Going to university is not a sentence - Macleans.ca

Going to university is not a sentence

Chances to really think about things are rare. Don’t waste those chances while you are in university.


It’s advice time again, and though I have doled out advice before, there is one big suggestion that will be helpful if taken to heart by everyone who goes to university, and has not, to my knowledge, been offered elsewhere. Here it is:

You are not in prison.

This might seem unhelpful since university, of course, is not prison, but my point is that a great many students treat it like it is. Put another way, many students treat their university years as thirty-six to forty-eight months that must be endured to get a degree.  Do your time, keep your head down, stay out of trouble, and eventually they will let you out with a piece of paper saying that you deserve your freedom.

One problem with this approach is that it often fails. Students find that many courses actually require substantial effort and, sadly, some profs don’t give time off for good behaviour. After a year or two of this, they drop out or are kicked out, none the wiser and much poorer.

But the bigger problem with this approach is that even if it works, it represents a staggering missed opportunity. University is a time when you not only have the chance to learn about, read about, think about the most interesting questions in the world, you will actually be rewarded for it. If a professor asks you what you’re working on and you reply that you’ve been thinking a lot about St Augustine’s notions of evil as represented in Hamlet, your prof will think you’re a genius. Say the same thing to your sales manager in a few years and he will think you’re a nutcase. You may think that having to sit and read a book is about the worst thing you can be made to do, but believe me, there will come a day when you will be ecstatic if the most pressing thing you have to do in a day is sit and read.

You can approach university passively. You can get by with as little trouble as possible. You can just muddle through to get a credential.

But you will have missed the biggest opportunity of your life.

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Going to university is not a sentence

  1. I would add that what faculty you’re in, and if that is congruent with your dreams and aspirations affects this as well. Try explaining to someone in civil engineering that you’re pondering the history of the Canadian labour movement during the interwar period, and he’ll look at you the same way as this sales manager.

    For some faculties such as engineering where the focus for many students is on future financial rewards as opposed to intellectual interest, I have a feeling that many people do feel like they’re just putting in time so they can get paid well in a few years.

  2. Globe and Mail readers’ poll survey today “Do Canadian Universities reflect the priorities of Canadians?” brings a emphatic negaative, 31% Yes to 69% No
    A more dramatic exposure will be found at http://ottawamaths.spaces.live.com, click Documents.
    Applied mathematicians expose false accounting in public spending since 1959.
    University of Toronto Psychology reports “fifteen hundred first year students necessitate that students mark each other’s assignments!”
    If Ontaario needs 1500 psychologists from one pseudo university, then Ontario has a problem.
    If only seventy are needed, then 1430 students are lining up problems in which hamburger joints and gas-pumping will offer limited career opportunities.

  3. As I look at colleges to send my kids, I think I might pass on your institution Todd. Why? I am a professor at a different university in Canada and I honestly don’t have a clue what students you are talking about. Prison? Really? The students I encounter like university a lot, recognize the fun they are having, are very bright and love learning and I have to say, I really enjoy teachign such students.

    Sadly I think one too many of our colleges are not actually designed for kids who ever excelled in a classroom, have never enjoyed book learning, and probably should be out earning a trade and getting their hands wet. Forcing them to sit in a college setting for all the wrong reasons is not helping anyone.

    If you truly find college is a bit like prison and you are counting down the days, you should consider a NEW college, a NEW major or possibly not going to college at all. It isn’t for everyone and you can have a wonderful life without it.

    • Alanis, I’m curious to know where and what you teach. Of course, I too have many dedicated, engaged students, but a university whose students are all or nearly all like that sounds too good to be true.