What are you going to do with that degree?

With the tough job market, it seems unrealistic to not worry about careers after university


There really isn’t any way to defend myself when people ask, “What do you plan on doing with an English degree?” The answer, “To become a famous writer living in Ireland or Greenland,” isn’t good enough apparently.

I’ve met tons of people in my life—from my mother’s friends to random customers I dealt with at my old job as a cashier at Rexall—who have told me that I should become a teacher. But of course. There’s nothing else to do with an English degree. Being a journalist is too unstable or dangerous for their liking. Writers never make it. In fact, the only person who ever supported my decision to become an author was a cab driver I had once. “Maybe one day you’ll be living in these nice houses on Mississauga Road,” he told me with a smile. That guy was the best.

When I entered university I was actually studying psychology at York (I know, I know), which is just as much a shoo-in for living at home after graduation as English is. I left after one week. I couldn’t stop thinking about English—all the books I wanted to read, all the stories I wanted to write. I left the program and asked to join the English program at UTM. I was too late and I needed to wait a year until I applied again.

So I took a year off and worked at Rexall. Ah, Rexall. Where do I begin? Customers losing their temper because they can’t read the flyer properly, managers forcing you to come into work despite deaths in the family (that actually happened), and becoming so miserable that you wait for the sweet release of death.

I came back to UTM after a year, eager to learn. I ached for school every time a customer yelled at me because we were sold out of stamps. I was finally back in school and I couldn’t wait for all the homework and readings and writing portfolios worth 60 percent of my grade. Seriously.

But then a year passed. And a second. A third. And now, in my fourth, I’m starting to question where I’ll go after I graduate. When you’re a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first-year, the world is your oyster. But when you’re in fourth year and every person you meet asks what your plans are after graduation, you’re back waiting for another sweet release.

I never came to school thinking I would be guaranteed a job. I just didn’t want to be handed a diploma and put a Rexall shirt back on.

However, there are a lot of people who are convinced that schooling is what you need to find a good job. Don’t get me wrong. A ton of places out there want you to be fluent  French, English, Spanish, and Latin speakers with a high GPA, 40 years of experience, and proof of your presidency in at least three different school clubs. I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not something we’re getting here.

Working at The Medium isn’t the easiest thing. I’m the managing editor and I’ve been here for three years. Next year our current EIC will probably retire, which leaves me as the main contender. I want to focus on my last year of school without being bombarded with work, but EIC looks really good on a resume. School or work? What’s more important in the end? Decisions, decisions.

It’s hard to know if we’re doomed to work a job that pays the rent when we leave this place. Unless you’re a genius or come from a rich family, chances are your schooling isn’t being paid for. Your diploma is slapped into your hand with a nice cheque for $30,000 or more. Have a nice life, kid.

Why come to school then? If it doesn’t guarantee you a job afterwards what’s the point? I just spent the last 17 years of my life in school and now I need to spend another four here? What if I want a master’s? What about a PhD? You’re in your thirties before you’re done.

Also, it’s not like the universities are offering courses in how to adult. I know “je suis” means “I am” but I don’t know how to do my taxes. I don’t know how to balance a mortgage. But hey, I can point out the symbolism in this poem.

I have friends who are paying over $12,000 a year to pursue what they want. I’m paying about $7,000. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us are willing to deal with the soul-crushing debt in exchange for a hopeful job. It’s easy to be cynical when nothing but debt is guaranteed.

Despite all this, I came here because this place is a stepping-stone. I’m already up to my butt in debt but I also gained more experience here than I ever did out there. I have three years of experience working for a newspaper and I’ve been moving up the ladder since I got here. I have certificates from working with Accessibility as a note-taker and study partner. I’ve been published in Mindwaves and made connections with authors here. I’ve worked with published instructors who taught me how to write a proper story, construct a proper article, and get published. What did I get in high school? Six years of retail and a death wish. It’s up to you if your education is worth the cost.

Robert Price, a sessional instructor at UTM, was quoted in a features article this week saying universities should be a place where students “broaden [their] minds, challenge assumptions [they’ve] been carrying around, and learn to say no to [their] parents.” He has a point. You’re here to break out of your shell. You’re here to learn. You’re here to grow into your own person as opposed to the person you thought you should be. A very Nicholas Sparks line, but it’s the truth: “You’re your own person, not your parents’ person!”

“It’s a mistake to equate the value of an education with job readiness,” Price continued. There are a lot of things you can do in school to help you get closer to a job, just like there are a lot of things you can do to ensure a raccoon doesn’t jump from a tree and bite you. Precautions and planning don’t always equate to results.

You shouldn’t be here if you don’t want to be. That’s true of anything. I’m not saying, “Get the hell outta here,” but at the same time, if you’re here because you thought this was your next move but it’s not something you want, then don’t waste the money to be here. Take a year off to collect your thoughts and plans. Travel if you want. No one expects—or should expect—you to know what you want to do at 18. Or 23.

Maria Cruz
Managing Editor