The gap between diploma and degree holders is finally becoming closer but some individuals and employers still value one more than the other. As someone with dual diplomas but no degree I have, for the most part, received the utmost respect and support with regards to my level of education. However, I have had to endure questions about why I chose the path I did. The most popular question I have been asked is “In the time you’ve spent in school, you could have a degree and be half-way through your masters…so why did you choose 2 diploma programs instead?” The first time someone asked me this question I was a bit taken aback, until I realized the answer was simple: practicality.

I believe in learning by doing but I do not believe that people are solely practical or theoretical learners. In my opinion, it takes a combination of both to create a truly well-rounded education. This is not the point in the article where make judgments or share my thoughts on Universities and 4-year programs because I have not had the experience to do so. However, I will share with you why completing 2 diploma programs worked for me and gave me what I believe to me just as strong an education as someone with a 4-year degree.

In highschool, more and more students are opting to take a 5th year or as it is more fondly known a “victory lap”. This is a choice students make when they feel they are not quite ready to define who they want to be or what they want to study. By the end of grade 12, I was done with high school but I also wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I just wasn’t comfortable or ready to dedicate myself to 4-years of study in a program I wasn’t even sure I’d like. This is when I started looking at 2-year College programs. I couldn’t believe all the different programs offered and how interesting the classes were. The biggest fear I had faced was finishing high school to go into what felt like an even bigger and harder version of high school with mathematics, sciences, and geography…oh my. My fear of this was quickly washed away when I narrowed in on a program called “Special Event Planning”. I began browsing through the courses: Marketing for Events, Trends in Tourism, Event Operations and even Wine and Food Pairing. I had never really thought about Event Planning as a career path but when I started to look at my strengths, I realized how good of a fit it could be. My parents agreed and saw it as an opportunity to learn a marketable skill, so I began to apply.

In the fall of 2010, I began studying Special Event Planning at George Brown College. It was everything and nothing like I thought it would be. The classes were small with maybe 30 other students and the professors all had businesses or jobs on the side in their profession. It felt amazing to be taught by practicing professionals and to be in an environment where they all knew your name by the second week of classes. At George Brown, I was given the chance to grow and learn in an environment that I felt to be an appropriate transition out of high school.  During my time there, I successfully planned and executed an event for 500 people with a limited budget, made both friends and connections and walked away a certified event planner at the age of 20. The feeling was amazing to say the least.

After completing my program, I began working an office job for a small company in North Toronto. For the first few months I really enjoyed being in a professional workplace but gradually I began to crave a more creative environment. Although my program had involved some level of creativity I found myself looking more for something linked to my love of art. Both myself and my mom looked through different programs at Colleges and Universities until we came upon Graphic Design. When I saw the curriculum and the types of jobs the program prepared you for I felt like I had found my niche. The application process was not a cake walk to say the least. All applicants were required to submit a portfolio of their work, complete a drawing test, and a language assessment. Of the many applicants, we were told only 32 would be selected.  One month later, I began my studies in the Graphic Design program at Seneca College. Graphic Design programs are in a bit of a weird spot: they are a year longer than standard diplomas but a year short of a degree leaving graduates with what they call an advanced diploma. Once again, the classes were small and continued to decrease in size as the complexity and competition in the program increased. Despite the lengthy assignments and moments of wanting to rip my hair out, the education I received was more than I could have ever hoped for. I finished the program feeling completely confident in my abilities to work in a professional setting as a Graphic Designer…which is exactly what I do now.

The skill sets and experience I gained in both my College programs cannot be compared to anything else. What I learned at George Brown and Seneca is applied daily at my job and outside of it. I do not see my first 2-years of education as a waste but as additional knowledge that puts me ahead of other candidates when applying for jobs. In College, you are not just given the opportunity to learn but to practice and after you’ve practiced, to apply what you learned to a real-world project.

This all might seem like the longest possible answer to why I chose College instead of University but I think it’s important that more people see College not as a step below on the education ladder but as a step closer on the professional one.

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