt like.
In my process of deciding and ultimately going to college, there were three main barriers that I faced and I’ve shared those below. One disclosure first: I am not writing this to be, nor am I, anti-university. I simply don’t believe that just because you can get into university means that you have to go there, but more on that below.
1. The Stigma
It’s the stigma caught in the air of society that says college is for those who can’t get into or who can’t make it in university. It’s the stigma that encourages the judgement of merely all 18-24 year olds based on the institution they choose to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars attending. It’s the stigma that says college is only for the hands-on learners, and that university is for those who can do more than that. It’s a stigma that I 100% felt and experienced.
My evaluation of college showed me that my program was planned, built, and run by successful professionals who had worked substantive careers in the field and who would ultimately know me by name and invest in my career. At the end of the day, I not only had to be confident enough in the impression I had received of college, but confident enough in my academic abilities and my worth and identify – knowing that I am and always will be more than my education – in order to ignore this stigma (because it’s so far from true) and follow my gut.
2. The Experience
While I’ll fight against the stigma, I won’t ignore that college and university offer different experiences. If you’re looking to get the “experience” out of your post-secondary education, and by experience I mean massive campuses and buildings, classes with hundreds of people, and the large party atmosphere that comes with that – (most) colleges won’t hand that to you as easily as university.
Universities, evident by their enrolment numbers, come with a much larger community. At one point while attending college, I realized that I wasn’t going to get that and I had to be okay with it. While it comes with a certain sacrifice of yes, “experience”, attending college was a decision I don’t regret because of where it’s gotten me today.
3. The Career
While I was confident in my decision, I was a little hesitant towards what kind of job opportunities I’d have upon graduation. I trusted the education, but similarly to my point on the stigma surrounding college, I was nervous that employers would pass over me because of not having attended university.
I had chosen the Bachelor of Public Relations (Honours) Degree Program at Conestoga College. The reason I state that is because the program has the word Bachelors and Degree in it. Prior to researching college programs, I didn’t know that they offered fully accredited and independent degree programs. I knew of joint or partnership programs between colleges and universities, but this caught me by surprise. There was no affiliation to a university and no trick – I really did graduate with a degree despite having gone to college.
I had to yet again trust that this degree would be recognized in the job market and among employers. I’ve only had one job post-graduation, but it’s been completely and totally what I wanted and dreamed about experiencing as a career. So, I guess I didn’t have to worry about this one after all.
I truly believe in pursuing post-secondary education that excites you and sets you up for the kind of future career you want – one that inspires you and engages you. Whether that means university, college, trade school or anything in between, you should do what you feel passionate about and gifted in. I was 17 when I made the decision to attend college and the same age when I finished my first semester. Five years later, it’s a decision that I don’t regret, and I’m thrilled with where I am in my career.
I’ve come to believe that sometimes the best decisions we can make are the ones that get contested. Sometimes we have to dig deep and have enough confidence in ourselves to make the decision that not many people understand and sometimes we have to accept judgements.
Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and do the thing. It just might mean you have to take the unconventional route to get there, but from my experience it’ll totally be worth it.
If you have questions about college, post-secondary education decisions, or careers in general – please don’t hesitate to contact me here. I’d love to chat!