My winding path through university has led me to transfer from UVic to Queen’s University and back to UVic in the span of five years. Spending time at universities on both sides of the country has opened my eyes to the many differences in campus cultures across Canada. Most notably, it seems that students I’ve met at UVic rarely complete their undergraduate degrees in four years, while my friends and peers at schools in the East commonly do.
In my experience, UVic provides a more relaxed academic environment, where students are still pushed to excel, but can do so at their own pace under less pressure. Although adding an extra year to one’s degree can be a financial burden, many UVic students are willing to make the sacrifice for certain benefits such as less academic pressure, a more balanced lifestyle, and the ability to earn money through co-op or part-time work.
Robert Martin, a fifth-year computer science student, has extended his degree by enrolling in UVic’s extensive co-op program. Postponing graduation by one year to gain valuable work experience and industry contacts is an attractive trade for many students.
“Four different four-month jobs is experience that is worth the extra year in my mind,” says Martin.
Taking fewer courses per term is another way that students are extending their degrees at UVic. This option helps students maintain a balanced lifestyle and frees up time for extracurricular activities or a part-time job.
“I typically take four courses a term,” Martin says. “I’ve even taken three when one course is really challenging for me. It helps so much with the school-life balance.”
This opinion is echoed by fifth-year sociology and women’s studies student Allie Short. Her reduced course load helps her maintain her grades while playing on UVic’s competitive ultimate team.
“I took five [courses] in my first year, but I started taking four and found I did a lot better,” says Short. “I also did one semester of three, and I did the best that I have ever done.”
Short also extended her studies by switching majors, an experience common to many undergraduate students who are unsure of their future aspirations and want to take time to explore the options available to them.
“I changed my major three times,” she said. “But I would rather take my time and do something I enjoy and do well at than speed through something that I don’t enjoy and am not going to be successful with.”
Are five-or-more-year degrees the norm outside UVic? Kelli Harper, a fifth-year nursing student from B.C. studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, notices an attitude difference between West Coast and Ontario universities.
“The pressure is there to get it done in time,” she says about her degree at Queen’s. “There is definitely a different attitude towards what is expected of you, how long you are supposed to take, and what you are supposed to do afterwards. It’s expected that you graduated in four years, and then you’re getting a job, or moving out of here and doing bigger and better things.”
Harper switched programs after her first year and is one of the few people in her graduating class who is taking five years to graduate.
“I can only think of three people who took an extra year because they switched programs,” she says. “I can’t think of anybody who decided to take more than four years for the program they started out in. I know a lot of people [from B.C.] who are not graduating on time, or are taking a year off to go travel, but here nobody does that unless it’s a co-op or something for school.”
This paints a different picture than what is common and acceptable at UVic. Both Short and Martin say that most of their friends are taking five or more years to complete their degrees.
Is UVic slacking compared to other universities in Canada? Or have students at UVic figured out the key to excelling is a relaxed academic atmosphere? No matter your academic ambitions, having the opportunity to lengthen your degree without pressure or stigma can create an inclusive and stimulating learning environment.