I am a 30-year-old Arts student. If you look at my ID, my student number begins with 2006—meaning that I applied fresh out of high school, assuming that university was the path for me given how much my teachers and parents praised my intelligence.

However, it took me two years after high school to find the means to pay for my semesters through work. Upon entry, I declined to work with my strengths and instead tried to get a Science degree, hoping for more career opportunities. After all, people tend to belittle Arts degrees.

Trying to force myself to excel in an area I had always struggled with ended up demoralizing me. On top of that I went through many typical young adult issues: partying too much, relationship trouble, a lack of job or financial stability, family issues, mental health concerns, etc. I felt I was unintelligent and incapable of getting a degree, so I dropped out two semesters in with my self-esteem and future hopes badly shaken.  

A few years later, I tried doing a single course out of a desire to learn simply for fun. And well, also to show my peers I was capable of university learning, despite not having a degree. I did this off and on for a few years. I attempted going to the College of the North Atlantic for a medical trade, but experienced the same frustrations struggling with mathematics and science and wound up having to drop out there as well.

Finally this year, I opted to take a couple of courses in the Arts that actually appeal to me and I ended up with an 87% average. This sparked recognition of my own potential and the following semester I took on a full course load, decided to pursue a diploma in the humanities and social sciences and likely a philosophy degree.

My experiences have taught me that it is important to learn within your area of interest and ability, and not out of the pressures of what you are told is a good career idea. Trying to force yourself to be something you are not is damaging.

One of the biggest challenges of getting my diploma/degree, however, is the cost involved. I do not wish to acquire student debt, having seen so many people burdened by it. Thus, I am working while attending full time classes. Even though tuition here is the cheapest in Canada, it’s still hard when working part-time, minimum wage jobs with additional expenses.

There is a stigma that follows you if you do not complete a postsecondary education. I saw this more and more as I aged and it began to gnaw at me. Learning has helped me feel better about myself, my future and how I spend my time. I enjoy myself as a student way more at 30 than I did at 21 and there are less distractions for me now than there were as a younger adult.

I am unaware of drop out rates or university recruitment campaigns. I would imagine a fair number of young people do drop out for a few reasons; the foremost being it’s very different than the high school experience. We suddenly have to study hard; five classes in university are much more challenging than five in high school, many of which we likely didn’t even study for back then. There is a certain amount of maturity that is not present for many of us when we are faced with such a novel and daunting challenge. It makes sense that some of us will run at first. We are not used to delaying gratification for long-term goals and the draw to be social can outweigh that of being studious. The second issue is cost. Not all of us have parents who can pay our fees and provide us housing and some of us don’t like the idea of starting off our twenties with a giant student loan.

I have learned, just this year, that there is a counselling centre on campus for student mental health support. As someone who struggles with mental health issues, I find this very useful, particularly because getting to see a psychologist or psychiatrist in this province means years on a waiting list. At the counselling centre, you can have an appointment within a couple of weeks. I have also found academic advisors to be quite helpful.

Right now I’m taking it one semester at a time, and hoping I am eligible for some government grants along the way. At some point I’ll get to wear a tassel-hat, but for now, I’m just enjoying the ride—one that plays to my strengths.