It’s been almost a year since graduating, and there were months of all sorts of anxiety and stress, but also content. Though my feeling of content isn’t because I’m afraid or stressed of the future, it’s because I took comfort in the fact that having a degree from U of T wasn’t going to get me anywhere. An odd feeling to have, I know, but hear me out.
Widely known to be Canada’s “number one university,” a lot is overlooked by the public about the real experience of this campus.
Mental health is a huge issue faced by many students in university and on our campus. Personally, going through the many days of no sleep, putting together essays, researching, and more, there is an underlying belief I had to be better because I’m going to the best university in Canada.
The truth is, we do go to a campus that worries more about its reputation and how it holds up to other Canadian campuses.
It begs the question of what the true motivation of our university actually is.
There have been many cases where students who have tried to report their mental health stresses to professors or U of T admin ended up feeling more helpless than they did before they brought it up.
Collecting accolades and being known as Canada’s top university can only go so far. Students do feel pressure to outperform their own abilities, not because they have a desire to better themselves, but because they have to uphold the status quo that U of T implements.
I’m not saying that pushing students to tackle difficult subjects is wrong. In fact, I do believe that healthy motivation and being pushed to work as hard as you can is essential to growing as an individual. However, the U of T way of pressing for excellence has begun to become detrimental to the health of my fellow students.
Students are being pushed to the point where they feel helpless. It’s difficult for students to open up to their parents about it because it can be tough for them to understand the situation. Going to the U of T administration, or using the available services, can also be a stressful endeavour. It is fairly common for these services to refer you to other services, so you end up being bounced around to different clinics. Sometimes, there’s a waiting list before someone gets even the slightest bit of help.
Though U of T has made attempts to help students, there still is a lot missing with the help they’ve tried to give. Take the mandatory leave policy for example. It stipulates that U of T can mandate a student to take a leave of absence if their mental health is hindering their ability to continue their studies. The issue with this policy is that U of T is saying to students to go deal with their problems on their own and to come back once they’ve dealt with it, with little to no support offered from the university itself. An institution that we pay thousands of dollars to is turning their back on the students that allow them to strive. That’s a slap to the face of students who push themselves every day to get the degree from the institution that holds itself to such a high regard.
It goes back to the preservation of identity. U of T consistently wants to ensure that their campus is the most professional, sleek, and accessible campus there is in Canada. Most of this is done in the attempt to appear as if they are the ultimate institution for higher learning.
Receiving a degree from U of T is no different than getting a degree from any other university. You will not get a job instantly because of the degree you have, you are not on any pedestal with a degree from this university, and this mentality needs to be addressed.
The undergraduate experience is essential to the growth and understanding of society, science, English, and so on. Wherever we go after graduation will not be dependent on the fact that we carry a degree from the University of Toronto. The truth is that in the eyes of employers, your network, experience, and skills will be what separates you from the rest.
The best thing an undergraduate student at UTM, St. George, or UTSC can do is use their time to gain experiences and use it to inform their futures.
What defines you is not the institution that you went to, it’s the experience and the knowledge you use to push yourself in a direction of life that you want to pursue. U of T is the institution you attended, but the many experiences you embark on during your undergrad will ultimately make you stand out.
It is a mentality that is hard to recognize, but I have in my personal experience heard students say that because they attend the “number one university” in Canada, it will be the reason they become successful. When I was in first year, that’s the kind of mentality that was pushed into my mind the entire year—every other university was nothing to the fact that I was at U of T. It’s unhealthy and ignorant to think that way, because at the end of the day students get an education to learn and become aware of research to help inform their own lives. The institution you attend does not make a difference.
U of T is focused on ensuring the student experience at their campus is the best one in Canada. Great marketing, sleek logos, designs, and new buildings are all for attracting you. At the core of it all, you’re here to learn and to create a foundation for life, just like you did when you were in high school. The only difference is that you didn’t pay for high school.
It’s also important to note that graduate programs encourage students to complete their Masters or Ph.D. from different institutions because first and foremost, it expands your network. Going to another campus also eliminates the bias you receive by only attending one institution.
This ties into the idea that many scholars and academics will agree that various schools have elements to them that are great, however, that does not mean that one school is greater than the other. Scholars and academics want people to develop a diverse set of knowledge rather than a concentrated narrow one, because in the end it allows for better discourse when discussing academics. In order to do so, we cannot believe that just going to the University of Toronto is the pinnacle of academic learning. It definitely is better if a student has a Bachelors from U of T and a Masters from Queens because it indicates that the student has taken the time to expand their horizons. Part of the ability to learn is to expand who you’re learning from.
Use the opportunities that U of T does offer and be thankful for it. However, at the end of the day, define yourself with the knowledge and the experiences you’ve gained during your undergraduate years. Be you, and you’ll be okay.
U of T may be number one every year, but you are not U of T. How you decide to tackle your future will be up to you. You should be excited for the future and hopeful.
Do not fear it, embrace it. Don’t let U of T’s name be your only definition of who you are.