One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my time at university is that not everyone’s journey is linear. My program does a great job at mapping out when to take every course we need to graduate. But five classes a semester or passing life science physics just wasn’t in the cards for me. It took me a bit of time to come to terms with not graduating with many of my friends and not finishing with the people I started out with, but taking a fifth year is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
Like many of us, I’ve had to carve out time for part-time jobs since my second year. I’m also the type of person who likes to say yes to new work opportunities, even if it means working more than the recommended maximum of 10 hours a week. As much as I’d love to say school and taking a full course load was my priority, needing to pay rent, support myself and start building up my resumé for the future became equally important.
Juggling multiple part-time jobs and five science courses at the same time wasn’t a possibility. I did try to take on everything one semester, and it didn’t end well. Burnout, sleep deprivation and not having enough time for basic needs and a social life took a toll on me and made me realize that I couldn’t do it all. To make time for all the work I was doing, I needed to drop a course or two to have time to make myself lunch or call a friend.
The pandemic also affected my ability to finish coursework on time. For some people, online learning was a blessing in disguise, but for me and my scatterbrain, it was extremely challenging. I was behind on coursework from the second week of term, and keeping track of endless Brightspace quizzes, discussion boards, and Teams meetings made my head spin. At a certain point, it became necessary for me to drop classes in order to protect my mental health. With everything going on in the world, taking a break or making life mildly less chaotic was a game changer.
Some programs are a challenge without even adding a job or extra-curriculars (hello, Medical Sciences). Taking organic chem, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and sociology all at the same time is not for everyone. By spreading out your harder classes, it gives you more time to work on subjects you might struggle with more. For me, that’s life science physics. I deliberately chose to take it this term, once all my other hard degree requirements were out of the way.
Not having to take physics at the same time as immunology was one of the best moves I could make for myself. Sometimes moving degree requirements around won’t result in a fifth year, but adding that extra year will definitely help space things out. I know many people who also choose to take fifth years to focus on their honours.
Of course, there are many things to consider when deciding to take an extra year (or two!). As an out-of-province student, a fifth year meant another year away from home, another year of living on my own and spending WAY more money on food/rent. It does become more expensive to go to school for a longer period of time. If many your friends are in the same year as you, it may also be difficult watching them graduate and leave you feeling a bit left behind.
Ultimately, deciding to take that extra year should be a personal choice. Take time to weigh your pros and cons, talk to your program or academic advisor and take a good look at your schedule. Just remember, taking more time to finish your degree isn’t a reflection of your academic abilities. Everyone learns at their own pace and doing what’s best for you can make all the difference!