Undergrads in Neverland

Why are some students putting off entrance into the real world to pursue a fifth or sixth year of study?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Patrick Ronzio

Justin Wu

Sometimes winning the game of life requires a victory lap.

Those are the sentiments shared by many students who are back at Western for a fifth year.

The motivation behind taking a fifth year is unique to each student. While some have used their victory lap to pursue new and exciting academic achievements, others simply wish to put off the inevitable by avoiding the workforce for one more year.

Marshall Mangan, professor in the faculty of education, said these trends could be a product of widespread credential inflation. “Jobs you could have had with a high school education 20 years ago now require a university degree or college diploma,” he explained.

Mangan said although the government encourages young people to stay in school by providing loans and funding, there is still a highly competitive job market waiting for graduates.

“Everybody thinks more education will get you a better job … Although the economy does expand and generate more complicated careers, there are still way more low-skill jobs than high-skill jobs.”

Douglas Mann, assistant professor of sociology and media studies, agreed with Mangan’s observations.

“Lots of the people taking degrees in arts and social science have no clear job waiting for them when they finish.”

These conditions put students in a tough position when choosing a degree and occupation.

Fifth-year biology student Mallory MacGregor said she had not chosen her career goal of being a nurse until her fourth year.

MacGregor graduated with an honours specialization in biology, but has stayed back to finish a couple courses and boost her overall average.

After researching several compressed nursing programs, MacGregor is ready to move on: “Now I feel like I’m in the mindset to actually go out and start my life and not just sit around waiting for things to happen.”

Patrick Ronzio, a fifth-year Catholic studies student at King’s University College, said he will be returning for a sixth year in September. Although he plans to apply to teacher’s college, taking a fifth year has served as a wake up call.

“It’s a grim reminder: once you’re done, the real world is calling,” he said.

As a member of the King’s soph team, Ronzio feels disconnected from the youngest crop of university students. “It’s really tough to relate to 17 and 18 year olds when you’re 23 ... I realized when I was graduating high school, they were probably in elementary school.”

Mann said students who stay in school beyond the allotted time risk becoming ‘kid-dults.’ “Our culture has ramped up the age at which people go from being a child to an adult … Parents are constantly taking care of children’s lives beyond the stages they should be.”

Mann said maturity is an issue for undergrads. “Unfortunately lots of students who were good students in high school blow their first year by partying or not doing work.”

Because of the double cohort, students are now being asked to make important life decisions at even younger ages.

Political science graduate Graham Brown is using his extra time at Western to strengthen his professional profile.

“I graduated last year, went to convocation, and thought I was moving on with my life,” Brown explained.

“I only applied to a couple of the top law schools, figuring my marks were good enough. Unfortunately, due to the double cohort, I was knocked out in the last round of admissions.

“I decided that since my eventual goal is to go into politics anyways, I’d spend my year getting a post-degree minor in French.”

Ultimately, Mangen said many students stay in school to avoid the pressures of the real world.

“The real world scares the shit out of me,” MacGregor said. “But being scared of the real world was never really a motivation for me staying in school.”

All three victory-lappers felt they made the best choice for their careers. “I just wanted to make sure that I set myself up for success by getting a good degree so I wouldn’t end up a lifer at McDonald’s,” MacGregor said.

“I think education is a very good place for people who haven’t made up their minds,” Mangen concluded.

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