Is university still a relevant experience?

“University students borrowing their way into unemployment” — such was the title of a recent National Post article. After reading it, I was not at all shocked to find that it varied very slightly from the current mindset regarding university. You would be pleased to know that, over the course of this article and others like it, you have been called “know-it-alls,” “entitled fools” and “over-coddled” simply for choosing to attend this institution.

Although, as is typical, the arts degree drew the brunt of the criticism, many of the traditionally hallowed degrees of business, health sciences and engineering were also often placed in front of the firing squad.

As a student, the typical reaction is fierce protectionism. “Those people don’t know anything,” we reassure ourselves. Yet, in the deepest corner of our heart, the niggling doubt continues. What if they are right? It’s almost too horrible to imagine.

We would easily be labelled as some of society’s biggest fools, throwing all our money into something with no tangible returns.

Perhaps the scariest thing of all is that they are right. I think all of us realize that having a university degree is not what it meant 20 years ago.

If you want to feel the gravity of this situation in a personal way, conduct the following experiment. Go on the Ontario universities website and type in your program. Count how many schools offer this program. Multiply that number by one and a half times the number of students in your program year (Factoring in that WLU is a smaller university).

This will give you a rough estimate of how many people you will be competing against when you graduate.

What does this mean for the average university student? It most certainly does not mean that you should drop out of university today in exchange for a college program. It does, however, mean that anyone who is questioning the validity of their program should give this serious consideration.

After reading several more doomsday-esque articles with their accompanying comments sections, and speaking with people involved in hiring across various fields, the following four “helpful hints” began to appear.

First: Set a goal. Even if you do not know exactly what career you wish to have, picking a general end goal seems to be an incredibly important key to success. After all, it is difficult to pick out the relevant aspects of your course material if you do not know the end goal.

Second: Make your education real to you. In a world of degrees, give yours a personal flair. Combine it with a minor or a second major that may not usually compliment your first major.

Third: Build up connections. The old saying of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” has never been more true. Volunteering in the greater community and get involved with the plethora of clubs and activities on campus not only puts you in contact with potential employers but can also give you a broader scope of available opportunities in your chosen field. Plus, both look great on a resumé.

Fourth: Make your summer jobs count. Don’t shy away from entry-level jobs simply because you assume that they are “below you.” The largest allegation lodged at university students is that they have no real-world experience.

We all know how easily this can happen in the “university bubble,” but summer jobs can provide us with a practical way of keeping in touch with reality.

What most of this debate boils down to is over the purpose of university education: learning or a career. Yet, I ask, must the two be mutually exclusive?

For as much as it would be foolish to ignore the fact that food, hydro bills and OSAP loans do have to be paid with real money, going through life with a career you despise is almost nearly as frightening.

In closing, this article is by no means meant to be a road map to success, in university and beyond. It is merely the hypothesizing of a fellow student on what my degree means to me.

Quite frankly I heartily regret the fact that I did not give this much consideration to what my degree means three years ago, when choosing where I wanted my life to go.

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