What I Learned From Seven Years, Two Universities, And Five Attempted Degrees

Learn from my mistakes, kids!

Yes, you read that right. Since 2012, when I started my first attempt at university, I have been enrolled in five different degrees at two universities, and as a result, I’ve learned a thing or two about surviving  university, especially when you have no idea what you want to do with your life.

Initially, I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry) at the University of Technology, Sydney, but that lasted all of a month before I figured out it wasn’t for me and jumped ship. I killed time until semester two, when I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, the degree from which I graduated in 2015.

I liked doing arts because while I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do after university, I knew that I didn’t want to be locked in to a set program of study for the next four years.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I was able to take units in Spanish, gender studies, film studies, Indigenous studies, American studies, English, and history.

Plus, thanks to two short-term exchanges at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was able to study the history of Disney alongside a unit on celebrities and social media that included in its final questions about Kim Kardashian’s social media usage.

I ended up with a major in American Studies and a minor in History, and I was pretty happy with the variety of things I studied during my degree.

As for getting involved on campus, I tended to go straight home after class and not hang around, which I kind of regret now, although I’m thankful I never fell into the trap of student politics.

While few of the things I studied directly prepared me for a career, I did learn several things along the way that have proven useful in everyday life.

All of that essay writing definitely prepared me for writing as part of my job, and thanks to diligent history lecturers, I’m an avid fact-checker and tend to provide sources for everything, even things as inconsequential as a tweet.

In an era where the phrase ‘fake news’ is more popular than ever, the importance of fact-checking and providing sources so people on Twitter won’t yell at you for publishing fake news and/or being part of the Illuminati cannot be understated. TBH, they’ll probably do that anyway, but it’s still a good habit.

Things like history and cultural studies provided me with the background knowledge needed to contextualise current events, like being able to understand what led to Trump’s success in the 2016 election, or why so many people in the UK supported Brexit. These subjects also helped me perfect the art of writing and submitting essays at the last minute, which is kind of like writing to deadline, right?

Plus, there are those skills that universities always mention when trying to encourage enrolment in arts degrees – being able to work as part of a team, being able to write persuasively, being able to think critically.  Nothing prepares you for the workplace like having to coordinate a group project with people who have no interest in participating and would rather be literally anywhere else.

Other things I learned:

  1. You can actually do a lot of work at the last minute and do well, as long as you’ve done some research in advance.
  2. Your tutors are often just a few years older than you and definitely don’t know everything. Shout out to my film studies tutor who didn’t know what expressionism was!
  3. Nobody likes student politicians, including student politicians themselves.
  4. Avoid campaigners by cutting through or behind buildings, or looking incredibly hostile while walking past them. Either works.
  5. Choosing classes that don’t have exams is a genius strategy…
  6. …as is choosing classes that are in the afternoon.
  7. If you sign up for a dozen clubs during O-Week, you will end up participating in almost none of them. You can always join later if there’s an event you want to go to.
  8. No, you don’t need to go to every ball being held. It’s 2019, why are balls still a thing? We don’t live in a Jane Austen novel.
  9. Parties on boats are not a good idea.
  10. Maximise sleep, worry about the rest later.

At the end of 2015, I realised that I had a degree but little idea of what I wanted to do next. I’d applied for dozens of jobs, including jobs in retail, and wasn’t hearing back from any of them, so I eventually decided to give a Master of Media Practice at the University of Sydney a go.

After a year of that, I changed my mind AGAIN, and switched to a Master of Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney. And after a semester there, guess what? I changed my mind again, and enrolled in a Master of Publishing back at the University of Sydney, which I completed at the end of 2018.

I’m sure I sound ridiculously indecisive, but I don’t regret any of the decisions I made while trying to figure out my career path. Having to decide what you want to spend the rest of your life doing at such a young age is daunting, and we often aren’t given many opportunities to try new things without risking an awful lot if we fail – in the case of university, failure comes in the form of wasted HECS debt.

Thanks to those different experiences, I learned more about myself and my career goals, and I managed to delay any huge decisions until I had a better idea of what I wanted my future to look like.

The point of all of this is to assure you that there’s no shame in trying several different things until you find what’s right for you. There’s no shame in deciding uni isn’t for you, either – I have several friends with great careers who dropped out of university (no, my friends aren’t called Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg).

Even if it doesn’t feel that way, I guarantee you that many of the people around you at uni also have no idea what they want to do once they graduate, and many will change degrees at least once. Having said that, try not to worry about what they’re doing – do what’s right for you, even if that means enrolling in five different degrees within the space of seven years.

There Are Now Real-Life “Adulting” Classes, By Public Demand, Because We Just Can’t Cope

You won't have to live in fear of the real world any longer!

Have you ever caught yourself lamenting the fact that schools don’t teach us basic life skills, such as filing taxes, the ins and outs of renting, or what your rights at work are?

Lament no longer, because one council in Adelaide is running a seven-week crash course in ‘How to Adult‘, and it will tackle all of those things and more.

Onkaparinga Council, in Adelaide’s south, kicked off the seven-week course last night, and over the next two months, the course will cover areas such as budgeting, credits, contracts, tax, Centrelink and Medicare, motor vehicles, including the purchasing and maintenance of, and employment and your rights at work.

It’s free for anyone aged 16 to 25, and let’s be honest, a lot of us could definitely use a course like this. I can’t be the only one whose parents have reprimanded them for not knowing how to balance a chequebook (ignoring the fact that most young people don’t even have chequebooks…), and I’m surely not the only person who had to guesstimate my way through my first tax return.

Plus, I’m pretty sure most of us would love some tips on how to deal with Centrelink, because for most people it’s just a game of who can stay on hold the longest.

The ABC spoke to a senior lecturer in sociology about the stereotype that millennials don’t know how to adult, and he said it came down to social changes rather than inherent laziness.

“We live in a service economy where lots of these kinds of things are outsourced whereas in the past they probably weren’t”, said Dr Nathan Manning of the University of Adelaide.

See, Mum! It’s not my fault! It’s the gig economy! Ha!

Initiatives like this from local councils are great, but I still maintain that schools should try teaching students a few of these skills before throwing them into the deep end with nothing but a certificate and an ATAR.

Compound interest is one of the few things I remember from maths class, specifically because of its real-world applications, so why not throw in a few basic lessons about taxes as well? And I appreciate that my school tried to teach me how to make and then photograph tacos for a food magazine, but something more practical like ‘how to poach an egg so you don’t have to spend $15 on breakfast in a café’ might have been more helpful.

Fingers crossed more councils introduce classes like this, so that younger millennials and gen-Zers won’t be reduced to this each EOFY:

This Is What The Latest HECS Changes Mean For You, And Spoiler Alert: They Suck

The government wants you to start paying them back as soon as you earn $45,000 a year.

On Monday night, new higher education legislation made it through the Senate which will affect the threshold at which you’ll have to start paying off your HECS debt.

From July 1 next year, those of us with HECS debt will have to start paying it off as soon as we’re earning a salary of $45,000 a year.

Currently, you don’t have to start paying the government back until you’re earning $54,000 a year.

The changes passed by a vote of 34 to 33, with Labor, the Greens, and even Nationals senator Steve Martin opposing them.

Martin was worried that the change would discourage young people from attending university, and he’s probably right; committing to thousands of dollars of debt is daunting for anyone, but particularly so for those from lower-income families who don’t have a familial safety net to fall back on.

HECS debt is repaid at 1% of your income, so if you’re earning $45,000 a year, you’d pay the government $450 a year. If you continued to earn that amount for the rest of your life, and you had a $28,000 HECS debt, you’d be done paying the government back in a little over 62 years.

It’s not unlikely that many people with HECS debt will continue to hover around that income bracket for the rest of their lives, by the way – the median tax filer’s income, according to the Grattan Institute, is $44,527, while the median wage for all workers is just over $55,000. The annual minimum wage is $36,000 per annum, which is just $9000 less than the new repayment threshold.

In June, when the bill was being debated, Pauline Hanson said the changes were totally fine because we can all just “go without a couple of coffees a week to pay back [our] obligation to the Australian taxpayer”. This coming from someone who earns $200,000 a year. Tell me more about going without, Pauline!

Given the rising cost of living and the increasing scarcity of full-time work, these changes feel like kicking someone when they’re down, and they betray a complete ignorance of what it’s like for graduates entering the workforce in 2018. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but considering these changes were passed by people who are earning six figures, and after attending university for free in an awful lot of cases, it feels like politicians are rubbing salt in our wounds (wallets?) over and over again.

The bill now goes back to the lower house, where it’s expected to pass.

In addition to repayment changes, by the way, the bill also puts a limit on how much you can borrow from the government to study: for regular students, it’s $104,440, and for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science students, it’s $150,000.

The good news is that if you’ve paid back enough of your debt to remain below the limit, you can keep borrowing money to study, indefinitely, until you die, at which point your debt is forgiven. How generous!

I love you too, crippling debt!


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