Why are so many Leaside High students down on college vs. university?

At a young age I had my future planned out. I was going to become a professional ballerina and dance the coveting role of the sugar plum fairy with the amazing National Ballet of Canada. I did end up dancing in the Nutcracker but as years passed the reality of becoming a ballerina started to fade. I then moved onto my backup career of marine biologist, inspired by the plight of the many endangered sea animals.

I got busy doing my research and planning courses until I realized that working in the hot sun surrounded by salt water wasn’t great for my extremely dry skin. Another career choice that became more and more unlikely.

For a while I continued without a career in mind until a visit to George Brown College, downtown campus and bookstore made me aware that I could put my organization skills to good work as an event planner.

Zhen is in Grade 11 at Leaside High
Zhen is in Grade 11 at Leaside High

As most teens do, I mentioned my new career choice to my friends and that I was considering going to college. It was then that I got a reaction that I wasn’t expecting. Instead of “wow that’s a great idea, I would have never thought of that” I got “you’re not going to university?” This left me to wonder, why is it that people see college as a less admirable option for post-secondary education. So I decided to do some research and asked my friends, guidance counsellor and our school trustee, Gerri Gershon, their opinions on different post-secondary options.

When asked which post-secondary institution they were thinking of attending most of my friends said, without hesitation, university (read: Queen’s or Western). Their reasons included “There is a higher success rate” (Claudia); “it’s for smarter kids” (Abina); and “it’s for more extensive careers” (Jackson). Although these opinions are valid, I think they’re also very old fashioned and stereotypical. Yes, people who graduate from university may have high marks and rewarding careers, but that doesn’t mean that if you go to college that won’t be true for you as well.

My guidance counsellor, Mary Du shocked me when she told me last year only 12 out of 260 Leaside High graduates chose to attend college. That’s less than five per cent! This is an alarming statistic since as Ms. Du told me, “Colleges have great programs.”

In her email to me, Trustee Gershon offered a balanced view. “I think that students should attend the institution that has courses that interest them,” she said. “Most likely the direction that people take after secondary school could lead to their life’s work so it’s important that the courses help move toward what the student envisions for his or her future. I advise graduates to keep their options open. They might start in one direction and end up in another.”

Both university and college are great options for post-secondary. In general, colleges tend to be more directly career-oriented and offer diploma and certificate programs, while universities offer undergraduate degrees and professional programs, such as medicine, dentistry and law. Decisions on which to choose should be made by career and program preference, not stereotypes or peer/parental pressure. In fact, whatever decision you do make doesn’t have to be final. In life you never know what will happen, and you might end up going to both. My advice to my fellow Leaside High students? Keep your options open.