Have you ever wondered why I started Choose Your Uni? Below, I’m sharing my origin story, from lost undergrad to confident professional and PhD student!
I had every advantage possible when I did my undergrad, but I still struggled to understand what I was doing there and then couldn’t figure out how to leverage my degree into a career. It took me many years to figure it out, and now I want to take everything I’ve learned since then to help other students have a better undergrad experience.
My Undergraduate Experience
If you look at student success research (which I have), there are certain things that are connected with student success:
✅parents who got university degrees
✅going to a high school that informs students about university choices
✅getting involved on campus
✅feeling a sense of belonging at the university
I met all of these but still felt lost when I went to university. My parents had gone to university and expected me to go (this was not optional for them), and I also had friends from my high school who went to the same uni. After I picked my major, I got involved in my departmental student union, holding positions of secretary, student society rep and president, so I was quite connected on campus. My program was small, so I got to know my professors and could go to them for help, plus I saw the same people in a lot of my classes for my major. I studied a subject I really enjoyed, and even though it was challenging, I managed to get good grades.
And of course, there were challenges. I remember going to the academic advising office to ask about selecting my major, because I thought an advisor would give me… well, advice! But she told me that if I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, she couldn’t help me. It turns out her job was just to tell me the technical requirements to declare after I had chosen – not to help me figure out what I wanted to study. My mom’s advice was to “study something you enjoy,” so I did that and declared a major in French and signed up for a Spanish proficiency certificate instead of a minor. I did get to go to Quebec and France, and I eventually finished my BA after about 5 years (because I was also working part-time).
Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts
Now, here’s the embarrassing part: When I graduated, I thought everyone would want to hire me. Everyone said that if I went to university, I’d get a good job! Since I finished university, I thought someone was just going to hire me and start paying me $50K/year. I had no idea what the job was, or how I would get it, but I still expected to get it. And I say it’s embarrassing because now I can see the privilege and naïvité associated with that. Part of the reason I thought this was because my parents both had good careers after going to university. But part of the reason I thought this was a combination of my lack of experience and that constant messaging from family and high school about how “going to university gets you a good job,” without any actual tangible information about career planning. So although I’m embarrassed, at that age and with the very little (zero!) career experience I had, it also kind of makes sense.
Student Affairs Professional
After a couple of years working in a call centre, which paid very well but wasn’t very fulfilling, I found my way back to my Alma Mater and into the field of student affairs. Student affairs professionals are the university and college staff who support students but generally are not professors: they work in residence, orientation, academic advising, career development, leadership, etc.
In this field I had the opportunity to work in academic advising, student recruitment, admissions, curriculum development, course scheduling, and more. It was through these roles that I discovered that many students were just as lost as I had been. I thought I had been the only one, but it turns out that lots of students are just as lost.
I also had the opportunity to learn about career development in these roles, and through my own experiences I was able to get on my own path and figure out what I wanted to do. It was through this planning that I explored different options through volunteering and continuing my education, and also getting to do a Masters degree that was covered by my workplace.
Becoming a Full-Time Student Again
In 2020, I was admitted to a full-time PhD program studying higher education at OISE, University of Toronto, which was a dream come true. I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and was now spending most of my time reading and writing papers, which is exactly what I wanted to do.
I also collaborated with a colleague on a research project that involved student interviews, and listening to these students’ stories also really inspired me. Many of them were first-in-family to go to university, or first in Canada, and they didn’t all get help from their guidance counsellors in high school. Their parents were supportive but didn’t have experience navigating university systems here. I was reminded of my own experience, and so many students I had worked with in the past who had questions or challenges starting university, and I knew I could do something to help.
After completing most of my course work, I finally had some space in my schedule to launch something I had been thinking about for a long time: Chooseyouruni.ca, a resource to help students feel less lost by providing some of the information that high schools and universities don’t necessarily share with you. Because of my own experiences as a student, in student affairs, and studying higher education, I have some expertise to offer to help other students!
I built this resource to provide information to students who were lost like I was: how to pick your program and university, start your career planning, and excel in your studies. As I received more student questions, I added more: time management, motivation, organization… and I am still building!
So now, here I am, almost a year after launching! I have students regularly checking out my blog for study tips and university navigation info, and I’m offering live webinars and will be launching my first online courses in the next few weeks!
More About Me
If you’re wondering what else I do, I also work as a research assistant with my PhD supervisor, have a communications internship with a professional association, volunteer with another professional association, and am a dog-sitter through the Rover app, in addition to various part-time contract work in higher education. My PhD research is on equity policy and how universities implement change as they take up new institutional level policies at different levels.
I hope you are finding Choose Your Uni helpful, and I always love hearing from other students, so please feel free to email me with your questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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