Debt, Regret, and a useless degree

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By Carly Yoshida-Butryn

When you first abandon the shackles of high school, it’s hard not to feel liberated. The horrible days of sweating your ass off in gym class and walking into the office for late slips are finally over, as you embark on your university career.

At Ryerson, we’re told that we’ll get hands-on experience and that our practical education will help us get a job. But for some Ryerson grads, their degrees don’t take them where they originally expected.

Jessica Stella switched into photography at Ryerson after almost two years in radio and television arts, a decision she now deeply regrets. She though photography would be more creative and fun, and for a little while it was. But after first year, things started going downhill.

“My personal education was a joke. A really bad, horrible, sad joke,” she says.

She was resentful of the program’s laissez-fare attitude that offered little in the way of technical instruction and had small amounts of in-class time, except to critique student work.

“A lot of people think thats’s great, but I’m paying how many thousands of dollars in tuition to show up for critiques only?” she says. “I learned more from my classmates than my profs.”

She also found that many professors paid attention to the more promising students, leaving those in the middle, like her, to struggle on their own. While she says there were a handful of good instructors, a lot of students fell through the cracks.

The 25-year-old stuck out the four years and graduated last spring, even after she realized that being behind the lens wasn’t for her. She officially gave up looking for a job a few months ago after she got tried of fruitless searching in a medium she no longer even enjoys. She’s working at an office job now to pay off her $43,000 student debt.

“Six years of university education under my belt, and I’m not really doing anything useful,” she says. “I try to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel’s pretty long right now. I wish someone had told me that I could go to college instead. If I ever have children, I’m going to tell them not to go to university.”

While Stella’s degree is collecting dust, Russell evans is actually using his bachelor of commerce working for a non-profit organization.

The 28-year-old graduated from the school of business in 2004, and after working for bigger companies like Walt Disney, he enjoyes the work he’s doing and can see himself sticking with the non-profit industry for a while.

But he laments that Ryerson didn’t advertise doing this type of work. In fact, he regrets that Ryerson didn’t have much in the way of career-counselling at all.

“None of our profs ever mentioned anything like that,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of direct talk about when you leave school, this is the kind of work you should be looking for.”

While he’s happy with the work he’s doing, he says that his time in university would have been better spent not taking his classes so seriously.

“I would skip more classes and hang out with friends,” he says. “No one will ever ask you what your GPA was. Nobody cares. And if somebody does care and your GPA is good, they’re more likely to be resentful of it than impressed.”

As for Cara Scott-McCron, her journalism degree might not have landed her a job at a major daily, but she couldn’t be happier. She graduated in 1991 but realized in the middle of first-year that she never wanted to work at a newspaper. She hated the stress and didn’t enjoy the topics she was asked to write about. But she stuck out the three years anyway.

“I’m no quitter, she says. The 39-year-old now works at the RAC as the aquatics, recreation, and equipment co-ordinator. She keeps up her writing by editing poetry books and writing equipment manuals.

“I don’t have a job. I have a career,” she says. “I love what I do. I love my school.

“My ultimate goal is to stay at Ryerson until my kids are old enough to graduate,” she says. At least they’ll get free tuition.

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