Five years and a piece of paper

Scott Hastie
November 17, 2016
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

When this issue hits stands, I will have walked across the stage at Hamilton Place with my diploma in hand. Graduation is an exciting day for everyone, but the date is significant for me.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I was sitting in my bedroom in Westdale, calling my parents to tell them I think I had to drop out of school and move back home.

My fight against depression and anxiety was not going well: I had no motivation to go to class, did not pay attention to deadlines and felt alone after ending a relationship in the summer.

Dropping out was the right decision, but it haunted me for a while. It meant that everything would have to be delayed a year and the plan I had was junk now.

I started at McMaster in Sept. 2011, coming to the Hammer wide-eyed with high expectations for the next four years.

My original plan was getting my honours Bachelor of Arts degree at McMaster in the Communications program and then go into a sports journalism program at Centennial College.

I wanted to be done in four years, because that is how we talk about most university programs. “It’s a four-year program,” you say to your family at the holiday gatherings, further cementing the arbitrary deadline. I continued to hold myself to that expectation after I dropped out, wondering how this would affect my life moving forward.

It didn’t.

I came back from the year off with momentum. I spent the summer working an amazing internship, I was taking four classes instead of five a semester and I had strategies for coping with my mental health.

Taking the time off allowed me to come back and truly be successful in everything I was trying to do, not just put in the time to get towards that June 2015 finish line.

As university costs rise and the prospects for employment after graduation continue to shrink, I think more students will feel like they have to complete the four-year sprint and I worry about the impact that is going to have on our mental health.

Yes, there is a cost to stretching your undergraduate career, like rent or the opportunity cost of not working full-time. But the flipside is the toll on your personal wellbeing and that is more important than debt.

Ignore the pressures of a plan you set out when you were 18 and figure out what is best for you. Maybe it’s a year off, maybe you can fly through the degree in three years.

Don’t hold yourself to the four-year program ideology like I did. Finding success doesn’t mean you have to take the same path as everyone else.


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