End of an… error? – Lessons Learned From Seven Years at Uni

I’m currently winding up my final semester of undergraduate education.

Nothing too atypical about this situation, besides the fact that I started over six and a half years ago. It’s been a somewhat bumpy road, but at 5:15pm on the fourteenth of November I will have reached some form of off-ramp. Or perhaps a freeway. I don’t know, we’ll see.

So what exactly have I been doing for the last seven years? I’m asked by fellow third-year students (who are four years my junior) and Masters students my age why, as a 24 year old who has never taken a gap year, I still haven’t got any fancy letters to put in front of my name on an otherwise flashy business card.

Well, it’s a long-ish story. But let’s see if I can get it some of it into five hundred words.

After leaving high school, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. Do an Arts degree at Melbourne with an ENTER score that was well over the requisite (and be done in three years), or do an Arts/Science double degree (slightly higher requisite score) and feel a little better about the fact that I had apparently wasted a bunch of time in high school studying to get a final result which I didn’t really need (and be done in five)?

2 things made me go with the latter option.

  1. Dad. Yes, okay, fine, I listened to Dad. He thought Arts degrees were wishy-washy, and pointed out that if I did the Arts/Science degree and hated the science part, I could just drop it easily.
  2. A final-year student I was forced to associate with at the time (he was a fellow football umpire) threw in his two cents, and when I said I was considering doing Arts, as it seemed fairly flexible and didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do in the future, he said;

“Most people who go into an Arts degree not knowing what they want to do come out not knowing what they want to do.”

I don’t remember much else about this guy, but these words stuck with me.

So I picked Arts/Science, and buckled up for another five years of education. Then, in February 2007, I had to choose subjects. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do for my Science degree, but I was good at Maths in high school, so I chose Maths. I had a real passion for animals as a kid, but I had long since dismissed that as dumb kid stuff that didn’t matter in the real world. Somewhat ironically, I knew exactly which Arts subjects I wanted to do. They don’t matter at this point though.

I stumbled through an awful first year of mathematics, hating every subject and failing one. Still in the high school frame of mind which dictated that I had no other option, I had a crack at a third semester, which went just as badly as the first two. I then realised that this was my tertiary education, I would be the one to pay for it (eventually), and maybe I should have a think about what I really wanted from it.

So for the next semester, I only took three subjects (as opposed to the norm of four), to give me a chance to slow down and figure out what I wanted to do. I kept ploughing on with Maths, and though my grades improved almost immediately, it took me two more semesters to decide what I wanted to do. But once I had, things turned right around.

Take home messages at this point?

  1. It’s your University education. Do what you want to do for a career, that doesn’t mean what you were good at in high school (though the two often happily intersect).
  2. There’s nothing wrong with taking a little time off at University if it means sorting your life out and make sure you’re not wasting your time there
  3. Don’t try and fit the story of your University education into 700 words….

Read part 2 here.

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One Response to End of an… error? – Lessons Learned From Seven Years at Uni

  1. Pingback: End of an…. Error? Part 2 – Why I’ve Spent Seven Years Doing Undergrad | 44 Minutes to Berlin

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