University Bound? This Website is for You

As part of my career coaching business, I am always looking for more resources I can use to educate both myself and my clients.  On that note, a while back I was talking to a woman about my business, and she happened to be a parent of teenagers. She told me about a website that she and her children had used as part of their research into universities and the various programs available, and she emphasized how helpful it had been in helping them to understand their many options. I had to check out this site myself, and it is truly excellent. I thought I would share it with you in this post.

The website is called eInfo, and can be found at www.electronicinfo.ca. This site is billed as a guide to Ontario’s universities for high school students, but would also be a handy resource for guidance counsellors. The website provides a wealth of information about university programs, admission requirements, and more. Users can search by program or university, and can also access information on finance (fees and scholarships), and the application process. The site also includes a handy video explaining the many ways in which users can search for information. Users can also print relevant pages of the website for future reference; these are available as PDFs.

After exploring the site on my own, I found it to be an excellent resource, but I would offer a few words of caution. Because of the exhaustive amount of information available on the site, it is probably best used by a student who is sure they want to attend university (as opposed to college or an apprenticeship), and feels pretty strongly about what they want to study, or what school they would like to attend. For a more uncertain student, the amount of information on the site might be too overwhelming and could lead to more indecision and confusion.

I would also suggest that the site would be helpful for parents who are wishing to gain a better understanding of their teenager’s post-secondary plans, or who would like to compare program offerings, fees, etc, without having to scour the entire internet. The site makes it easy to do this, by including an option to compare different programs or schools, by simply checking a box.

If you or someone you know is university bound, you would be wise to check out eInfo, and check it often, as the site is frequently updated with new information. I know it will make a valuable addition to my collection of resources, and I’m sure it can help you too.

It All Starts With Self-Awareness

In my last post, I wrote about how well universities are preparing students for the workplace, and wondered whether students’ perceptions about the working world are even accurate. I thought that for this post, I might explore some of the ways in which students can start learning about different workplaces, but then realized that would be overlooking a crucial step. Before a person can even begin thinking about jobs and employment, they must have a solid understanding of their own skills, interests, values and strengths. Without this knowledge, no jobseeker can be adequately prepared to choose a fulfilling work situation. I would even argue that this knowledge is crucial to choosing the most suitable option for training for a job; college, university or apprenticeship.

Here are some stats, courtesy of the publication The Decade After High School, to illustrate how lack of self-awareness and knowledge can impede students from making informed choices:

  • 60% of students graduate from a different program than the one they started in
  • 2 years post-graduation, 50% of Canadian undergrads are in jobs that don’t require the skills they gained in university

This information suggests that many students are not taking the time to really get to know themselves and their true strengths before choosing a post-secondary option. As a result, many students follow a meandering path, and frequently end up in employment that does not even require the costly education they acquired.

But what can be done to remedy this problem? After all, many teenagers are concerned they won’t have the time to really find themselves and uncover their passions before having to choose a career. Keeping in mind that no career choice is set in stone, it is still possible for young people to make informed choices if they start learning about what really motivates them, much earlier than when they actually need to make a decision. The sooner teenagers begin to explore their options, the better equipped they will be to make choices that allow for flexibility and ultimately, fulfillment.

This is where parents come in. There are many small actions you can take to help your son or daughter begin to think about what they might want to do with their life. If started early enough, the information gathered from these activities will help to paint a picture of what your son or daughter’s possible career path might look like. For starters, you can:

  1. Ask your teenager positive questions that will help them to determine their preferences, talents and abilities. Over time, they will begin to see patterns and possibilities.
  2. Observe how your teenagers spend their time. A great deal of useful career information can be gathered from noting what hobbies, teams, volunteer roles or classes your teenager is most drawn to. Help them to see how these interests might line up with their career ideas.
  3. Use your own experience to help. Talk to your teenager about how your own values, interests, skills and personality come into play in your work.

These and other actions can go a long way to helping young people develop the self-awareness and knowledge required to assist them in making informed decisions about their education and career. What’s more, this knowledge can serve as an anchor to keep them focused as they navigate the ever-changing world of employment and careers.

University as Preparation for the Real World

I recently read an interesting report from Maclean’s magazine, regarding a survey of Canadian university students. The survey was asking about which schools and programs had best prepared these students for the workplace. More than 17,000 students, spanning almost every Canadian university were surveyed. The results were fairly eye-opening. Here is a sampling of some of the responses:

  • 53% of students at St. Francis Xavier strongly agreed that they have the skills and knowledge required for employment
  • 71% of St. FX nursing students felt they had been well-prepared for the workplace
  • Students were also asked whether their schools had helped them with their writing abilities; St. Thomas University came out on top here.

The survey was anonymous and self-reported, so we have to assume that students responded honestly. Still, I think this report raises some interesting points to consider.

  1. Is university necessarily the best or most effective post-secondary option in preparing students for the workplace?
  2. Are students’ perceptions about the workplace and all that it entails even accurate? If not, how can they be sure they’re actually prepared for it once they finish school?

For this post, I will only share my thoughts on the first point. In short, my answer is “no.” There are many reasons why university is not the be-all, end-all solution to getting a job and being successful at that job. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, not all students who decide to go to university actually belong there. Too many students go to university simply because all of their friends are going, or because they have been sold the idea that university is the only pathway to success. Neither of these is sufficient reason to embark on such a challenging, and expensive journey as a university degree.

If a teenager is not self-directed or independently motivated enough to study and complete assignments, then university is likely not the right destination for them. Unlike in high school, professors at university do not check after students to ensure that work is being completed; instead, once an assignment has been given, students are unlikely to hear about it again until it is due. This requires students to be on top of their own work, and some simply are not able to take this kind of responsibility. Also, the workload is often so heavy in university that some students don’t know how to manage it and thus become overwhelmed, ultimately leading to falling impossibly behind.

However, it’s not just the fact that some students are unsuited to university that poses a problem; there is also the fact that university programs tend to be very theory-oriented, as opposed to focusing on practical skills. Because of this, most students graduate with excellent critical thinking skills, an ability to discuss theories and ideas, and useful skills in research and synthesis of ideas. It is difficult to judge how directly applicable such skills are to many workplaces. It is interesting to note though, that in terms of the article I mentioned at the start of this post, a high percentage of nursing students felt they had been well-prepared for the workplace. This might be because a nursing program involves a practical component, with students actually working in a health-care setting, and thus having the opportunity to apply what they are learning to a real-life situation. An English or Philosophy major for example, would likely not have the same kind of opportunity.

Now, a caveat; none of what I’ve said is meant to knock university. Plenty of people attend university and do find good jobs and success in life. I am merely trying to point out that university is not necessarily the best option for all students, and may not in all cases adequately prepare students for the world of work. In order to ensure that university is a good option for a particular student, it is important to first, understand the capabilities of that student, and second, to understand what a particular university program will actually entail and how that might apply to the workplace. If these questions are addressed beforehand, university can be an excellent option indeed.

*Survey report can be found at http://www.macleans.ca/education/numbers-to-study