Campus Life

It’s not a race to finish post-secondary

by Ally Buso

Everyone has their own journey.

I started post-secondary right away at age 18. Leaving high school, I was not the best student. By grade 12, I was deeply apathetic about the idea of school and my grades reflected it. Sitting down to look at programs and schools, my options were limited. Programs I wanted to take were not available to me because my grades were not exceptional. I was average at best. When my acceptances finally came in, I was left with two options: stay in rural Northwestern Ontario by attending Lakehead University or leave and attend Carleton University for Communication Studies.

Filled with wanderlust, I chose to move away with no real plan. Was I even interested in Communication Studies? What did that mean? What job could I get with that degree? These were questions I did not have good answers to. All I knew was that I needed to get away from the cold and isolation of Thunder Bay.

Carleton University sign

Later that year I was packing my bags and preparing for the 14-hour drive to Ottawa. Arriving in the city, I was already miserable. I learned quickly that 18 is very young to be completely disconnected from your entire social network and away from home. I grew depressed very quickly. Top that off with my very first long-distance relationship with my then boyfriend and it was a recipe for failure. Until very recently my greatest fear was being alone, so just imagine, living solo in a (comparatively) big city. I left at the end of my first year.

Despite this being one of my biggest regrets, I returned home to Lakehead for my second year in my post-secondary journey. I would be changing my major and studying psychology with the aim of being a therapist.

The dissolution of my first relationship (which was extremely unhealthy) and subsequent repeated hospitalizations for depression led me to drop out of school for a semester. I returned to school for the winter semester, despite numerous people telling me not to. But that’s the thing about me, I am stubborn. Fresh-faced, in a new relationship and filled with renewed hope, I thought the mental journey was over. I was better and happy, what did I need to take more time off from school for?

Sure enough, despite feeling better in the moment, I still had a long way still to travel to go in my road to recovery. Post-secondary is a mentally taxing endeavour which requires complete presence of mind to navigate properly. When you are fighting your own internal battles, it can be very hard to stay properly motivated and focused on managing post-secondary. For the remainder of that semester, I dropped down to part-time study and nearly failed the year.

Lakehead University sign

At the beginning of my third year, I was on academic probation, I had moved out of my parent’s home and moved in with my boyfriend. I had to take a part-time job to afford my newly acquired living expenses. The job I was able to find, however, well-paying was definitely NOT part-time. I was required to work 40-48 hours a week. Needless to say, my full-time course load dwindled down to part-time again, because I could only go to class on the days I had off. Working the night shifts did not lend to having the most well-balanced schedule. This went on for both first and second semester of the 2016-2017 academic year.

I was tired, strung out and desperate for change. Psychology was not my passion, not nearly enough for me to pursue a Ph.D. (which I would have needed to be a therapist).

One day, while agonizing over what I wanted to do with my life, a letter came in the mail for me. Initially, I was very confused because the letter was written in what appeared to be a child’s handwriting.

Upon opening it, I knew right away what it was.

10 years ago, when I was in grade 6, my teacher at the time instructed us to write a letter to our future selves. The letters contained details about our lives, our friends and our aspirations at age 11, which were to be sent to our home addresses 10 years in the future. At age 21, I received this letter at the exact moment I needed guidance and inspiration about what my next steps in life would be. I never thought the guidance I so desperately needed would come in the form of a wide-eyed 11-year-old girl with big dreams. That letter what made me realize that I was destined to go into law, and this has been my path all along. It just took me a little longer than most to realize it.

Humber College Lakeshore campus

What I’m trying to get across with this story is that everyone’s journey is different. Some people are lucky and are able to figure it out from the day they leave high school and get it right the first time. But most people don’t. 33% of post-secondary students change their major at some point during their education. Even more go back to school later in life or change careers.

I am 23 years old. I will graduate at 25. I want to pursue postgraduate study when I graduate and I likely won’t get to start actually working my field until I’m 30. And that’s ok! I used to obsessively agonize over not choosing the right program after I left high school, but all of my past experiences have helped to make me incredibly successful where I am now. Just because it took a few years to figure out where I was supposed to be, doesn’t mean that I will be any less valued in the workplace or that I am “behind” everyone else. If I had stayed in Communications at Carleton or Psychology at Lakehead, I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am now because those were not the right places for me. Humber is my home, Humber is where I belong. It may have taken a few extra years to realize this, but my life right is what makes me happy.

I am on the right path now, and no self-doubts will ever change that.


Feeling tired, depressed, anxious and not sure where to turn? Check out How counselling helped me and why it can benefit everyone.

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