A post-secondary education may not be for you yet

Sep 5, 2012 by

A post-secondary education may not be for you yet

There is hope in the air today.  The day after Labour Day marks a new year, a clean slate, and a fresh start. Youth and adults of all ages are getting prepared for the first day of classes.  It’s a day we forge a new identity and try to make a memorable first impression; some by sporting a new haircut while others do so by wearing fashionable skin-tight red jeans and Chuck Taylor sneakers.  It’s a time where we size up who we want to connect or reconnect with and who to steer clear from.  Sharing our summer stories and catching up on everyone else’s gossip, ‘epic’ stories and fairy tale dramas.  We know that some of what our friends tell us is exaggerated, but we embrace it all because we want to believe that Alfred kissed a girl, even if it was in another country – where no one speaks English and he somehow lost his cellphone, which conveniently had the only picture of her.   Walking on the campus at University of Toronto, a palpable energy can be felt as the frosh roar up and down the streets chanting silly mottos repeating the rituals of years past with painted faces and wide-eyed naiveté. The drizzling rain doesn’t prevent them from being heard or from staging a presence.  They have proclaimed their status and they want the world to know that they have arrived, not as boys and girls, but as men and women.   Very few of them understand what their marching for or what’s really in store.  But they do so anyways, because that’s what their told to do.

Many feel that post-secondary education is a necessary gateway where an adolescent transitions to adulthood.  Foolishly many parents blindly reinforce this idea and place tremendous pressure on their children to get a higher education immediately after high school.  But not enough preach the more important aspects about being young and taking the time to make a pragmatic decision.  In a time where the costs of a university or college education are becoming increasingly unaffordable it’s more important than ever to be sure about your academic aspirations.  Post-secondary education is becoming reserved only for the middle and upper classes – with the exception of those who wish to take debilitating student loans or for those who are extraordinarily gifted.   Borrowing money to obtain an education is an honourable thing, but the reality is that it’s a commitment very few of us truly understand the lasting ramifications of borrowing such vast sums.    The university setting is no longer a place where higher learning is sought for the sake of becoming a well-rounded intellect.  It has become a place we must take part for the sake of securing future monetary assurance through a job or a career.  How many 18-19 year olds are really capable of knowing that direction at such a young age?  It’s a huge responsibility and a burden many will feel the effects of many years after graduating and will be reminded of this sacrifice when facing a monthly debt repayment similar to a mortgage payment and with a similarly daunting time horizon.

Getting some form of post-secondary education is important for so many reasons, but for the vast majority of youth there is no hurry to decide on a life path without knowing who you really are, what you are capable of and who you want to be.  After all if you are going to invest $60,000-$100,000 on a post-secondary education shouldn’t you know some of these things? But instead so many kids are rushing through a process where they are pressured by parents and peers to keep up.   They take courses on subjects that they feel they should take, but not out of self-interest, but because they have to fulfill the requirements of a degree.  But in the process so much is lost, namely time as a youth.  What so many fail to understand is that it’s an opportunity to find out what kind of person you really are and what the world has to offer and your role in the grand scope of things.  It’s a time when youth should be working odd jobs, travelling, having your heart-broken and exploring interests – ideally all at the same time.   It’s a time where youth need to make mistakes outside the classroom, learning how to socialize, understanding the value of a dollar and how to take accountability for ones actions.  Some of these lessons can be learned in a university setting, but the pressure to perform and excel in academia complicates how people experience all these things – and in my opinion, they need to be addressed separately.  University can be a social setting, but if you haven’t been socialized beforehand it can be a very cold place.

I’m not suggesting that youth completely reject post-secondary education; I am merely stating that enrolling should be postponed after high school for a few years at the very least.  I beg most of you who are on the precipice of starting your academic career, to question whether it’s really time to start now.  Are you really ready for this commitment?  It’s not too late; you can still walk away today or this week.  Sure you might disappoint some short-sighted people, but it’s your life.  Get a backbone and take control, make your own decisions and learn to live by them. Take a couple of years to figure a few things out, save a few dollars and buy your first car, travel, get in touch with yourself and other cultures, expand the way you see the world.  Read as much as you can on absolutely everything.  Don’t settle for living at home because it will save you a few dollars – learn how to cope on your own.  It will make you a stronger, versatile, interesting person and more capable of making the difficult decisions that come with being an adult. But most importantly you get a chance to really live.  You will have plenty of time to study, have a career and work – why not enjoy a few years outside of high school and a highly structured existence that will likely come to define your life.  Drive across the country.  Work in a vineyard.  See what’s out there.  You won’t regret it.  When you get older, you will look back at that time fondly and it will always put a smile on your face – trust me I know. You will accumulate great stories to share for years to come with your future loved ones and acquaintances.  And you will separate yourself from the pack for having some vision and understanding that life isn’t a race, after all, we are all going to the same place in the end.  In the short-term you may fall behind your peer group by a few years from a monetary or career perspective, but you will be in a better position to know what you want from life.  Also, you will have something that has a value that cannot be measured by dollars, nice cars or home ownership. Those things can be had as well, you have a lifetime to attain them but your youth is precious – don’t be quick to waste it on an education you are probably not ready for.  It will always be there, but put yourself in the best position to make the most of your time when you are in fact ready to become a student. In the interim stop marching on campus and call a few friends and go to the pub.  You’re likely to learn more there then your parents will have you believe.



  1. Perry W

    Hi Nick,

    I like your idea but my parents would kill me. No way thats happening!! Im going to try and take a year off after I graduate though.


    • Hi Perry,

      I know its tougher when you have to face that additional pressure from your parents. Its hard to go against their authority – especially if you’re living at home and their paying for your education. I know a lot of parents will dissaprove of my comments. Nonetheless, if you can take some time off after you have finished your degree, your still young enough to really experience some of the things I have written about.


  2. Simon


    Gotta disagree. Lots of kids are ready for University out of high school, and even if their not its better than what their likely to do!! I know my kids are going straight to University. They are great students who are ready for the next step. Screw this hippy new age finding yourself crap.


    • Hi Simon,

      There are always exceptions to the rule. There are some gifted young adults who are ready to make the leap to post-secondary education. I argue that the majority of kids would be better served by waiting and experiencing a bit of real life, before making such a huge investment in time and money.


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