The University Experience

Well, here’s that post that I mentioned I’d write about in my first blog post!

Now, I’m hoping with this post that it’ll help some student out there in the world who’s struggling with their university experience. I’m lucky that I was able to stay motivated and get through it with a smile on my face. Additionally, I was lucky enough to be a Residence Life Don (known as resident assistants and other similar titles) in my very last term of university, so I had first-hand experience IRL to help my first year students.

 

So, let’s start with high school.

I guess, looking back I had always wanted to do marketing. I loved being creative and took visual arts as my elective, participated in marketing events in DECA, and did the fun creative stuff in my social curricular activities. So I think from a person looking from the outside, it was clear that I should have gone into a general business/commerce program. BUT, during high school my accounting teacher was literally one of the best teachers, and basically made me think I could be an accountant. So when it came down to picking schools, I was deciding between Laurier BBA (co-op not guaranteed), or Waterloo AFM (co-op guaranteed). While deciding, it couldn’t go unnoticed that Laurier had that reputation of being the “high school down the street” from UW. And considering all my friends in high school are geniuses (engineers, doctors, etc.) there was extra added pressure to pick the school that wasn’t considered a “high school” from the eyes of naive 17-year-olds. In the end I picked UW AFM. Regrets? A few, but I try to always look at things from a positive experience and not to regret anything. After all, I’d rather regret something I did do, instead of something I didn’t do.

 

Next up, the first few years of university.

Needless to say, those first few years were rough. First off, it was that whole “small fish, big pond” scenario. In high school, I was involved in a lot: Student Activity Council, DECA, sports teams throughout the years, and volunteering for various events. Through those things, I was able to connect with a number of students and staff and felt popular. Coming into university, there were hundreds of these students who were more involved, more athletic, more outgoing, and more intelligent than me. So, yes, it was hard for me to come off of that pedestal I was on and face reality. Luckily/unluckily first year, first term was a huge review of high school. I was able to get good grades but at the expense of learning good studying habits. But as the terms went on, the more miserable I became as the content wasn’t “tickling my fancy” and I didn’t have those good study habits. The grades went down, my overall outlook on school went down, and I just wasn’t enjoying the academic portion of my university career. My degree also has a co-op option, and grades are incredibly important, especially if it’s your first time working in a workplace setting. So the pressure was on. Luckily I was able to work my first (and last) summer off after my 1B term in a professional setting and get some experience under my belt. I also attended some professional events held by my department which led me to make a very important connection to get me my first co-op placement after my 2A term.

 

The realization

So, it hit me. During my co-op term, I was in the finance department. It wasn’t the most ideal for me, but still a learning opportunity. I was tired of feeling sick and tired and wanted to make a change. At this point, I was seriously considering switching schools and studying marketing or general business elsewhere. But my mom had told me that she always wants me to finish what I start. So I sought out help from an academic advisor. I have a love/hate relationship with academic advisors. For the most part, all the advisors I’ve had in my life were pretty useless. But this advisor I went to, who isn’t even the main advisor of AFM, was significantly more helpful than the main person. She explained how there are options within AFM to do a “non-specialization” instead of the accounting or finance specialization. As long as I met all of the degree requirements, all of those other courses can be filled with electives instead of accounting or finance courses. This was it. The exact thing I needed to hear. I opted to choose the non-specialization option and pulled all the strings to take my electives at WLU, specifically marketing courses. (I’d also like to mention, the advisor who worked for Math/Business who helped me enroll in my courses was significantly more helpful than the main advisor)

Now, let me tell you, this was not easy. The fear of being that trailblazer, deviating from the group, paving my own path, doing my own thing. It was terrifying. In my program specifically, all your courses and career/academic path was pretty much set for you. Any deviation was, what I felt, frowned upon. It’s never easy to be judged, especially from your peers. And it’s hard not to compare yourself to everyone around you. Seeing everyone succeed with the program and doing well with what was given. There were so many tears shed, sleepless nights, and paranoid-filled conversations with various advisors hoping my decisions would turn out alright for me. But what motivated me was happiness. I wanted to truly study and work for something I was passionate about. For me, that was marketing.

So, let me break it down, in timeline format.

1A: Regular AFM courses

1B: Regular AFM courses

Summer: worked at one of the major banks in marketing

2A: Regular AFM courses

Co-op 1: Finance co-op at federal government

2B: Regular AFM courses (*this was the major turning point)

3A: Dropped Tax I, took a marketing course at UW instead

Co-op 2: Finance co-op at Canada’s largest food retailer

3B: Dropped Tax II, took 2 additional AFM courses to fulfill degree requirements, and first marketing course at WLU

Co-op 3 & 4: Marketing co-op at a large tech company

4A: Took the last 2 required AFM courses, 2 marketing courses at WLU, and a fun elective (speech communications)

4B: No AFM courses, hurrah! Took 2 courses at WLU, and 3 electives at UW. A more relaxed term for my time as a Residence Life Don.

 

I’ve found *it*!

So, as seen from the above timeline, it pretty much worked out quite well. But that doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing through it all. There was an awful advisor along the way that belittled me and made me cry. There were hurdles like restricted classes at WLU. There were last-minute contingency plans when courses couldn’t be added. There were stressed-filled nights as I was paranoid I wasn’t going to graduate because of degree changes. But guess what, I pushed through. I stayed diligent and organized. Planning out every course I was going to take, researching when courses were offered, and which term to take what course to ensure I was able to maximize the number of 400-level marketing courses at WLU. And yes, I did it. Completed undergrad degree in December 2015. Graduated in June 2016.

But what I found most rewarding and, in a way, shocking was that I wasn’t the only person who felt the way I did about my program. There were people who wanted a way out, but kept pushing through the program, not knowing their options. Now, what I should have mentioned was that I didn’t tell anyone other than a few close friends what I was doing. Basically everyone in my program didn’t know I wasn’t going the accounting or finance route. But, as time went on and group projects required meetings, I had to let people know I was at WLU and won’t be able to get to meetings right away. So, the news spread. But as it did, what I thought would be negativity and people frowning upon me, was actually an overwhelming amount of support, admiration, and questions on how they can do it too. People from my year and younger years reached out to me for help. They wanted to know how they can do what I’m doing. People commented how I’m so brave to stray from the group and that I’m following my passions. This totally sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but actual conversations here!

As an outsider, this might be “no big deal” to stray from your program in the way that I did. But as a student in a highly structured program, not knowing how things will turn out, not knowing if I would graduate, not knowing if employers would see this negatively – yes, it was a big deal, at least for me. And what I learned most was to just do your own thing. There were so many learning opportunities throughout this journey and I appreciated my education at WLU so much more because I had to fight so hard to take courses there. And luckily, I’m pretty sure set precedence for future UW students to take courses at WLU as I have had friends who had a much easier time enrolling for electives at WLU. I found that when I was taking courses at Laurier, I wanted to do the readings. I wanted to work on the projects and actually do well. This goes to show how your interest and passions make a huge impact on your output.

 

Key Takeaways

  • It’s okay to be scared when you’re starting out with something, especially if you’re the first one to do it.
  • Things may seem impossible, and it might seem like it’s easier to quit. But exercise all your options first. Talk to someone, anyone. They might help and guide you into the right direction or present a new option.
  • You’re never alone.
  • There will always be people who love and support you. They will help you through it all when it seems like everything is falling apart.
  • The ride won’t go smoothly. There will be bumps along the road and incidents that may feel like it’ll derail your entire plan. But push through it. Be persistent, be resourceful, and be patient.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from them and make the most of your situation.
  • Set goals to achieve. They can be small goals along the way and a big goal (like getting a dog!) at the end you want to accomplish.
  • You do you, boo boo.
  • Things always work out. They always do.
  • Last but not least, happiness is a choice

 

Until the next post,

Tangerine & Toby

 

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