OPINION: Education is important, but the institution I attend shouldn’t matter

Dec 17, 2021 | OP-ED, Opinion

I can still hear my high school biochemistry teacher’s response when I told him I applied for community college out of high school.

“Why wouldn’t you go to university? I thought you’d do something better … like science.”

I loved the food science aspect of biochemistry and I always knew that I couldn’t pursue something that I didn’t love. So I applied for a Pastry Arts certificate, excited to start in the culinary industry.

But my excitement was not met by my peers and teachers. My family always support what I do, but my peers often made jokes about my decision, and distant family members and teachers asked why I wouldn’t go to university.

In high school, students are often pushed towards paths that may not be best for them. It is difficult to explore the breadth of job opportunities when there are a very limited number of courses to choose from.

Maths, sciences, and literature are pushed rather than classes that encourage trades and college diplomas, such as arts, shop class and life skills. At 17-years-old or younger, students are expected to know what they are going to do with the rest of their lives and that may lead students to make decisions on programs and careers that aren’t right for them.

Deciding to attend university under pressure is an expensive decision. Universities often cost over $10,000 just for one year. If students realize they don’t like the course after a year or two, it’s difficult to move on when so much time and money have been spent on the subject already.

That is why college is the way to go for students who don’t quite know where they are headed. A year will cost closer to $5,000, and courses are shorter. There are many opportunities for bursaries that can cover a large part of tuition.

When I went into the Pastry Arts course at my local community college, I received a full-ride scholarship for one year. After the year I realized I didn’t want to be in that industry anymore, but I learned practical skills through hands-on experience and didn’t waste too much money in the process, and I had time to move on to something new.

With smaller class sizes in colleges, one-on-one instruction from professors happens daily. Both of my college experiences had class sizes of under 20. Though some universities in Canada have smaller class sizes, universities such as McMaster, Western and Queen’s have classes nearing 1,000.

There is this unsaid expectation that teens and young adults must experience university life before going into adulthood. Frat life, parties and drinking are glamorized in the media as an essential part of growing up. I felt like I was missing out on these activities that are seen as integral to the young adult experience. But this enforcement of partying and drugs can lead to harmful results.

“The university environment has a significant role in shaping student behaviours, and as such, the campus context needs to be altered so that it does not support a heavy drinking culture.” said a report by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

In my experience on college campuses, drinking and partying were not as intertwined with daily life. With fewer students living on campus, parties were easier to contain and were kept under control. I found myself more focused on my studies than my friends who attended university, whose difficult course loads and courses they didn’t like led them to increase their amount of partying and drugs to cope.

Colleges also have amazing opportunities for on-the-job learning. Programs often have internship credits, which are useful in building a network and learning important industry skills. Some nursing programs in university don’t have practical experience until the third year, whereas many college nursing diplomas begin practical study in year one. Many students who take advantage of work placement opportunities are offered a job immediately after graduation.

And this happened to me. Through my community college course, I ended up working at the best restaurant in Canada in 2019, under award-winning pastry chef Celeste Mah. Through my work placement, I landed a full-time position as an assistant pastry chef, making friendships and networking connections to last a lifetime.

My time at Humber College landed me an internship at the Toronto Star, one of the largest newspapers in Canada. I had a part-time paid position for a year, giving me valuable insight into the industry I didn’t learn in school, and connecting me with so many talented new and senior journalists.

I would be nowhere if not for my experience in college. I would recommend college over university to anyone who is unsure of their career path, or who just wants to try something new.