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a BA in Environmental Studies gets you a whole lot of nothing

It’s been 7 years since I graduated from University. I’m hoping that at some point I won’t have to think that getting my degree was a waste of time. Sure I loved the experience of going away to school, living in the dorm and then in apartments. I miss the city of Ottawa very much; Carleton’s campus is just beautiful, and the city has the best transit system a student could ever want. But once I graduated, I started working in a downtown office, opening bank accounts for wealthy people. I stayed there until I went on maternity leave with my first child, and I’ve been a stay at home mom ever since. Working at a bank, I didn’t use anything from my education, unless you count starting a recycling and compost program for the floor I worked on. Simply having a university education helped get me the job, and a few promotions while there, but I wasn’t using what I had studied.

I applied for jobs like crazy when I graduated, mailing out hard copies and emailing all over the province. The timing was great, because everyone was “going green” and environmental jobs were everywhere. The only problem; I went to university, not college. They all wanted the hands on experience and training that you get from a college education. Funny how sitting in a lecture hall and reading about the environment doesn’t help. Theory only gets you so far as a tree hugger.

See look, I am a tree hugger! Hugging a huge palm tree in San Francisco, just outside AT&T park.

I was always led to believe that going to university was better than going to college. That a degree vs. a certificate will land you a better job. So not the case! It totally depends on what you want to do in the end! I hope that my kids understand this when they are at the age to decide on post secondary education. If I was to do it all over again, I would go back and take a college program with hands on training. Maybe I would have spent those 5 years out on a lake or in a forest instead of sitting at a desk clicking away on a computer…

Maybe once the kiddies are grown, I will take some college classes and finally get to use everything I have learned. But until then, I will just keep using what I learned in university to help my family be more environmentally conscious. And I guess I should be thankful that my student loans are long paid off, because owning money on something I have never used would burn a little too much for me.

Which route did you take? Are you using your post secondary education?


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  1. I almost did that program in Ottawa - a few years before you did it! I ended up at Brock University instead. Through some stroke of mistaken luck, I ended up in the BSc program instead (a challenge as I had done no math or science in high school!!!). I never did get that amazing job saving the environment, but the Bsc was useful. A number of years on, and I wonder if I can go back to my routes - thanks for suggesting the college route - maybe there is something for me out there to get back to where my dreams wanted to take me!
    • The problem with the course at Carleton, at least when I took it, it was too generalized. You did a bit of geography, a bit of science, a bit of economics. It covered a little of everything, nothing specific enough to get a job from. I took a field course between my 2nd and 3rd years; a week of field work at a conservation area. We camped on site, studied tree growth and species, rivers strength, did fish catches in the lake and studied the plant life. I loved every minute of it! But at that point, I knew it would be silly to drop out and go to college; so I finished my program with thoughts of college later on. You should look into it, Im sure there are lots of great college programs!!
  2. I have two degrees- a BA in English/History and a B.Ed. I did get a teaching job but over 2/3rds of my graduating class did not get full-time employment as a teacher. In fact, I only know of 7 people who are still working as a teacher. (out of the 90 that graduated from my program). Frustrating. If I could go back, I would still do my BA, but I think I would have done college afterward. I think it would have served me better and probably would have landed me a better job in a field I was truly passionate about. As it turns out, life has led me into a job in editing/writing, which is what I had always wanted. Funny how that happens. The one thing I hope my boys know, however, is that education is never a waste. Never.
    • Teaching is a tough one! I know so many people who went to teachers college, and they are all still waiting for full time gigs! I couldn't agree more, education is never a waste!
  3. I have a university degree in English/History. At the time I graduated, everyone was going to Teacher's College, and there were no jobs, so I went to college instead, and took Business Administration. I work in a bank now, but my university degree has nothing to do with it at all. I could have started at the bank out of high school and be where I am today. BUT, the way I look at it is that I always wanted to go to University, and I accomplished that goal. I just wish I had looked at the experience differently going in. I should have looked at it as something I wanted to accomplish for personal satisfacction and nothing more, as opposed to something that would get me some great job. I am definitely making sure my daughter knows that there are so many ways to get to where you want to be in life - university, college, apprenticeships, volunteer work that turns into a career - and to look at all options instead of focusing on the one option that everyone seems to look at as the be-all-and-end-all (university). Lizzy
    • I too could have walked out of high school into the job I had at the bank. For many years I was the only one in my department with a BA. If I had stayed there, I would have moved up much faster than someone without the degree, but it wasn't where I wanted to be. I love the idea of looking at it as an accomplishment, regardless of its current use. I went have a BA because I wanted to get one, and I should be proud of that. University sure isn't easy, so I should be proud I survived it and finished it. Thanks for reminding me of that.
  4. [...] A BA in Environmental Studies gets you a whole lot of nothing (Education/Careers) [...]
  5. For me, the decision was easy. I had to have a BEd to teach, so that's the only choice I could have made. I'm very thankful that I am teaching full time, but it took me a long time before I got a contract. I'm also happy that I haven't left the profession after a few years due to burnout and/or underemployment, which is overwhemingly the case with young teachers. I think getting an education is worthwhile, and to earn a degree is a big accomplishment. No matter what happens with your career, no one can take the education away from you. It is interesting how many people do not work in their field of training. I wonder what would happen if we were all given the opportunity to work in the area of our passion? Or is the real beauty of earning a degree that we can transfer the wealth of knowledge and skills to what we end up by chance doing?

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