In Ontario, young people are supposed to know what to do with their lives by the time they’re 17 so they can start applying to post-secondary education. For me, it was 18 (we had grade 13 back then), and the best I could do was apply for Psychology: it was a flexible degree. In all honesty, though, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I suspect the same is true for many teens today.
Here’s my advice to high school students applying to university*: Use it as a time to explore and not as a time to plan your life. If you don’t mind reading a lament from an “old” person who graduated from university almost twenty years ago, read my list of 9 regrets, and please do your best not to repeat my mistakes.
- Avoiding science courses because they were “too much work.” (What? You want me to take a lab with its own exam? Please.) Those courses would have better prepared me for the world of pseudo-factual health information so pervasive nowadays. But I didn’t know that in 1996.
- Not learning Latin. I know: who cares about a dead language? Well, all the living languages tied to it, including German and English (the two I speak) and French and Spanish (two I learned to a certain degree) and Romanian (one I wish I could at least read). And Latin is all over monuments in Europe (where I would spend three years over the next eight or so). Given my love of languages, a few Latin courses would have been really helpful.
- Thinking philosophy was also pointless. Actually, it would have helped me create stronger arguments, especially ones based on logic when double-blind studies aren’t available (which happens more often than we’d like to think).
- Viewing challenges as excuses to be proud of my laziness and not as opportunities to contribute to the world sooner because I had grown that much faster.
- Believing that university work had to take up my entire life. Had I been more disciplined with my time management, I’m certain I would have accomplished more, because I would have focused more and burned out less. This includes spending time with friends, setting aside time for myself, and taking breaks throughout the day.
- Looking for studying shortcuts. The only shortcut is focused attention to defined tasks that you can complete in a way that suits how you take in information. E.g., if you’re a tactile learner, turn your reading into something tactile as soon as possible; don’t just stare at your book.
- Skipping classes if the prof seemed to teach out of the textbook. I was missing an automatic opportunity to review the material in a different way. But hey, at least I felt smart believing I didn’t need to go to class.
- Fearing marks, when in fact they were a by-product of my effort. Does the professor mark too hard? Rise to the challenge and learn what her game is; don’t blame her for being a tough prof.
- Blaming the professor for my lack of interest. Professors are not entertainers, they’re researchers. If you have a prof who drones on like a bad 1950s sci-fi robot, take notes during class, review your notes while the prof’s droning, or imagine how you could make that information more interesting. You’ll have to deal with people of all sorts in the real world; learn how to do that now.
University completely changed my life; I just wish I’d opened the doors wider. Good luck with your applications, and I hope you get into the program you want! Just remember to keep exploring as much as your program allows you to: this opportunity may never come again.
(*I think it’s appropriate to add a disclaimer here: I work part-time as an admin assistant at a university. The impetus for this post isn’t that, though. Not directly, anyway. When I have my lunch in the building café, I sometimes hear students complain about their studies, and it’s frustrating to see myself 15+ years ago sitting right next to me, knowing what I know now.)