Slack a little, gain a lot

Courses are like crackers. They just cost more. Make sense? No?! Oh . . . I figured that was self-explanatory. Well then, let me expand. According to Wikipedia, the saltine cracker challenge consists of eating six of the standard crackers in 60 seconds. This is nearly impossible as the crackers quickly absorb your saliva, so your mouth’s ability to break down the crackers ceases and desists. If you’ve never tried this, boy are you in for a treat. I recommend incorporating this experiment into a pre-drinking session, although you probably want to have at least a few people on hand who know the Heimlich manoeuvre.

But I digress. Crackers are wonderful. Throw one in your mouth, no problem. Tasty. Heck, let’s be efficient and try tossing in two. Mmm, mmm, mmm! What about three? Starting to get a little more difficult. There is a bit more stress, discomfort, and overall the level of enjoyment has begun to decline. Now four. There is a lot more pressure on the jaw, noticeable discomfort, and your enjoyment level may have fully dropped off. And five? “Why are you doing this to me?!” Cue tears.

Like I said, courses are like crackers. The more courses you pack into a semester, especially if you’re working too, the more pressure and stress you’ll likely experience, and, I suspect for most of you, your level of enjoyment will drop off as well.

It truly breaks my heart whenever I hear a student suggest they “can’t wait until they’re done university” or they’re “looking forward to it being over.” No, no, no, no, no. University should be one of the most enjoyable times, if not the most enjoyable time, of your life! Trust me on this. I’m a university veteran. Van Wilder ain’t got nothing on me! (I realize Van Wilder came out when most of you were probably in elementary school, so the reference may be lost on you, which further emphasizes that I’ve been around for awhile). I took seven years to get my first five-year degree, I worked in a corporate office for three years, and now I’m back working on a second degree. I’ve tried taking three courses in a semester. I’ve tried four courses, five courses and regrettably, six courses in a semester.

The university experience can be a wonderful and magical experience. It should be one. If it isn’t, you’re doing it wrong. There is so much opportunity for experience and experimentation. The road beyond will likely consist of greater commitment and responsibility. You know those inconveniences —ahem—I mean blessings called family and jobs? There is an inverse relationship between the number of commitments a person makes to courses and work and their overall level of enjoyment of life. If you’re taking five courses, working, and are wanting or in need of good grades, there is very little time for other activities. Life and the university experience are likely stressful, and it is no surprise people in that situation would look forward to it being over.

If anyone reading this is in that situation, I strongly, highly, significantly, I’ll hack into your account and drop your fifth course (says the guy who had to Google how to shut down a Mac) encourage you to try a semester of only four courses. You will be amazed at the difference. When I first tried switching from five to four, I was pleasantly surprised at the reduction of stress and the increase in free time. I hung out with friends more (invisible ones still count). I played more intramurals. I joined a few clubs. I partied a tad too much. I got more involved in all the other wonderful aspects the university experience offers that I never had time for previously. And I still got high grades. In fact, I enjoyed the change so much I dropped down to three courses. It stretched my Commerce co-op degree from a five-year program to seven years, but I was having so much fun I didn’t ever want to leave.

Now I know this may not appeal to everyone. Different strokes for different folks. But if you are all about work-life balance, enjoying life, and capitalizing on opportunities for a variety of experiences, then take it from someone who has been on the other side. You will never have another experience that replicates the university one. Even if you come back, it isn’t the same (Frank-the-tank might be cool in the movie Old School, but probably less so in real life). You have 30–40 years after graduation to work and earn a decent income. I certainly did not regret taking a few extra years, incurring a bit more debt, and putting off earning a decent income to considerably improve the experience, and you might not either. You’ll never know unless you try.

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