About a week ago I wrote my very last exam of my undergrad (#boomdone!). As thrilling as this accomplishment was I don’t feel done with school or that I’ve actually finished my undergrad. Not until I have my diploma in hand will it seem real. Finishing university seems like such a surreal experience because in high school I had doubts about getting accepted, I failed three courses in undergrad and since I took a gap year most of my friends have already graduated. In some ways, it felt as if this day would never come. I also didn’t think I would be 7 months pregnant as I wrote my last exams.
The experience of post-secondary has certainly been a journey filled with many ups and downs and letting go of some dreams. Although it was at times difficult I never found the workload or expectations to be impossible, stressful yes, but still within my means of accomplishment. Overall, I am grateful for the privilege to have learned about psychology, child development, diversity, food science, microbiology, ethics, writing, nutrition, work-life balance, various theories related to the family and society and being able to explore topics of interest like cohabitation, parenting, and the non-profit sector.
Before University + Choosing My Major
Back in high school, I loved my food and nutrition class (it was the one class I ever achieved over a 90 in). I became determined to turn this passion into a career. After researching my options the profession of a Registered Dietician best fit my goals. As I would work in healthcare and have the authority to dispense sound evidence-based nutrition advice to patients and clients. Although this program required chemistry which I despised, I took grade 11 chemistry in summer school in order to take grade 12 chemistry with my peers. I barely passed grade 12 chemistry and advanced functions both needed for my program. However, I got accepted to my school of choice Brescia University College (Western University) for a BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics. At the time I was thrilled because step one of my dream to work in the field of nutrition was becoming a reality.
How Am I Going to Pay for University?
Being an avid Dave Ramsey listener at the time I knew taking out a student loan would not help my future (cash is king). Even though that was the “normal” thing to do if one was going to university straight out of high school. Instead, I deferred my acceptance and continued working at my part-time job while searching and praying for a full-time position or another part-time job. In September of that year, the owner of the store I was working at asked if I would like to work full-time days (7-3) at another store. I gratefully accepted the position and knew that God was providing a way for me to save for university even if I was only making minimum wage. I didn’t love the job and it was not easy getting up early every day but in the end, I saved enough from working (almost a year part-time and just under a year full time) to pay for two years of tuition. Throughout university, I was always one year ahead on my tuition which took a huge burden off of my shoulders. I also applied for grants and received a bursary to help cover other costs.
I should note my parents helped cover my living expenses which were very affordable. I rented a room with a family friend over living in residence and kept to a very modest grocery budget. I also bussed (the bus pass was included in tuition) for my first year and some of my second and third years.
Freedom + Moving Away From Home
Following my year of working and living at home, I was very ready to move out on my own. Although my school was only an hour and a half away. I was close enough to take the Greyhound home on Fridays or for my parents to come down on a weekend. I relished living on my own, I gained so much independence figuring out the bus schedules, finding my classes, making new friends, going to a new church (with a huge young adults group) and signing up for clubs and volunteering weekly. I was so busy and happy I didn’t really miss home. I think waiting an extra year to start school helped ensure I was ready for such a big transition.
However, while I was away at school everything with my family was not alright. Being away from the daily interactions of home life shielded me from a lot of emotional pain, although I still felt the weight of it. At the time I didn’t really talk much about what my family was going through because I am a very private person and avoid opening up. I did, however, receive support from a few close friends and my faith certainly helped me stay steady when I didn’t understand everything that was happening. As much as starting university was a very happy time, I also carried around a lot of sadness. It’s important to remember that you never know what someone may be going through.
Failed Courses + Summer Jobs
As the year went on things with my family improved. Academically though things were not perfect. I failed chemistry in my second semester, which was a required course for my program. I shrugged it off and decided to retake it the next year. I should have done summer school but I needed to work to keep covering tuition.
I was very fortunate to receive a summer student position at an automotive factory working on the assembly line installing car parts on the engines. Again before receiving this position, I had no idea where I was going to work for the summer. I had applied to many different summer jobs since December. I didn’t get a call until the end of May to do an assessment (which I wanted to quit because it was so physically hard), followed by an interview with an HR rep and a manager from the floor. I was able to apply my experience working in quick service to explain how I would be suitable to work in a fast paced factory environment.
Again right at the last minute when I was getting desperate God opened a door for me. Although this job was like nothing I had ever done (I put parts on cars and used drills and guns that torqued really aggressively and stood on my feet for 10 hours and I worked with mostly men) I gained so much confidence. I learned I could work long hours, on swing shift, with sore feet and hands, getting up at 4:45 am driving 45 minutes into work, succeed in technical jobs and not give up even when tired or very frustrated. I figured if I could work this hard consistently I could work a lot harder on my studies and not give up when I got tired or discouraged.
Failing Again + Switching Majors
As I went into the second year I understood how to study better (you have to do the readings and take notes aside from going to lectures) and I was more committed to my work. It also helped that I lived semi alone and had a quiet bedroom to do all my work in (whereas when I got married and even when I was dating my husband I had a lot more distractions!).
Unfortunately, I failed chemistry again. This was a turning point for me and I decided that I had to pursue my strengths which were more towards writing, researching and studying rather than formulas and labs. I met with an academic advisor and slightly modified my program from a BSc to a BA. I was a little disappointed in myself for not being able to complete my dream of becoming an RD but at the same time, I was glad I tried. Instead, I pursued my second choice of becoming a Professional Home Economist. Check out the video below for a quick summary of who PHEc’s are.
What’s the Difference between a Registered Dietician and a Professional Home Economist?
A PHEc works more with consumers on educating about healthy eating practices, food skills, finances, even fashion and sewing (basically anything family studies related). Whereas a dietician works in public health or a clinical setting and advises clients on their specific nutritional needs.
Once I switched programs and started taking more family studies courses I was a lot happier as I felt I could succeed in this program. My grades also improved.
Take a Wide Variety of Electives
In my third and fourth years, I had to make up some classes I missed due to switching my degree. An introductory writing course was one and although it sounds mundane I had a great professor and learned some great tips to improve my skills.
I also took the philosophy of food to meet my breadth requirements. This was a great elective because there was no exam. Our major project was to work in groups with a community partner and then present on experience. I had the pleasure of volunteering with Growing Chefs! Ontario doing some administrative work and assisting with their children’s cooking classes. Not only did I gain great experience but I matched my interests with getting credit.
If you have the opportunity to take electives research your options! There are so many great classes and interesting things to learn from people who are experts in their field.
My Final Year + Practicum + Mentoring
By far my favourite class I took was my practicum. I didn’t find out about the class till during the summer and you had to apply to it due to limited spots but I was able to get in.
I learned so much about entering the workforce, how to have a good relationship with your supervisor, how to ask for feedback, why you should reflect on your experience and how to improve plus what the real career working world is like.
My practicum took place at London Community Resource Center. Over the course of my practicum, I assisted in creating feedback surveys for participants of their community garden program, I helped plan programming for the upcoming season and wrote some posts for their website on home preservation, unique ways to incorporate beans into one’s diet and tips for a butterfly and bee friendly garden.
I also toured of an Early Years Center, attended a Think Tank (on strategies to ensure kids eat more vegetables and fruit) hosted by the city and the Urban Agriculture Conference. The best part of the experience was being exposed to initiatives and organizations that support the family and healthy eating.
Concurrently, I took part in a mentoring program hosted by my the Student Life Center. I was matched with a mentor who worked at McCormick. We met once a month to complete our mentoring assignments and work through goals I had set. Overall, I enjoyed being able to ask her my many questions related to finding a career, networking and gaining experience.
In addition to meeting my mentor, I met collectively with the other mentees in the program once a month to learn about career topics including networking, how to be productive, how to create a resume and cover letter, interviewing, and preparing an elevator pitch among other topics.
A new and somewhat uncomfortable experience I completed during my mentoring program was to conduct an informational interview. I was recommended to a PHEc at McCormick who worked in the test kitchen (#dreamjob). She was also a recent grad and stressed the importance of attending the Home Economics conference to network with others in our field. I’m so glad I completed the mentorship program because it forced me to do things outside of my comfort zone.
Overall I was able to finish my final year with a much greater grasp on what I wanted to do after school but more importantly how to achieve those goals. As much as academics matter if one doesn’t know the practical steps to make their degree useful, transitioning into the workforce can be daunting. I would highly encourage anyone going into their final years to make career preparation a priority.
Final Thoughts + Never Stop Learning
In summary, I am so grateful I had the opportunity and privilege to attend university. Although at times I considered if I should have gone to culinary school instead or taken accounting in college, I’m glad I was able to receive the education I did. As a result, I have greatly improved in my writing, I understand the importance of looking at information critically and searching for evidence-based claims, I have a greater depth of knowledge on the family and society. This has enabled me to be more empathetic and given me a desire to help others with what I have learned.
I am no expert, I only have a BA and this is just the beginning. I will always have more to learn whether that’s through getting my Masters or in a career or just life experience.
Although my next steps include being a mom, I’m looking forward to networking with others in my field over the coming year and keeping active on this blog <3
Are you going to Universtiy this fall? If you are and have any questions feel free to leave me a comment below!