The 8 Stages of Leaving University

Leaving school can be scary, exciting and depressing. Sometimes all at the same time. Much like grieving, graduating university is accompanied by certain stages. Thanks to Jonny and Hannah for their perspectives and stories while writing this.

Stage 1 – Your last exam, paper or project

This stage is less exciting than you think it’s going to be. Usually your last milestone in 4th year is a thesis, or a major project. For myself, it was a group project that we submitted several hours after I had already left on a plane for Europe. Underwhelming indeed. The final submission is usually followed by a celebration with friends, or a bottle of wine to the face (we all can guess who’s celebration that was). The end of university is not like it was in high school, there is no “last day” where you all throw your papers in the air as the bell rings. We managed to have a night with all of our close friends (and my father), where we reminisced, told stories and tried not to think about how different everything was about to become. We also spent a few hours playing “Who said it” on the 98A Collingwood house twitter. (If you want a good laugh, give it a follow @shit98says, see if you can guess).

Group photo

Pictured above: Our last night. Laughing at something wildly inappropriate James said.

Stage 2 – Ignorance is Bliss

Stage two begins one of several ways. Some dive right into the working world (Ha, no thanks). Others spend a few weeks “recovering” with some Netflix and their parents’ couch. Jonny and I as most people are aware decided to take our ignorance of the real world on a 5 week trip of Europe. The important part about this stage is that it hasn’t sunk in yet. Your brain believes this is just a hiatus, before you return back to the comfort of school. This stage can often ensnare people for weeks, or even months; spent in the comfort of home, or travelling for months on end. Most people live in this stage for the few weeks between the end of school and graduation

Stage 3 – Graduation

Excuse the term but shit just got real. You got your grades back, you passed (praise the exam gods) and it’s time to don that gown and hood. I for one found out I had passed (albeit not spectacularly) while in Amsterdam, about to set out on a pub crawl. You can use your imagination about how that went.

Graduation day is finally upon you. It is at this point where you may be tempted to run once they hand you the diploma in fear that someone may change their mind. 36 hours prior to my graduation I landed in Toronto after my whirlwind trip of Europe. I was so jet-lagged that all I remember about my graduation was having to duck because the associate dean was short and she had to put my hood over my head. If it wasn’t for the dozens of pictures my mother took, that would likely be my one memory of one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. This stage is bittersweet, as many of your friends won’t come to graduation due to travelling, or not wanting to fly back across the country. Regardless of how you celebrate, this is it. You did it. 4 years of all-nighters, group projects and exams. It feels a little like one of those “My dad went to Arizona and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” type moments. Except the t-shirt is a piece of paper that says you are now ready to enter to real world.


Pictured above: Jet-lag in human form, my real world certificate and two of the people that got me there.

Stage 4 – Employment (Or lack thereof)

This stage is the biggest variable in the process. Some people reach this point prior to stage 3. Others won’t reach this milestone for a few weeks and will likely fill the meantime with part-time jobs, more travelling or general “what am I going to do with my life”. I can safely say that by about 6 months out from graduation, nearly all of my friends had jobs. Each one of us experienced this stage differently. Hannah started work May 1st on a summer internship that she later turned into full-time employment (Yay Hannah). Jonny pulled every string on every connection that began to sound like the beginning to a Freaky Stories episode (a friend of a friend of mine) before landing a sweet gig working with another friend of ours Peter. I had completed two co-ops terms with the company I now work for, and had signed my contract back in February. That meant that within 5 days of receiving my real world certificate, I was off to start in the working world. This stage is accompanied by giving a lot of people your SIN number, hearing terms like RPP, RRSP, TFSA and EI over and over again and having to look up your new postal code several times. Which, by the way leads us to:

Stage 5 – Relocation

Whether you are relocating from school back home, to a brand new city or down the street from your parents, this step is definitely the most encompassing of all of the “feels”. You feel excited; oh my gosh, I have my own apartment, I never have to wear pants at home again. You feel depressed; one of my paycheques each month barely covers rent. For some people this is the first time they have really ever lived alone. You lived with your parents, you had 3 or more roommates at school. If you didn’t wash that dish or take the garbage out, don’t worry, James will do it. Now if you leave that dish in the sink, it’s there. Waiting for you when you get home. Staring you down, judging you for your inability to complete the simplest of grown-up tasks until you finally take the 30 seconds it takes to wash, dry and put it away. Some people take to making the place their own immediately. Others, like me, live in a sort of denial world. It took 7 months before anything was even hung on the walls in my apartment. In time it has begun to feel like home.

Stage 6 – Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is what come after the first few weeks of re-adjustment. You realize you’re friends are still around, you start to hit your stride at work and things in your new home have their “place” now. Some people will never leave this stage. They may move to a new apartment or buy a house. Maybe find a new job, or move to a new city, but the comfort will remain there. In some ways I envy the people who stay in this stage. In other ways, I do not relish the idea of being satisfied in where I am in life at 22. For others, like myself, this stage is temporary. The comfort is more in knowing how much is still out there, than being where I am now. Being in your early 20’s is about pushing past the temporary comfort zone you find yourself in. Even if it means reaching the next stage.

Stage 7 – Quarter Life Crisis

Pushing the limit past the comfort zone leads to the next stage, where most of my friends and I currently sit. Crisis may be a bad term for it. I would describe it as the feeling of being in limbo. Most of my life I never really thought about what came next. University, getting my degree had always been the goal. Once you attain that goal, and go through these stages, you come out the other side questioning everything. The overwhelming feeling that one wrong decision could ruin everything hangs over your head. Maybe you have already made that wrong decision, or maybe it’s barrelling towards you like a freight train. The important thing about the “crisis” is that it begins to give you perspective. You begin to realize that you are not the only person who doesn’t have a clue. Nearly everyone around you is in the same boat. Your parents were in the same boat at your age, and they turned out fine. I mean hey, they raised you. The one thing this stage has taught me more than anything is the importance of the perspective it gives. That perspective can lead you to the final stage

Stage 8 – Figuring it Out

The final stage. Figuring it out. It all sounds so simple, we are all hopeful that someday we just know how it all works. The definitive problem with this stage is that you will never leave it. Once this stage begins, we remain in it forever. The realization that there is no one in this life that has it all totally figured out is the most important realization that a person can have. Granted, someone in their 40’s with a family and a career, or a bookshelf full of stories from travels and experiences, likely has it a hell of a lot more figured out than we do at 22. I defy anyone at any age who claims that they have their life entirely sorted. What we have to make sure we remember whenever we start to regress back to Stage 7 is that everything prior to now gave us the ability to sort out whatever comes next. The point I’ve been building to all along is this: It is more important to trust that you will figure it out, than it is to have it all figured out. Success will not come from having everything sorted out, it will come from being able to sort it out as you go. Your success is not defined by anyone but yourself.

“I believe that we are who we choose to be. Nobody’s going to come and save you, you’ve got to save yourself. Nobody’s going to give you anything; you’ve got to go out and fight for it. Nobody knows what you want except for you. And nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it. So, don’t give up on your dreams.” – Barry Manilow, Sweet Life: Adventures on the Way to Paradise

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