From Backpack -> Briefcase
On August 18th, I submitted the last essay that I'll ever write for a class at the University of Toronto. A couple of weeks before that, I finished the last shift at the lab I had been working at for the last 2 years, cleaned out my gym locker, returned some keys etc. Basically, the whole of August 2019 consisted of a lot of last times at U of T.
As much as I couldn't wait to be finished, there was a significant amount of hesitation to leave because it meant closing an entire chapter of my life, and that chapter impacted my goals, values, perceptions, skills, really every aspect of who I am as a person and what I want to pursue throughout my life.
A passion for knowledge and learning. Before university, I did not enjoy school at all; it was something I just did because I had to and I put enough effort into it to do well so I could keep my options open. Once I got there, I was thrown into an entire world that I had no idea existed. I'd go to one of the libraries, typically Robarts Library (forever and always my favourite place) and I was astounded and in awe of the thousands of beautiful old books and for some still unknown reason I just suddenly wanted to read ALL of them cover to cover, and absorb every word. For one reason or another, U of T allowed me to unleash my inner nerd and I will forever be grateful for that.
Challenge. Anyone that knows me is well aware that I never run from a challenge, and U of T pushed me to to edge (and past the edge) of my limits. As brutally stressful as it was, I learned that I was capable of more than I could've ever imagined; while I always knew I was smart, I never thought I could possibly be successful in an academic position. When I got some of my grades back, I realized that it could be an option. While academia is not what I'm currently pursuing, I'm certainly keeping it on my radar and I am planning to do a graduate degree within the next few years.
In terms of negative impacts, I think they can be concisely summarized in one word: burnout. I love learning, I love research, I love math, I love writing, but being forced to do multiple programs in a specific combination (U of T arts and science policy, you cannot just do a major, or even a major and a minor), working, commuting, and trying to still take care of myself and my pets, it was all just too much too young and too fast, and had a severely negative impact on my mental and physical health. This is consistent with the stories of many students, my professors and my ADHD coach have also noted that students are under too much pressure and have too much on their plate; to read more on this see the link below. There is no opportunity for a balanced life if you're doing all of these things, and 17/18 is far too young to decide once and for all what you want to do long term. I hope that more students will make the decision to take time off either before or during their degree (I took one year off after my 4th year and it was the best decision I could've made).
If you go from high school, to university, and then to work, not only will you not have a good understanding of what's coming in terms of employer expectations, but you won't have as much opportunity to figure out what you do and don't like both in work and lifestyles. While there will always be an adjustment period while transitioning from student to full time work, I think I have had a much easier time with it because my year off gave me a run down of what my life will look life without school. Colleges do a fantastic job of providing students with practical work experience but many university programs don't. It seems like too many people know school and only school and of course there's nothing wrong with that especially if you're pursuing a career in academia. Though the reality is most people will not end up in academia, and finishing school will be much less daunting if you have some idea of what's coming after.