When I graduated high school, the decision to attend university was a no-brainer. Everyone from my high school guidance counselor to my pastor and close friends had said something along the lines of, "If you don't go to university, you won't get a good job". The implication was obvious: go to university, or be miserable at work for the rest of your life. So, at the ripe young age of seventeen, I packed a coupe suitcases and flew across the country for my freshman year of undergraduate studies.
Since completing a four year degree in English and having spent a few years in the "real world", it's safe to say in hindsight that my experience at University was a beneficial and formative one. I learned a great deal about the world and my place in it as a Christian, spent an incredible semester studying abroad in England, and made some valuable lifelong friendships.
That being said, there are some lessons I wish I'd learned during my time at University, lessons that could have enhanced my educational experience and made the transition from university to full-blown adulthood a little smoother.
1. A university degree does not guarantee you a job.
"If you don't go to university, you won't get a good job."
The warning echoed ominously in my mind every time I considered dropping out and moving home (which was more often than I'd care to admit during my first year). The fear that I would end up working full-time as a barista at Starbucks was enough to keep me in class, so I stuck it out, confident that the converse implication of the warning was true: "If you do go to university, you will get a good job".
Unfortunately, neither the warning nor its logical implications are necessarily true. A bachelor's degree does not guarantee you a fulfilling career in the area of your choice. It does, however, equip you to be a responsible citizen, gain valuable critical thinking skills, and acquire wisdom, which, in itself, is more valuable than any single career. As Proverbs 16:16 says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!"
If you're aware of this, you know that now is the time to be thinking about the practical implications of your degree, and how you can best use the knowledge you acquire to serve God with the skills and education you receive. Pursue professional internships, seek council from your professors and prayerfully consider how to apply the things you are learning to your role in God's Kingdom.
Now is also a good time to develop strong financial management habits, because odds are your finances will be stretched even tighter once you've graduated and are forced to pay back your student loans, make car payments, or move out of the house you managed to cram nine people into to keep your rent payments down.
2. University is an important time to develop a personal "mission statement".
Your time at university will be one of the greatest times of personal discovery in your life. You will have opportunities to choose your classes, make new friends with different viewpoints, and explore new areas of interest. As you learn more about your values, keep track of the things that you care about and let them determine the decisions you make about your future. Form a mission statement for yourself, a set of values and requirements to weigh your big decisions against.
For example, if you find through your courses in social work or business that you value altruism, community development, and have a heart for social justice, then make note of that and pursue opportunities to put those values into practice. If you value art and creativity, pursue outlets for your creativity and explore new creative possibilities. Take a painting class. Take music lessons. Join the school choir or audition for the fall theatrical production.
If you focus on your own personal values and actively pursue ways to put them into practice, they will help shape the decisions you make regarding the courses you take and the major and minor you declare.
3. It's okay to be single when you graduate.
Many students spend a disproportionate amount of their undergraduate degree trying to meet "the one". At Redeemer University College, we joked about the 3:1 female to male ratio and how it favored the male students who were looking for a spouse. Briercrest College in Saskatchewan is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Bridalquest". Fourth year students often witness what is known as the "senior scramble", where graduating students pair up in a last-ditch attempt to get married before they graduate.
And while it may be true that "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord" (Proverbs 18:22), keep in mind that students who graduate as a single person are by far the majority of students. You shouldn't compare your relationship status to the people around you. If you're not married by the time you graduate, you're not alone. Don't waste valuable energy and mental focus pursuing relationships that are wrong for you just because you feel like you're supposed to graduate with a ring on your finger.
4. There is a whole world outside of your campus.
University campuses can be beautiful, peaceful places of incubation for young students. It's easy to form a strong community of close friends when you live in close quarters and have everything you need within walking distance. But the sooner you get comfortable outside your campus and involve yourself in your wider community and neighborhoods, the easier the transition to post-graduate life will be.
This is especially important if you are a student at a Christian university. I spent four years at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario and found myself trapped inside a "Christian bubble", with little interest in the city I was living in and no friendships outside of my church family. It was a dramatic transition for me when I moved downtown Hamilton and found myself making friends with non-Christians, working with people who had never been to church, and sharing an apartment building with people of every faith and worldview.
As Christians, it is important to cultivate a holistic life as early as possible. Make a habit of missional living. Find ways to get involved in your community outside of your campus. Volunteer at after school programs, help out at food banks or soup kitchens, take some of your time to coach community sports or get involved with local politics.
We are commanded in 1 Chronicle 16:24 to "declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples." This starts when you step outside of your campus and invest in your local community.
5. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.
If you want to excel at your area of study, you have to put the time in. Education takes sacrifice, so accept that fact early on and crack down. "Though it cost all you have, get understanding" Proverbs 4:7.
10,000 hours may seem like an overwhelming amount of time, but if you dedicate a couple hours each day to honing your chosen craft, it will get you a third of the way there by the time you graduate. Spend a couple hours each day painting or practicing your instrument of choice. Or devote an extra two hours each day to reading classic works of literature or philosophy, or catching up on the latest business trends.
It may seem unrealistic to set aside this kind of time, but you have more freedom during this stage in your life than you've ever had before (or will ever have again!), so put it to good use.
6. More than anything else:
the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
While your time at University is an exciting one, it is also a time when all sorts of distractions will be tugging at your attention, drawing you away from God. You might experience anxiety over your future, your grades, and the jobs that will be available when you graduate. In the face of anxiety, it can be easy to make quick, uninformed decisions if you don't consider your options prayerfully. Submit your desires and your gifts to God's refinement, leaning not on your own understanding of the world and how it works, but rather trusting that the Lord knows what is best for you.
Set aside daily time for personal reflection, time when you can examine you values and your gifts and rededicate yourself to discerning where God would have you put them to His use.