As a teenager, I was convinced I could finish university in three years. It felt like something I had to endure before I started the rest of my adult life, which I was much more excited about.
Well, flash forward a decade. I’m now in my fifth year of my undergrad (or “victory lap” as it’s often known) after realizing that it’s difficult enough to finish a degree in four years, let alone three. Not only that, but I’m actually going to miss university. Fifteen-year-old me would be shocked.
These past five years have ended up being some of the most important in my life. Unlike the slog I thought it would be when I arrived, university has been a time of discovery. I challenged a lot of my notions about how the world should work, as well as who I am, and I’m a much better person because of it.
That being said, I’ve found my fifth year a difficult one in some ways.
Managing fifth-year guilt
I usually roll my eyes when I tell people I’m taking extra time to finish my degree, and feel obligated to justify why I’m still here.
“I went on exchange last year! For the whole academic year! That’s, like, ten months,” I’ll splutter. I feel most insecure about my fifth year when speaking with adults who have been out of university for a while, but a few have given me pretty good advice.
“You have your whole life to work full time,” they say, “Enjoy university while you can.”
I’ve realized that they’re right. I can’t say I’ve had a single fellow student bat an eye when I told them I’m in my fifth year. It’s almost…normal?
All the American movies I watched growing up made me expect that I had to finish university in four years maximum, but things don’t quite work that way at UBC. We have so many opportunities to enrich our time here that it’s very common to take five, or even six, years to graduate.
Many of my friends have gone on exchange, or completed a Co-op program, or worked part time. Some people are double majoring, or pursuing lots of different interests in a wide variety of courses and activities, or some combination of all of these, like me.
The point is, it doesn’t really matter why you’ve taken an “extra” year of university. What matters is that you use that time as best you can.
Finding purpose in your victory lap
There are a lot of advantages to taking a fifth or sixth year. It’s given me the opportunity to transition from being in school to working, as I have a smaller course load this year and was able to take on some rewarding part-time jobs. Additionally, I still get to benefit from the environment of learning on campus, where passionate people inspire me every day.
Taking a fifth year has also let me reflect on who I was when I came to university and who I am now. In first year, I tended to think about life as a race, and I always felt like I was behind in the sprint. Taking extra time in university has forced me to slow down and breathe a little. Now, I find it a bit easier to live in the present and enjoy moments as they happen, and my life is better because of it.
I’ve also realized that taking time to learn is always valuable.
It can be easy to lose sight of the learning process in the frenzy to get good grades and churn out a degree as fast as possible. However, university is all about learning, both in academics and outside of it.
This year, much more so than others, I’ve really tried to make sure I learn new skills and expand areas of my knowledge that I wasn’t able to before. I’m focusing on enjoying all the opportunities to learn new things, rather than fretting about the end of my degree and the uncertainty after, because that’s coming regardless of how much I worry about it.
Because of this, I feel like my fifth year is making me better equipped to handle whatever comes after university—I’m (almost) ready to venture out into the post-graduation great unknown.
You decide what “victorious” means
I’m still working on it, but my victory lap is finally starting to seem just as rewarding as my other years of university. Our fifth (or sixth) years are what we make of them. We shouldn’t measure our undergrads by the amount of time it took us to complete them, but by the amount of experiences we were able to have during that time.