Fifth time’s the charm

Even at a university as academically rigorous as U of T, it’s still okay to take your time

When I failed my driving test for the third time, I came home anxiously expecting a harsh lecture from my mother. I hadn’t completed this milestone in the expected timeframe like all the other kids my age, and so I braced myself for, at the very least, a disappointed look or sigh.

Instead she smiled and told me that I could just try again, and that there was no need to rush through. So instead of scrambling to pass before I was ready, I was encouraged by my mom to enjoy the process of learning to drive at my own pace. There was no point in simply matching other kids who earned their G2s on their first attempt with only 12 lessons under their belt.

I am currently preparing to graduate in November, having finished a degree that spanned five-and-a-quarter years of full-time and part-time course loads and a summer abroad. Upon reflection, I’m incredibly grateful that I took my time in university.

Like most university students, the way I initially approached school was anything but taking my time. All I was focused on was getting my degree in four years like everyone else, going on to do a Master’s degree in some field I’d eventually become passionate about, and get a good job somewhere… anywhere. I saw university as just a stepping stone to the rest of my life, which inevitably resulted in extremely busy course loads.

It was only during the middle of my third year — during a family crisis coupled with already poor mental health — that I realized how much I dreaded going to class, hated writing, and had stopped enjoying learning. I constantly thought about dropping out of university. I was lucky to have fantastic extracurriculars that kept me engaged at U of T, but I came to resent academia.

I started handing in assignments late, made excuses for missed lectures, and glossed over readings, barely absorbing any of the material. I sought help, but couldn’t muster up the energy to follow through with advice and accommodations. In fourth-year, I dropped to a part-time course load and felt like a failure for not graduating with the class of 2018.

Gradually, I moved past that shame and slowly found myself learning to enjoy school again. I asked questions in class, challenged peers in tutorials, and critically engaged with my readings and professors. Writing returned to me. After years of making excuses and telling myself I didn’t have enough time to go abroad, I finally finished my degree in Berlin, Germany, this summer.

This isn’t to say that finishing in four years is unrealistic. Nor is it to warn incoming first years that they’ll come to dislike school by following a planned four-year map. Rather, I’m telling you to not be afraid of slowing down if you need to.

I won’t deny that there’s a stigma attached to taking extra years to finish. Even shifting your course load to part-time simply for the sake of your own well-being can feel like a defeat.

But here’s a secret: there is nothing wrong with taking your time and enjoying university at your own pace.

University isn’t simply a stepping stone to your life. It’s a milestone, and milestones pass by in a blur no matter how long you take.

Ride it out. Make memories with people that matter. You’ve got your whole life waiting for you, so enjoy these fleeting university years.

I ended up getting my driver’s license on my fourth try, and the road ahead has never looked so bright.

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