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How I Could Have Saved Thousands On My Education, But Didn’t

I’m one of those people who will go hungry from lunch ‘til 1 AM, because they refuse to spend $3 on a muffin and will stubbornly ignore their stomach until they get home from work. [Editor’s note: we don’t endorse this!] I mean, why would I spend money on convenience food when I have a perfectly good home-cooked meal just waiting in my fridge?

Basically, I’m cheap AF. I shop thrift stores (and only with a super-specific list). I shop sales (again, with the aforementioned list). I shop…not very often, because I am a student and therefore constantly stressed.  So then, why in the name of all that is frugal did I choose to take an extra year of university? Answer: my mental health.

For all intents and purposes, I thought I was going through with my plan until the last minute. My high school offered a few AP courses, and I took the ones I was interested in. That, combined with out-of-school tutoring for the AP courses my school didn’t offer, meant that by March 2018 I was all geared up to take my exams in May, get 5’s, apply those transfer credits to my university, and skip all of first year. My exams were all carefully curated to the first year requirements — I had AP Calculus BC, Chemistry, Biology, and Microeconomics set and ready to be written.

But I didn’t.

You see, this year, I was juggling school with several extracurriculars and a part-time job. I thought I’d be fine — after all, in grade 11 I actually had more work. However, I failed to take into account one thing: my depression. Maybe it was the stress of my final year of high school. Maybe it was taking classes outside of school in addition to those within school. Maybe it was the series of triggers in January that brought back memories of when I was in a darker place.

Whatever the case, I began missing school. My average fell, going from a 97% to a 94%. I began slacking on my extracurriculars, and my depressive episodes increased in frequency and severity. Once, I missed nearly two weeks of school just lying in bed indulging in the finest of escapism methods.

I spent the week I was supposed to take my AP exams unable to leave my home, and all my hard work went down the drain. I had spent so long, so long working to save an entire year’s worth of university expenses, and all of it was lost to a single mental illness. I was beyond disappointed in myself. When I recovered, I spent over an hour crying over all my wasted effort — my study schedules, my prep courses, my pages upon pages of highlighted handwritten notes. It was the first time my depression had cost me something more than a few missed days of school, and it finally spurred me into action.

Since then, I’ve seen a psychiatrist and been referred to a walk-in clinic where I’ve found strategies to cope with my mental illness. I’ve begun focusing more on my health — instead of studying to get that extra 4% of my average, I’ve started taking walks and practicing yoga. In the month that’s passed, I’ve come to terms with what’s happened. I’ve found the silver lining in the situation: my first year GPA is going to be high as heck, since I’ll go in having already learned the material. Since I’m considering med school after my undergraduate, a GPA-booster is going to be uber-beneficial. I can take the time I would’ve spent studying and reallocate it to exercising or working or just adjusting to the sudden change in my life.

$9,000 CAD (AKA the amount my first-year tuition will be, and what I would have saved by acing the AP exams and getting exempted from those classes) is a lot of money, especially to a 17-year-old. Losing that amount hurt, but without that loss, I’m not sure when I would’ve sought help and treatment. At this point, I’ve been living with depression for two years. Who knows how long I would’ve procrastinated?

While intellectually, the pros outweigh the cons, it’s been difficult for me emotionally. I’ve had to reconfigure the way I think of myself. Historically, I’ve taken pride in being an overachiever, in having the high average, the glowing resume, the maturity-beyond-my-years. My acceptance into a university where many students attended only for three years gave me a dose of inferiority. For the first time, I wasn’t in the top 5% or even the top 10%. I hadn’t taken a thousand AP courses, an IB diploma, or my A-levels. I just had two, and I hadn’t even planned on writing the exams.

I think that this whole fiasco has given me some much-needed perspective. Working myself into the ground to save a couple thousand dollars and my pride isn’t worth it, and maybe this was my body’s way of telling me so. In any case, all that’s happened is that I’m “stuck” with a four-year-degree and an easy first year. Objectively, I’m incredibly privileged in that my degree won’t put me back tens of thousands of dollars (thanks, Canada!). My parents have assured me that I can always count on them for financial support. Canada’s health care is generous enough that I don’t have many out-of-pocket costs for my treatment. The list of my own luckiness goes on and on, and at the end of the day, I’m only just beginning my life as an (almost) legal adult. It’s okay if I make a few mistakes here and there, especially if those mistakes come with unseen and (very) hidden benefits.

To anyone else out there, no matter what stage you are in life, it’s okay to disappoint yourself. There are very few things we’ll value throughout the course of our lives. Money is, of course, one of them, but another is health. Maybe it’s okay to tilt the scales in favor of one or the other for a period of time, or if extenuating circumstances require you to do so. But a consistent deficit of one will eventually trigger a loss of the other.

Pick up that extra shift, but maybe also a book while you’re at it. (I recommend All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Or Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.)

Sophie is a Torontonian and soon-to-be university student. She spends her time reading, hiking, and having one-sided conversations with her worryingly fat cat. 

Image via Unsplash

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