As I write this, it’s the summer after my second year of my four-year undergraduate degree. I feel like the concept of “time flying” is a bit of a cliché but, regardless, it’s an accurate phrase to describe how quickly the past two years of my life have passed. I remember, clear as day, moving into my room in residence—now I’m halfway done my journalism degree, and two years away from walking across a stage in a gown to receive my degree. Here are five things I wish I knew before starting university two years ago.

1. It’s OK to care about your grades…

In my program, I hear students, staff and alumni say this all the time: “Grades don’t matter.” In one sense, I see where they’re coming from; at the end of the day, if you pass, you’ll get your piece of paper when you walk across the stage. For graduates of programs like journalism, your portfolio and work experience are much more important than grades when applying to jobs.

I’m fully aware of this, but I also know that when I strive to get a good grade, that means I’m putting in more work and I’m learning more (which is kind of the whole point of studying at university). Grades also matter if you’re planning to apply to a graduate program, or if you have a scholarship which requires a certain average to maintain (which I do). So when people tell me that grades don’t matter, I offer them a smile and a shrug. I care about my grades in university not only because they help me maintain my scholarship, but because I think they are, in part, a reflection of my desire to learn.

2. But care about other things too

This is where your university experience becomes a bit of a juggling act. If you’re working hard to study and get good grades, then you might not think about making time for other things. But, as I’ve already written, more often than not it’s what you do outside of the classroom that is valuable to employers.

“Get involved” is the advice a lot of people give in university. I would add that it’s important to get involved in student groups, clubs or activities that are meaningful to you, either on a personal level or on a career level. In first year, I was part of one or two journalism-related groups on campus, but I got a lot more involved in second year. I learned so much from my other experiences such as reporting and filming.

3. Your interests might change over the course of your degree, and that’s OK

On one of my orientation days in first year, I met an upper-year student from my program who mentioned that she didn’t want to pursue journalism after graduating. I was so surprised, because I couldn’t see why anyone would not want to be a journalist while being part of a journalism program. But, two years later, I understand where that student was coming from. The great thing about studying journalism, actually, is that it opens up doors to more than just reporting—communication is an essential skill, and if you can talk to people, write well and tell stories, the sky’s the limit for what you can achieve and where you can work.

Some people might think that the point of studying a specific program in university is to find a job in that field after graduating, and work in that field forever. I think that’s an outdated way of viewing things. University is a place for you to learn about different career options. A 2016 LinkedIn study suggested that people change jobs four times by the time they’re 32 (10 years after graduating, for most people). With technological advances, new job possibilities are being created left and right.

Instead of limiting yourself to what might have been a narrow career goal you had when you picked your program, allow yourself to branch out. University is a chance to explore lots of career options before you graduate.

4. Your area of study IS meaningful

If you’re currently studying, or planning to study, in some sort of creative field, you’ve probably gotten the eye-roll ridden response from people: “Why are you studying that?!” Studying journalism, I’ve had lots of people tell me that it’s a dying industry and that I’ll never find a job (never mind comments about journalists being “corrupt” or “fake news”). People also have lots of misconceptions about my program—they think because it has no final written exams, it must be super easy.

I don’t let these comments get to me, because I truly believe in the importance of journalism. If you’ve ever received similar comments about what you’re studying, then please know that as long as you are happy with what you are studying, no one else’s comments matter. There’s a difference between comments where people are genuinely looking out for your future career options, and people just trying to tear you down.

5. Your university experience is truly what you make it

In university you have so many choices, from what electives you take to what you choose to do in your spare time. I consider myself really lucky to be in a program filled with creative-minded self-starters. During the semester it’s not unusual to be in the journalism lounge after a Friday morning class, and see students working together to design logos for an independent media project or brainstorming ideas for freelance articles. I’m surrounded by people who want to make the most of their four years studying journalism, and their enthusiasm inspires me to make the most of my time in university.

What do you wish you had known before starting university? Let me know in the comments!

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