“I’m so annoyed, so edgy, and just…so worried!” whispered my friend vehemently as we sat together in the library, studying hard for an upcoming midterm. “Everyone’s heard back from them except for me! I can’t even focus on school anymore. I just want to get in.”
I wasn’t surprised. After all, a majority of 4th year undergrads at UofT, and a select group of 3rd years, all carry this mentality, especially at this time of the year, when rejection letters for post-undergrad programs are beginning to flutter into disheartened mailboxes everywhere. Yes, just when we think we are finally getting the hang of surviving university, it’s suddenly time to move on. As convocation looms on the horizon, people everywhere suddenly become obnoxiously curious (oh wait, the correct term is “nosy”), and everywhere you go, you are attacked by the single most unsettling question that has been secretly consuming you since the day you received your 15th credit: “What are you planning to do after you graduate?”
If you don’t offer a decent answer to these insatiables, which includes a detailed action plan about superior aspirations that any parent would gloat about, and can actually voice it with enough self-reassurance, they would stand there, frown a bit, and pull a disappointed “I’m so sorry that you’ve failed in life” face, and say: “Oh…oh…oh well…don’t worry, you’ll figure something out”, when you know they actually want to say something like: “I agree, your life is f***ed” .
Even for those who do have something in mind, often the journey is equally difficult, if not more gruelling. For admission to graduate schools, competition is already fairly intense, so it doesn’t help that with the economy continuing to spiral downhill, these programs are expecting to see a dramatic increase in enrollment levels. According to RyersOnline, the news portal for Ryerson’s School of Journalism, UofT has received 9% more applications than it did the same time last year. Similarly, the MBA program at Queen’s is already seeing twice the number of applications it had same time in the previous year, and Ryerson has reported a 14% increase in graduate applications from last year.
Pre-meds have it even tougher. My friend*, who has been working his butt off since the beginning of high school, is actually doing better than most, having already received interviews from 3 out of the 6 medical schools in Ontario while only being in 3rd year. “If you do apply,” he said, “you’ll find that it’s a very draining process. It’s always so static, and you’re always waiting: waiting for reference letters, waiting for MCAT scores, waiting for transcripts, waiting for interviews, and now, waiting for a response.”
Others have been braced with less fortuity: a few days after her only interview this year, where she had to compete with 700 other applicants for one of 100-something spots, my friend came to me and unleashed her worries.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about my answers to their questions and it’s been more than a week!” she said, exasperated and frantic. “It drives me crazy, and I haven’t done any work since I got back from Kingston. I just want to get it off my mind–so all I’ve been doing is watching movies on my laptop.”
Truth be told, besides the profound respect I have for them, sometimes I’m rather envious of these people, whose goals are so definite, and have come such a long way to achieve the seemingly impossible. To think, I could have been one of them. I could have been the one saying: “And then, the worst thing happened! I shook the interviewer’s hand TWICE!” But the past few years of university has taught me to better evaluate what is good for me, not just what’s good, and by second year, I’ve learned that, sadly, medicine and I, we just don’t mix. Personally, I think that while it takes a lot of courage to take up a challenge, it takes even more courage to switch gears, change directions and alter a rigidly planned out career path for hopefully the better.
In the beginning of this year, realizing that I’m past the half-way point of undergrad, I panicked. Since then, I’ve made the Career Centre Library my second home**. Whenever I felt uncertain and listless about life after graduation, I would go there, and read about whatever career I fancied the most at the given moment. Sometimes it was serious, and sometimes it was just me being curious about all the possibilities that are out there. The wealth of information there is enormous, and once you have familiarized yourself enough to maneuvre your way about the shelves (it doesn’t take much brain power), it would truly open up your eyes, and not to mention give you a better sense of what a given career really feels like. After all, anything is better than sitting in your room and letting your imagination run wild with beautiful ideas of the perfect job. In addition, you may end up discovering some awful truth about your intended career path early on in the game, and it wouldn’t be too late to make necessary changes to your game plan.
It wasn’t too long ago that I realized that my plan for post-graduation is a rather unconventional one for an Asian girl specializing in molecular biology. I think it even took me a bit of time to accept the idea that jumping directly into more education after my 4th year might not even be necessary. People freak out all the time about where all the students go if they don’t end up in either professional or graduate school, as if these anonymous groups somehow just get “wiped out” or something. But the truth is, your ultimate goal is to find a job somewhere, and as long as you really know how to work the system, you WILL be employed. Every beginning is hard, and it’s true that jobs for post-grads usually start at the bottom of the ladder. But as long as you are willing to do the grunt work, put in the effort and learn as much as you can from the experience, one day you will go far. The most important thing is to not commit to something like grad school just because at the time you feel like there is no other option–there are always other options; it’s just a matter of how hard you’ve been looking for them, and how hard you’ve been looking for yourself.
*I feel that it was necessary to not disclose the names of these “friends” of mine, due to the fierce level of competition between pre-meds. So yes, they are actually real people. Real, brilliant people who probably took your interview spot.
I am so sorry.
**Did you know that our Career Centre is actually the largest one in Canada?! Ahuh.