I am a student at the University of Toronto finishing up their first year. Over this past first year, I have learned more than I thought I would in an institutional setting. I have never liked the education system here, I disagree with the use of standardized testing, and I detest the mental health implications of a system that reduces the worth of its students to numbers and letter grades. School has not been about learning for a long time now, and I expected university to be the same as high school: meaningless drivel pounded into our heads, only for us to regurgitate it during tests. School, to me, is about how well one can memorize content, not about learning.
However, I am oddly surprised to look back on my first year of university to see that I actually learned quite a lot.
Over this past first year, I found that university is not necessarily harder, content-wise, but rather professors expect more from their students. Papers are longer, tests cover more content, discussions are more in-depth. University professors want both quality and quantity, and a lot of first year students find this system hard to get used to. In comparison, high school homework paled next to the monstrous 3000-word essays, hours of readings, and relentlessly consecutive deadlines that university threw my way.
Over this past first year, I learned that some professors are here to help their students, and others are here to watch them crash and burn. Some of them are understanding and lenient, while others are unforgiving and overly-critical. My learning experiences in all my classes was shaped by my relationship to the professors. The more comfortable I was with the prof, the more open and confident I was in their class. However, in high school, there was so much favouritism it was impossible to receive grades passed solely on the work you hand in.
Over this past first year, I discovered that so many students are willing to help each other out, despite UofT’s ultra-competitive nature. For many of my classes, students were always lending each other a hand, whether it was answering their questions or sending lecture notes; many were eager to offer their assistance. I had heard so many scary stories about the cutthroat UofT student, so seeing this incredibly co-operative environment was heart-warming. This is a stark contrast from the many many high school students who won’t even give you the time of day because they see everyone as a contestant for a spot at their dream school.
Over this past first year, I finally broke free from the harmful mentality that grades define a student. I know now that my self-esteem should not depend on a number written in red. Sometimes, I will write an essay I am very proud of, but the mark that comes back to me does not reflect the effort I put into it. Rather than get unnecessarily upset, I’m much more carefree in this aspect now. I know that I put my heart into the assignment so no grade, no matter how low, can change that. I can finally accept my marks, both good and bad, and I’m glad it happened now.
Over this past first year, I feel that I learned not only more about the world, but about myself as well. The critical thinking fostered by the professors and the content of my courses allowed me to apply it into other aspects of my life. I have begun to see books, movies, world issues, and even other people in a different light. University has taught me that there’s always more than one way to look at something–there’s always a side you don’t initially see. University has taught me how to dig deeper and question everything, even myself in order to reach the truth.