Thoughts & Opinions, Various, Writing
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Post #7: University at 17?

Welcome to the seventh post of the Great Writing Challenge of 2012.
Five days a week for six months, I will be given a topic to write about. The stipulation: it must be 250 words (or more), and positive in tone.
Thanks to Maia for the topic suggestion. If you would like to suggest topics for me to write about, please email me at TheRebeccaProject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Post #7: University at 17?

I was 17 in my final year of high school, and took to telling those who asked me what I was planning to do with the rest of my life that I was looking forward to becoming an astrophysicist. They’d reply with an exaggerated “ooooh!”, raise their eyebrows and change the subject. Most were probably conscious of the fact that they had no idea just what an astrophysicist does, so they thought it best to seem impressed and move on.

Truth is, I never knew what I wanted to do. I just told people that so they’d stop asking me. My mind changed more frequently than the weather: a physiotherapist, a marine scientist, actor, FBI agent (“oh, hello, Agent Mulder”)…. My sister, on the other hand, was far more practical about the matter:
On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’m going to be a lolly shop owner. Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’m going to be a lawyer. And on Fridays and Saturdays, I’m going to be a teacher.”
The girl had it worked out from birth.

How the university admission system works in Australia

In the months leading up to our final exams, we had submit our top ten courses from any of the universities in Australia to the Universities Admission Center. We finished our exams mid-November, and results (where they rank you against your peers) were posted just before Christmas. We had maybe a week to consider our options and rework our top 10 courses in order, before the phone lines closed and our lives were forever set in stone. The Sydney Morning Herald published the first round of offers. I always thought it fitting to discover your fate in the SMH, in sections that buffer the pages marking life’s defining moments: the birth, marriage and death announcements.

In the US

In the US, they do things very differently. There’s SATs to sit (it’s generally encouraged to do that when you’re in Year 11), and an application package you complete and send to each of the schools you wish to apply to. They usually include application forms, one or two essays, and evidence of extra-curricular activities. So that means that around the same time each year, there’s kids of a certain age DESPERATELY seeking volunteer work (and the cynical part of me is never terribly inclined to accept their offers for a month of Friday afternoons’ efforts).

I have only just decided what I want to do with my life in my 30s, so how can we expect 16 and 17-year-olds to make important decisions that will determine the rest of their life?

Both systems place an emphasis on having teens make life changing decisions at an age when they should be working crappy jobs and out exploring the world. I really enjoyed uni, learning heaps and meeting some great people. But could the time I invested at uni in my late teens and early 20s have been much better spent elsewhere, learning important life skills and traveling? Since turning 30 myself, I have really started to see the merit in the American’s insistence that formal study should come in your late 20s and early 30s. I am much more focused and prepared to meet the challenges of rigorous study at this point in my life than ever before.

So what of an alternative to this well-trodden path for young whippersnappers? The American and I have spoken at length about the pros and cons of national service for school leavers. It doesn’t have to be military in nature, but could be the answer to a good all-round education. A good mix of community and environmental service with some formal education classes and life-skills-type training skills (think survival camp and practical applications like learning how to make a fire) could be really benefit. In a two or three year paid program, they would learn practical, technical and life skills. Maybe how to be a leader, and operate in a team. CPR. Reading and interpreting the great novels. Foundations of good relationships. Cooking nutritious meals. Fighting fires. Caring for the elderly. Drawing. Growing plants and identifying fauna. Snorkeling. Problem solving. Cleaning up shorelines. Fitness.

My views alternate frequently on this. It’s just an idea, an alternative to those who feel like square pegs in round holes. Perhaps the solution is more about changing attitudes. Where I’m from, an alternative to going from school straight to uni was Not An Option, so maybe the emphasis should be on offering the adolescent the best solution that fits their temperament and needs, rather than pushing them in a direction that makes the school that “succeeded” in getting you to a particular university sound good.

What do you think?
Do you think you would have responded better to living first then attacking formal learning later in life?
Or did you buck the trend entirely?

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