5 Things I Learned In My Undergrad

Photo by Kaitlin Wong

Photo by Kaitlin Wong

Every year, thousands of students mark the end of their university careers by taking the glory walk across the stage and receiving a piece of parchment proving they are to ready to enter some facet of the working world. It took me five years to finish my undergrad, and two universities. Statistically speaking, that story is becoming more common. According to Statistics Canada, in 2007, Canadian university students graduated a year later than university students in 1999 and the number of students attending more than one institution rose by 30% between 1999 and 2005.

For many graduates, convocation also marks your official entry into the “real” world (more on that later) which, if you didn’t have a job lined up in your last semester, roughly translates into un(der)employment and a sudden surplus of free time. Besides spending too much time on Netflix, agonizing about the future and doing all the things I never had time to do in school (like having an exciting social life), my extra time has been partly spent reflecting on my university experience.

Here are the top five things I learned in my five years of university.

1. 80% of life is showing up.

I first heard this saying by a guest lecturer who was describing how he met an owner of a billion-dollar company at a bar who went on to give him the startup funds he needed for his business. A stroke of luck? Perhaps. But being at the right place at the right time always requires you to show up. And who knows, if you show up to enough things, maybe something magical can happen; you might meet a special someone, or learn something that puts you ahead of your peers, or hear about an opportunity that you would have otherwise missed. Whether it’s showing up to class (always a good idea) or dropping by for half an hour at a campus event only to receive the $100 grand door prize (true story), try and make an appearance to things you like and care about.

2. University = red tape central.

Trying to get a class transferred in the hopes of graduating a little earlier? Want to organize a campus event for a cause you care about? GOOD LUCK. The phone calls, emails and forms you have to fill out only to be referred to more people and more forms as you ping-pong between departments is a nightmare. Universities are bureaucracy at its finest, so if you are interested in navigating the ladders of hierarchy, universities are a great place to do it.

3. Adulting is difficult.

Adulting is basically becoming responsible for yourself, and responsibility is difficult and time consuming and frustrating. Not always, but mostly — like pretty much 90% of the time. Paying bills. Setting car appointments. House/apartment hunting. Job hunting. Networking. DEALING WITH PEOPLE. It’s the art and science of life that you sometimes end up learning the hard way.

4. You are living in a ‘fake’ world (or so everyone will have you believe).

You parents will say it, your professors will say it, even you might slip and say it. “When you are in the real word, the real work begins.” “In the real world, you won’t really need to know this stuff” (which always begs the question why we are learning it in the first place!). All this as if your struggles and toils through midterms and finals, and every all-nighter spent finishing those 15-page papers at the library happens in a supposedly hoax, imaginary, alternate universe. Well, not everything you learn and do at university might transfer to your first job or second degree, but the student struggle is real and your frustrations are shared and understood by every university student who ever lived.

5. Conquer university and you will conquer the world (i.e. your life).

Think of university like a living laboratory for life. The soft skills you learn (like the things you aren’t really taught but are expected to know and thus, usually end up learning the hard way) are so relevant to everyday life. Time management, relationship building, work-life balance, managing stress, critical thinking, leadership, work ethic, networking and professionalism: these tools are so transferable to future jobs (yes, put them on your resume), and so helpful in your everyday life. Not only will you forever analyze movies like you are going to write a paper on them, you will also think critically about current events, become a little more serious and responsible than when you first started university, and be a whole lot more knowledgable in your chosen major. You will grow up. So rest assured, you will change in university (hopefully) for the better.

And finally, if you do it right, and enjoy yourself, and put enough effort in your studies to do well but not so much that you don’t make friends, and you try different things and you meet new people, your university experience just might be life-changing — and totally worth it.

featuresSahar Khelifa