The thing I miss most about university is being my parents’ shining star.
“Jessica is going to school in Toronto,” they would tell people, “and she studied in France.”
As an alumna, my post-academic lifestyle doesn’t seem to rouse nearly as much enthusiasm. This extends to the rest of my family and their friends, all of whom seem as underwhelmed by my sudden lack of momentum as I am. Though I would love to impress everyone with new and exciting plans, life seems far less embellished by possibility now that I am no longer cushioned by student loan money and spending my days in the company of other ambitious minds.
My first month post-graduation was not so much a celebration as a slap in the face. I felt like I had just left the academic version of Shawshank State Prison. I was fully institutionalized. Having been a student for eighteen years, I had no idea how to function as a regular member of society, and no matter how much I had looked forward to leaving Ryerson, I continued to gravitate back to the campus every few weeks.
In spite of my feelings of displacement, I was employed with a well-paying job by the time my final grades were up. While my family wasn’t thrilled by my decision to continue serving in restaurants post-graduation, I reminded them that it rakes in the cash I need in order to repay my loans. In fact, my per-hour income waiting tables is far better than any position I would be eligible for at this point in my career.
Of course, they’ve seen the same graduate employment statistics that I read when applying to university: the ones that made it seem as though the job market would be my oyster the moment I walked out of my convocation ceremony, the ones that led me to believe that well-paying employment opportunities would be falling into my lap as soon as I received my degree. Even then, the most recent Ryerson survey that boasted high employment rates was based on Ryerson’s class of 2012 and only had a 29.3 per cent response rate. As a member of what the The New York Times referred to as the “best educated and worst paid generation,” I do not imagine that the updated statistics will be any more encouraging. Additionally, those statistics don’t disclose whether Ryerson’s employed graduates are on their intended career paths or just following the money so that they can pay back the debt they’ve incurred in hopes of securing a brighter future.
I used to think that I would feel less ripped off had I studied something more suited to the ever-changing job market, especially given the fact that Ryerson offers trendy degrees like New Media and Creative Industries that will cover all the bases for its graduates in the same way a college diploma would. Unfortunately, things are changing so rapidly that it is hard to know how useful those skills will be in the years to come. What are those graduates going to do with their degrees when they are no longer relevant and transferable? Will they too wish they had studied something else? Even my most prepared peers look lost and scared.
I don’t intend to ease my mind by throwing myself towards another degree. That isn’t to say that university is a complete waste of time—it isn’t. I am and always will be a strong advocate for higher education. It also does not mean that I don’t intend to return to school in the future. I do, but I also know that impulsively adding to the education section on my resume is no longer a guaranteed improvement of my employability.
If even the best-educated person cannot find a job in their intended field, it is time to start considering what needs to be done outside of economizing university degrees. Instead of trying to pigeonhole students in order to make them more employable, we need to take a more proactive approach to improving the employment landscape itself. There is nothing wrong with working a crappy job post-university. Sometimes, like in my case, it can serve as a well-needed break. However, subpar employment should not be the only option for graduates.
There are days when I wish I was killing it right off the bat, but I want my next steps to be more calculated, informed and genuine than they have been in the past. I chose to study psychology because I was told that it that would make my income sufficient enough to pay back my student loans. At the time that I was making those decisions, I was not told that I would have to jump through many more hoops in order to do just that. I am grateful for the growth I have experienced by virtue of being in university, but in the end, I have realized that Ryerson is a business more than it is an educational facility. The next time I feel inclined to sink thousands of dollars into university, it will be more for personal growth than through the convoluted belief that a degree will better prepare me for real world.