My three greatest fears in life are E.T., hockey nets, and graduation. The last of these haunts most undergrads. I’m assuming is the majority of us have been in school almost our entire lives. Even when we had the opportunity after high school to immediately join the workforce and enter the “real world”, we chose higher education.
As I, along with the rest of the class of 2015, approach the end of the first term of our final year, suddenly the freedom we dreamed of from behind piles of textbooks and at the back of lecture halls doesn’t seem so exciting. There are thousands of considerations and this freedom is too… well, freeing. It’s like one of those “choose your own adventure” books, but you’re forced to make your choice in front of an audience of parents, friends, and professors. What if you start off on the wrong path? What if your next step seems to take forever to materialize?
In these final weeks of the term, I chatted with three recent UTM grads about life six months after entering the “real world”. While each took different yet traditional routes that included work, graduate school, and travelling, each shared similar sentiments about finishing up and moving on.
ENGLISH & PWC
Spadafora’s post “The Truth about Life after University” on his blog, Matthew John Writes, served as the inspiration for this article and very neatly summed up each and every one of my anxieties. Following a one-month trip across Europe, he chose to move home and head straight into the workforce: a retail position at Chapters. “It was my only option. I’m such a big procrastinator,” he says. He adds that he didn’t apply to graduate school in his final year at UTM and wanted to give himself a year at least in order to “motivate [himself] to make change”.
For Spadafora, life after undergrad holds no surprises. He says he knew he wasn’t going into graduate school or an internship. A discovery he made, one that I’m sensing I’ll make as well, was that university goes on without you once you’ve crossed the stage at Convocation Hall. “[University] is more contained than you realize until you’re outside of it,” he says.
What does he miss about UTM? “Being forced to write because of my program” and “a schedule on my own terms”—unlike work, where you receive the schedule a week in advance and you have to shape your life around it. It wasn’t until graduating that Spadafora realized that the relationships with people we meet and socialize with in university can have expiry dates. However, he does still talk to many of these people and they continue to positively influence his life. He quickly warns me, though, that graduation is by no means the “end”, and he believes that expectation will dissipate as you move along in your life. He certainly doesn’t miss going to class, the constant responsibility, and not eating properly. “It’s hard, but inevitable. Being 21 or 22 is a part of life when you’re in transition, but you have to go through it,” he says. “You’ll feel lost at first, but there are plenty of people who graduated alongside you that feel the same.”
THEATRE & DRAMA STUDIES
Audrey moved to the big city after wrapping up her four years at UTM and entered “the biz”. She’s kept herself busy with independent films and a commercial. However, she’s also putting in hours as a waitress at Jack Astor’s and a marketing and promotions position, raising the funds to travel and film a documentary with another recent UTM grad. “I want to do theatre and acting along with humanitarian work,” she says.
The documentary will feature interviews with women around the world to discover what happiness means to them and how they achieve it. They’ll fly to Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. The two started planning the trip and saving money a year in advance. She advises other students considering travelling on graduation to make a game plan. “Work in any field that pays during the summer, because it comes down to money,” she says.
For Audrey, life after graduation is more uncertain than she expected. She describes the first summer as a “roller coaster”. She believes this uncertainty is particularly true of those graduating with arts degrees. “There’s no direct path. You have to go from day to day and one audition at a time,” she says.
Like Spadafora, she misses the sense of community in her program, neighbourhood, and work, as well as the parks near Sheridan and UTM. “Thankfully, there’s not a lot I don’t miss,” she says. “I really liked it. I guess I don’t miss the homework and the lack of things to do in Mississauga.”
She advises current students to take opportunities and to keep people in their networks. “Cherish the time with your communities and friends,” she says. “Make time to talk to professors, who can support you upon graduation.” For Audrey, who stresses the adage “Work hard, play hard”, it’s what you do outside of the classroom that you’ll remember.
Psych & ANTHRO
I spoke with Yang over the phone as she walked home from lecture. She’s working towards a Master of Education at OISE in student development and student services in postsecondary education. The choice of program was a natural for Yang, who worked in residence and at summer camps as an undergrad and expected to go on to grad school. But as she was applying, she wasn’t certain whether to take a year off. “My parents helped me make the decision,” she says. “They said I should at least apply so I didn’t have any regrets.”
Yang describes grad school as a “half-step into life”.
“You’re doing school, but you have time to look around and free time to be part of life,” she says. The greatest shock was just how difficult the job market is, and you really do, as Drake put it, start from the bottom. She’s currently doing volunteer work related to her studies, but thanks to a scholarship, there’s no rush to find work—although she says she’ll start looking.
“I didn’t feel like I was contributing in undergrad—there was a lot of memorization,” she says. “Here there’s a whole new type of learning. It’s a lot different. I feel like I’m contributing to the conversation and applying myself. I have no regrets.” But Yang misses the UTM community. She loved the small campus, the ability to schedule classes back-to-back, waking up 20 minutes before class and still making it on time, and the small class sizes in psych. Like Audrey, she appreciates living in a bigger city with less isolation and more food options.
Yang concedes that most fourth-years are usually thinking, “I just want to get this over with.” But she warns that it’s important to think about the future.
“Once you walk out, you’re an adult. Think about what you want to do when you still have your professors, academic advisors, the HCC, and other support systems. Plan ahead,” she says. And she doesn’t just mean for more schooling: “If you want to let life take you wherever, at least make that choice.”