So the thing is, when I was in highschool nobody educated us on the other side. We all seemingly followed the process for preparing for after we graduated – Step 1: Apply to College. Nobody encouraged me to find my true path, showing me there may be more than one route there. My very tiny perspective didn’t even open my mind up to the idea that I could be a success without needing to go to post-secondary school. I didn’t know what my options were, and I want to share my experience so I can hopefully encourage awareness for you reading this to truly consider your path and to explore all avenues that can get you there, prior to just devoting all of your time and money (money that most likely isn’t yours and has to be paid back) into your diploma or degree. A diploma or degree that may or may not be necessary for your career choice.
Like most of us, I grew up thinking there was no other option to being “successful” than to go to post-secondary. As if you were some sort of failure if you didn’t go. I was encouraged quite firmly by my well-meaning father not just to go to post-secondary, but to a university specifically and away from home. I’m sure most of you are aware but in case you aren’t, universities on average cost about 3 times more to attend yearly and should you actually enjoy what you choose to attend school for, you are looking at who knows how much debt for how long (I’d estimate this but every school and geographical location for housing is different). Lets be real though, most of us are spending at least 10 years paying it off. If you were raised with wealthy parents and money is no issue for you – then be thankful. That’s definitely not the case for the majority of us, but either way – time is also money. That means you should also consider – is your time and money going to be well used at a post-secondary institution?
Here’s the thing, for me and my career choice – it was a trap. I have always been an artist at heart and a deep part of me wanted that career in some way. So I’m in 11th grade and it begins like this: here starts the online “career quizzes” – as we try to figure out what jobs “suit us” and that we want to do FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES – at 16/17 years old. We get our “results” from the quizzes, and here you feel like you must’ve answered incorrectly the “type of person you are” in these questions because the professions you secretly hope will come up, don’t even make the list most times. (if you have no idea what I’m talking about then I feel old. lol) So we are basically expecting this automated quiz to give us insight into what we should do as a profession based on what we answer for each question. We assume that it’s pretty accurate, and that it’d be ideal to choose off the list, but is it? Considering these professions are just a consolidated list of what options we truly have anyway. I can’t even tell you how many times I did these quizzes, searching for an answer because I was so lost in what direction was really ideal and profitable for me (because we’re expected to choose a profession of deep pockets for “success”). And aside from having very little instinctual feelings towards what we should do when we are so young deciding, we also in most cases have no actual experience in the real world outside of what was taught in highschool. I even knew back then that this whole process just didn’t sit quite right with me. How do they expect us to go to school from the time we are about 4 years old, until we are 17/18, experiencing nothing more than what we learned out of textbooks and from what our summers consisted of? And for an average lower-income family like mine that meant one trip up north for a week and soccer or figure skating. I didn’t go on an airplane or leave the country until my later teens. I didn’t really ever meet or talk to anyone from other countries, besides a pen pal in maybe the 3rd grade? So when did we have time to experience the world? To explore the many options for professions and passions? To truly dream BIG, bigger than life as we knew it, bigger than the reality we were handed at birth.
And that’s the thing, that wasn’t part of our schooling. We didn’t learn about the great things happening all across the world today, we learned about history. We didn’t learn finances and money management, how to grow our own food or maintain our vehicle, how to do taxes or be an entrepreneur. We didn’t learn how to manage our emotions. Really, from my perspective, we learned very little actual applicable life skills! Skills that could’ve helped give us perspective when we were being told to decide what we wanted to do for a profession. So we graduate while we are still pretty naive, really underdeveloped in my opinion. We couldn’t even go to the bathroom without asking in 12th grade and here we’re supposed to be making very adult decisions that affect our entire life at the same time?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
I applied, like nearly everyone else, to go to college. I chose college, not university, because my type of courses were specific to college. I applied to Graphic Design and Interior Design, both in my home town and Toronto area. Everyone around us knowing the “best” art schools were said to be those in Toronto, as if that doesn’t already put pressure on you that you better pick one of those schools or you are already somehow less qualified and “intelligent” than if you went elsewhere. I was accepted to all from just grades alone, except one that required a portfolio. I was obviously excited to get excepted and would’ve been more so except I started to think – what do my high school grades even have to do with being a good artist? I never submitted my portfolio mainly because I was already overwhelmed trying to graduate with grades that were high enough for any type of scholarship. Scholarships that ended up being so little that it didn’t even cover textbooks my first year despite being the student at my school with the “highest grade average entering college”. So I did the best I could, received next to no monetary compensation for it since such a limited amount of scholarships were available, and I chose to stay in my hometown and attend the college there – despite what people advised me to do.
I started to become aware of the notion that what difference did it make what school I went to ultimately? For design jobs they really wind up caring less about where your schooling was because the visual appeal of your resume and your portfolio was what truly mattered. At least that was my experience, and also how I felt myself when I was the one running interviews to replace myself at my design job years back prior to freelancing. I had recent graduates from the “top schools” who had spelling errors on their resumes or unprofessional looking work.
So ultimately, I chose to stay home for school, and yet I was completely shamed for it. As if staying local meant I was a failure. Because we’ve gotten to the point where post-secondary education isn’t enough anymore, you need to go to the sought-after schools to be considered a success, even if ultimately their program curriculum is NO more valuable than your local school. Do we not have enough pressure already? I was made to feel like I was accomplishing less because I wasn’t going away to school but here’s the thing – I was left to pay the bill. I left college with a diploma in Graphic Design, $20,000 in debt, and no design job. I feel like that’s not even horrible for what could’ve been had I went to Toronto – had to give up my full-time job I carried through college – and paid for housing and travel. Not only did debt follow me, but after school I completely lacked passion for what was supposed to be my career, because I was forced to follow the path the school wanted and not find my own path there. I wasn’t learning through passion at all.
I felt so unprepared and overwhelmed for the workplace after I graduated college, so what do you think I did? Well I applied for Web Design. I tried to hide in college for a little longer, but more college meant more debt, lets add $4000 onto it for my uncertainty. I also didn’t love web design like I thought I might and dropped out. Sometimes I wish there was a proper “test drive” required on all college courses. In hindsight, I wished I would’ve just waited after high school. Been encouraged to take some time off school and explore. Found out what I was truly into. You see, I could’ve taught myself EVERYTHING I learned in school, in a more passionate way, and saved myself $24,000 in debt. This isn’t the case for every program of course, which is why I said my purpose here is to give you perspective for yourself – but it was the case for mine.
I had no spark coming out of high school, I felt like it was beat out of me like so many others I know. So I just floated into college letting someone tell me what to do next, I didn’t know at the time but there are resources everywhere for creative professionals specifically (click here to see my post on where to educate yourself for free if you’re a creative or otherwise – artist, designer, crafter etc.). There are resources to teach you how to build a resume and portfolio for jobs, or how to freelance so you can keep your actual wage if you prefer that route. One of my college classes was for Photoshop. We actually purchased a textbook that is available on Amazon, and we worked straight out of it. I paid extra for that. Not joking. Computer programs can be learned online, or out of textbooks, easily. I did not need to pay a ridiculous price for a class where I could’ve self-taught, but honestly, I hear this happening all the time. Are you actually paying for the knowledge? Because the knowledge is available free everywhere. Some “top” universities and colleges actually offer their entire curriculums online free, where some just offer some of their courses. They can do this because they know that you still need that piece of paper to get that accreditation, and you will pay for it. This is the trick that I am referring to. So, if your profession doesn’t demand specific accreditation, and you think you can have the self-discipline, then I encourage you to do some digging in your desired field. Explore options for internships or likewise positions. Try out some free courses in the field before enrolling, to get a feel for where your money is going.
edX is a really great site that offers free online courses from schools like Harvard and Berkeley. They offer courses on computer science, languages, engineering, psychology, writing, electronics, biology, marketing and more. They offer academic credit for most of the courses if you pay for it, and depending on the post-secondary school you may be able to use it for credits. Either way, it’s learning for free.
Education seems to be so much more about the money today, and we just haven’t had the awareness to see that. I was born in 1988, my generation was slightly different as our access to information was a little different. My childhood we had dial-up internet still, AOL and chat rooms. The internet was still finding it’s way and it wasn’t used like it is today. Myspace was brand new and “the craze” in highschool but the crazy thing is – the schooling is the same today as it was then. Kids are leaving highschool just as unprepared as they were then, and just as underexposed to life. The difference is the world is shifting and people are recognizing education should not put you in debt. New free online learning resources are popping up and the kids of today have more and more access to this if they actually are encouraged to seek it out.
So what would I have done differently? I wish I would’ve been consciously aware enough to say no to college altogether. That’s not to say I don’t believe in it, just that my path did not need it! I wish I had been confident in myself and known that I could have taught myself all that I needed in my field to thrive and find a job or internship and ultimately freelance! No this of course isn’t possible in all professions, but have you considered an alternative to expensive school? There may very well be other paths, perhaps one that might speak louder to your being, but most of us just didn’t know there was a way. We didn’t even know to look.
If instead I graduated today and wanted to pursue art, the first thing I would do would be to travel. I know, that doesn’t make sense perhaps to some. But, how can you find inspiration and passion, living the same life with the same people and same problems? It wasn’t until I left home that I truly found myself and I think it’s important that everyone do something that challenges their perspective and broadens their mind! Maybe it’s not traveling, perhaps it’s reading. Or documentaries. Two things that don’t even force you out of your house. But you have to open up your world and learn something outside of school because if you don’t, you may not have any idea what you’re missing. And when we are so tunnel-minded, how can we possibly be making decisions that affect the rest of our lives? There is so much pressure put on young adults to figure it all out, but those people are not the ones who live out our life.
YOU are the one who will have to pay that money back for education.
YOU are the one who will be dedicating those years to studying – on the terms and timeline of whoever designed the program.
Are you confident with your decision? Are you passionate about your choice? Because if you aren’t, if you feel lost, you need to find some passion somewhere and FOLLOW it. Learn through it. Live your truth! Don’t start out like me, with the “career quizzes” where you have someone else telling you what you’re good at! Take some time after highschool if you feel it would be important, work any job for the time being if you need the money, and support your passions. You love yoga? GREAT. Explore it, where does it lead you? Who cares if it’s not what you see yourself doing forever, it’s your passion right now. Maybe you come out of highschool and find a retreat to attend. You attend the retreat and meet someone who teaches “natural movement” classes too! Cool, you’re interested so you find someone local who does classes. At the classes they’re advocating being barefoot and start sharing information about Earthing (putting your body in direct contact with the earth, read more on that here). You become so interested in the theory that you learn more about it and then dive into learning more about the earth’s magnetic field. Now we’ve entered the world of earth science! Something you’d never known anything about and had NO idea you ever would’ve enjoyed but now look at you, you started at a yoga retreat and now you’re online searching for resources and books to learn more about geophysics! This way you’re seeing if it’s truly something you might want to dedicate years of extended learning on, and you’re motivated because you found your way there through passion and interest. Isn’t that cool??
That is the way I see education now, and the way I experience it today. Learning is life. Life is LEARNING. We cannot separate the two! It ALL connects. We pull so much individuality out of kids in school and then they spend years trying to find it again. Then more years trying to find themselves out of debt while so many realize that the career they chose while still in highschool, that put them in debt, really isn’t even something they want to do anyway! They might have found out it isn’t even offering jobs in the location they want to be by the time they graduate, or it doesn’t pay enough to even pay back their debt before they’re 40. Which only affects their life in a hundred other ways as they hold debt and can’t afford to do other things, make investments or travel! I also see the common instance of people graduating college/university in debt and realizing they don’t love what they went to school for but feeling pressured to do it since they’re spending so much money on it.
I graduated, worked in the industry for 2 years and realized that producing content for others based on their ideas was not the way I imagined myself living out my dream as an artist. It also stung knowing I was making $13 an hour for someone who was charging the client $60 an hour. I chose to go freelance 7 years ago and it allowed me to work smarter, not harder. I extended my knowledge heavily through free online courses. I enjoy freelance since I set the amount of money I want to make and it’s something I don’t have to do full-time, the only negative I had was I’ve always have a type of social anxiety so marketing myself back then was something that I had no appeal for. Thankfully, I still received a good amount of work and my hourly wage allowed me to work less and make more. I take very few outside design jobs now since my time is limited since I choose to spend it with my kids and instead apply my “professional” skills to our own business. And now, my heart has been pulled to writing – which was something completely unexpected but my design skills bring value to that too so it works out. Point being, things may change in your heart in a few years. If you put all your eggs in one basket and accumulate a load of debt for something you were never sure of to begin with, how will that affect your next decision for your life?
You can’t help the path you’ve been on until this point, but you sure can design your own future from here on out. We need to be more thoughtful in how we choose our post-secondary education options. We need to become professionals on our profession before we enter schooling to become that professional. (did you follow that? you might want to read that sentence again.) Google search your interests. Find out what other people are saying about the profession you’re thinking of, explore all sides. That’s the beauty of the internet, you have information at your fingertips. If you can remember to stay balanced in how you approach researching, trying to remember to explore as many angles as you can, then you will be empowered in your choices. Read more articles like this one! Soak up information. Maybe you go to college or university, maybe you become an entrepreneur at 19. There’s no right way, but your best shot is to stay true to you.
How do you stay true to you if you haven’t explored any of who you are? We can’t do anything but good to this world by helping more people live authentically, putting passion in the work. For someone, that may be writing. For another, that may be building. In 5 years you may have shifted in an entirely different direction, or perhaps even found yourself deeper within the career you chose originally. The thing is – you should be the driver in your own life. Making conscious choices about what happens next. You do not have to do the same thing for the rest of your life if you don’t want to. And that’s the beauty, our paths are all unique. And we reserve the right to change our paths whenever our work is no longer authentic to our soul.
I hope you find all that you need.
We’re all in this together.
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