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Opinion: Don’t drop out — take it from someone who did

The pandemic will make living without a degree even harder
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ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY
ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY

This marks my first semester back in school after dropping my studies in 2017. There were many reasons that stacked up to me accepting defeat and leaving Toronto after the winter semester. The past few years have been a tumultuous time of finding direction in an unwelcoming job market. 

The pandemic has highlighted the University of Toronto’s shocking lack of student support. The assignments, lab reports, readings, and discussion board posts are stacking up at a rate that I’m only just keeping up with. The support I’ve received from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) has been reduced to a degree where I will have difficulty rubbing two pennies together after my tuition fee is taken care of. 

I’m sure I am not the only one in this position. The weight of the pandemic — the fear, loss, and suffering that it causes — has underscored the need for additional support. But it’s important for students to avoid dropping out. 

The unfriendly job market created by COVID-19 will likely have long-term negative effects, especially for recent university graduates. With thousands of small businesses struggling, and lockdowns closing many commercial sectors in Toronto, there are even fewer places for young people to turn after dropping out. 

This is why young, uneducated workers have some of the highest rates of unemployment during this pandemic. For those of us who have to consider student debt, entering this kind of job environment without the credentials to show for our time at school is not wise.

It was especially unwise for me to drop out since I landed what is now considered the ‘essential worker’ experience: part-time, minimum wage, frontline work. After dropping out, I was met with job application after job application requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. If I hadn’t already felt defeated, this quickly had me feeling as though I had run full sprint into a brick wall. And that was before ‘COVID-19’ was even a familiar term.

I found myself working so many extra shifts at a part-time job that I felt like I was working full-time. This experience made me realize that my future was vulnerable if I did not find a path forward. 

I was acutely aware of the reasons I had landed myself in my position. The reasons are, perhaps, familiar to other U of T students. The administration refused to recognize a need for support, making it difficult for me to understand where to find it; I was under burgeoning pressure to navigate the cost of Toronto living while having little financial support; and the administration had a standard of achievement that was seemingly out of reach. 

I knew that I could not secure the future I wanted for myself on a minimum wage paycheck, nor could most do the same. I had sunk into $35,000 worth of debt, not to mention the unpaid tuition check hanging around my neck. 

Yes, there are career options available that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, including ones that are high paying, rewarding, and skilled career paths with plenty of opportunity for growth and personal development. However, those career paths sometimes require college diplomas or participation in an apprenticeship program. 

And when you have no money in the bank — and OSAP debt looming behind you closer and closer — many of these options are out of reach. So, the solution to my situation started to become clear: I had to complete the studies that had burrowed me this far into a financial hole in order to give myself a way to climb out. 

My path back to being a registered student at the University of Toronto has been a winding but necessary one. I have hopped from retail store to retail store, the only places of employment open to me. I have experienced the deep depression that unemployment and loss of purpose bring. I have seen the vulnerability of a workforce in which livelihoods rely on unreliable hours and a lack of job protection.

And now, I have found myself facing some of the same stressors I encountered before, along with some new ones, owing to the online environment — except I view them with an entirely new outlook. I am more aware than most of the pressure of juggling the many difficulties of obtaining a degree at the University of Toronto. But take it from somebody who left their studies, only to spend three long years making it back here: the consequences may have you wishing you had never left. 

 

Abigail Godden is a fifth-year environmental science, environmental ethics, and political science student at University College.