I have had this post on my mind for a while now, and today just felt like the right time to do it….as selecting your studies (and maybe future career as well) is a critical step in anyone’s life… I hope this article sheds a little light on things I wish I did in the past.
- Know thyself , what you like/what you are good at and your circumstances
This is CRUCIAL-I suggest you speak to your family, friends and maybe a teacher and dedicate at least 2 hrs to this process. Understanding what you like and how your personality traits allow you to pursue it definitely puts you on the right path towards a fulfilling both career and university experience. Although I did not do it, all my extra curricular activities helped me understand that (i) I liked working with/helping people, (ii) writing-took nearly 10 years but the blog is here 😉 (iii) I was good at maths and sciences (chemistry and biology), (iii) physics was my nightmare (I have nothing but respect for those who claim to love physics), (iv) coming from the DRC, I knew my parents would be spending 60-80% of their income on my degree and wanted a stable job to be able to look after them in their old days. Based on the above I decided when I was ~15 (grade 11) that I wanted to be a doctor-I knew I would go to South Africa and doctors were paid relatively well.
- Do your research (information is key/golden….you get my point!)
Also something I did not do….instead I relied entirely on my brother who was already in South Africa for guidance (TIA style ;-)…lol!). I would recommend once you have selected your degree start doing research on the various universities offering the degree (in your home country, and in your potential future host countries)- understand their ratings, the programmes offered as well as cost implications. This does not need to be a 6 month dissertation thing; at this stage word-of-mouth should suffice (it’s still better than no information). Here is why:
- In my case, my brother was in South Africa and already paid a hefty price….1 week into his trip to South Africa, we realised that South Africa did not give any credit to the Congolese matric and he would have to restart his last year of high school (or he should have done 1 year of university back home). It was too late, so off he was to South Africa knowing he would not attend uni immediately…he struggled for abt 2 years (a combination of English classes and online degree in science) before being admitted into a university full time. I (more like my parents) therefore decided based on his experience to go straight for matric and re-do my last year of high school.
- I also realised that medicine was (i) EXTREMELY expensive (which I was unsure my family could afford at the time), (ii) only those who did not have a faculty of medicine in their home country were accepted in South Africa-most of us from the DRC therefore did not qualify. Yes, we could study medicine back home-we just wanted a better rated university. If I felt REALLY strongly about becoming a doctor, it is evident that by then my choice would have been to stay in Kinshasa and study there (and maybe specialised outside of the country later, or look for a different country with easier conditions)
- Continuing with that medicine story, I met at least 2-3 people that left Congo halfway through their medical studies, believing they could continue in their host country (unfortunately at some point in Congo, most young people believed that ANYTHING outside of Congo would still be better) -they were obviously misinformed…some swallowed their pride and started over another degree, others simply never had to courage to go back to studying . Do not fall in that trap, and do your research!
- Understand future career prospects
Doctors can work anywhere in the world, so can engineers, economists and architects. I understand this is not always the case for lawyers (depending on what you specialise in). Therefore, make sure your degree does not become a limiting factor depending on your aspirations in life.
- Meet with someone currently in the field
For many women, the prospects of a future family tends to be a serious consideration for career choice e.g. paediatrician rather than surgeon(whether wrong or right, this is a debate for another post). Contact someone whom you think is currently doing exactely what you would see yourself doing in a few years, and hear from them-what their day looks like , challenges, etc. This will also help you decide for yourself based on real facts.
- Be flexible
I believe “choice” is probably one of the biggest luxury and also curse of our generation….Your degree, while a crucial part of your life, is only a season which will last 4-10 years. You existed before and you will exist after… Knowing this-If you do not get to study what you wanted: chillax, you will be surprised how many people were in your situation and happy with the way their lives have turned out….Here is why:
- As you may have guessed, I did not study medicine but instead completed an engineering degree and am now working in the sustainability field (I meet people everyday, still use basic principles of science, and am part of an industry working towards helping the planet sustain itself. While it has its highs and lows, and I am very much at the start of my career; I am extremely grateful to the Almighty for what I get to do everyday-knowing why yourself will help here.
- After the first 3-6 months of uni, I bet the following will happen (i) you definitely like your degree and will do what it takes to get it, (ii) you hate your degree-if this happens, do not panic at least 50-60% went through this. You then have two choices, decide (a) you cannot continue and therefore must make alternative plans, prepare to face your folks and admit to yourself this path is not for you-I know many engineers who became teachers, doctors who switched to engineering and vice versa. The second option when you realise you hate your degree is (b) to stick it out knowing all too well you shall get into a different industry when you finish. In my case I navigated between liking what I was studying (I suspect the friends I made had a lot to do with it…lol!), and hating it with the determination to stick it out. This is mostly because I wasn’t sure what else I would do, but also I told myself that my parents could not afford another year-hence, I had better make the best of the opportunity I was given. Whatever you decide, know that you are not alone. During my undergrad, at least a third of my class decided they HATED the course, stuck it out and got their degree. Most are now mostly management consultants travelling the country, the continent and the world.
So….in the words of Beyonce #Formation, “get that paper!”, it is important as that certifcate might open that first door….but also keep in my mind that your degree does not have to fix/seal the next 5, 10, 20, 30 or 50 years of life….you have room to manoeuvre later in life.. ;-).
Thank you for reading…I hope you found this uselful and it has helped you in your steps towards becoming that powerhouse in Africa (Africa needs you!). I would love to hear more about those who are already studying, how you chose your degree and what else you would like to share with your peers….was it an easy process? What else would you do differently? Xoxo