My goal was always to become a teacher so I figured a 4-year Bachelor of Education degree would be my best choice. Once I nailed down the program I wanted, I went to my high school guidance counsellor to discuss what school I should go to. I considered the University of Alberta (U of A) and the University of Lethbridge (U of L), but both felt too far from my home in Airdrie. At 18, I didn’t want to pay bills and grocery shop, I wasn’t ready to leave home.
I thought I was limited to those 2 options then at Mount Royal’s open house, I learned about their Bachelor of Education – University Transfer program. It seemed like the right fit with small class sizes, a great recreation facility and impressive instructors. I got the sense that they really cared and got to know their students. After meeting with an Academic Advisor, I found out I could get a Bachelor of Arts program in History (4 years) at Mount Royal and then get an Education After Degree (2 years) at the U of L. My goal hadn’t changed, only my path and timeline did. After 4 years I was ready for the U of L which also offered the small class sizes I prefer. I’d also get to try teaching both elementary and high school students to figure out what I liked.
There are a ton of factors to consider when choosing a post-secondary institution after high school. Consider all your options, listen to the advice of people you respect (teachers, counsellors, mentors, parents), and then do your research. Attend open houses, visit school websites, read up on programs, or contact an advising office at the institutions that interest you.
The more you know, the easier it will be to find the right school for you, and it will increase your chances to feel comfortable and confident with the school you choose.
Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.
Newbie survival guide
I was so confused when I started university. It felt like the first day of kindergarten all over again: I was this little kid who didn’t know anyone or anything and needed to figure out how to survive. Many of my instructors I only saw once a week and there was nobody to remind me about assignments, deadlines, or exams. It took some time to adjust and find my way, here are some tips that helped me:
Find a study group or mentor
Finding a group of friends or a mentor can give you support during your studies: If you’re starting as an apprentice in the trades, talk to the journeymen; if you’re at a college or university, see if your school offers tutoring (even if you don’t think you need it yet).
Don’t skip class
There’s a lot of freedom in post-secondary it can be incredibly tempting to skip and it’s hard to get to an 8 am class when you know attendance won’t be taken. I skipped for a while, but when I began attending every single lecture, seminar and lab my GPA increased from a 2.8 to a 3.4. I was more engaged, my assignments were easier, and I met more students.
Go to office hours
If your instructor has office hours, use them. One professor I had made it mandatory for us to meet with him twice during the term to discuss assignments. At first it seemed intimidating, but my professor became a person I could turn to for help, I felt supported and in control. This experience also helped me to feel more comfortable approaching other professors. Your instructors are a great resource even outside the classroom, you can meet with them to learn more about assignment expectations, get help with planning an essay, or to talk over any challenges you are facing with course material.
Keep your classes, assignment deadlines, exams, social events and errands in a paper or digital agenda. When you have your week planned out, you can prioritize to stay on time and identify any free time.
Join a club
To avoid burnout, make sure you’ve got some downtime and find ways to connect with other students. An easy way to find others who share your interests is to attend campus social events and join a club. Campus clubs are for like-minded students to find one another and pursue their interests outside of coursework. Joining a club can really round out your post-secondary experience.
Keep an open mind
If you have an extra elective (an optional course that doesn’t have to be within your major), take something you’ve wanted to try. I took a ‘Canadian Social History’ course that I loved so much I switched majors. You can change your mind and your direction. This has been the most motivating part of post-secondary for me, the ability to discover new topics that fascinate me and the option to pursue my interests.
Find a few different survival strategies that work for you and talk to people when you feel overwhelmed. You’ll find that everyone has feelings of doubt or fear sometimes, but once you figure out how to stay afloat in the post-secondary world, you can enjoy the ride.
Finding that job
Writing a resume
Nothing beats getting that first pay cheque. I remember thinking that finding a job would be much harder than it was. A resume is a simple list of your skills, experience, and achievements, which helps employers determine if you are a good fit for the job. For any student in or just out of high school, putting together a resume can seem daunting, especially if you aren’t sure what you can offer. Your resume requires:
Include your name, phone number, address, and email (make sure it’s professional and includes your name). Normally, at the top of your first page since this is how your future employer will contact you for an interview.
Skills and abilities
List what you’re good at and the skills you have that can transfer to other tasks. For example, in my leadership class I developed skills in time management, problem solving, following a budget, marketing, and teamwork. If you get an interview prepare a story of a time when you demonstrated a specific skill. This can be working on a project, playing a team sport, or any other time you can prove you used this skill.
Work and volunteer experience
For work experience, things like baby-sitting, coaching, raking leaves, or shovelling snow all count. Baby-sitting helped me get my first job at McDonald’s. You can also list your church, school or community volunteer experience.
List your most recent first, include your school and the years you’ve attended. You can also include additional training courses, First Aid certification, coaching workshop or part-time classes to show that you go above and beyond.
Your achievements and awards say a lot about you. A perfect attendance award can tell your future employer that you are accountable. A sportsmanship award shows your enthusiasm and positive attitude. The Honour Role shows your employer you work hard. Any achievement is important when you’re marketing yourself.
Most people write “references available upon request” on their resume, then you can bring them to your interview. This way you can let your references know that someone will be calling them on your behalf. This gives them a change to think out what they want to say about you.
When formatting your resume, always start with your basic information, check online for professional templates, and follow the order above. Also see these resume resources:
- Build your resume (ALIS)
- Live Career Resume Builder
- Youth Central Resume Template
- Career FAQs: My First Resume
When you’re finished, print a copy, and ask someone to proofread it for you. Guidance counsellors, teachers, and parents are great for this. The first draft of your resume will never be perfect, so take the time to edit and perfect it. Your resume will grow and change as you do.
If you’re applying on a specific posting, you can tailor your resume by using keywords from the job ad to show that you have the skill set and experience they are looking for. You will make a great first impression if you can deliver the resume personally.
Applying for work
Apply everywhere, cast a wide net to increase your chances of finding a job. If you’re just starting out, bring your resume to local businesses. Plus, if you don’t really know what you want to do for work, you can apply a bunch of different places and see who responds. Looking for your first job is a like a treasure hunt, it takes work. Job searching requires effort, if you keep an open mind, you maybe surprised with a rewarding job. This process can take some time, don’t get discouraged, stay positive and keep looking until you find something!
Here are a few tips for handing out resumes:
- Make sure you're clean and dressed professionally.
- Don't bring friends or family, you’ll look unprofessional.
- Check potential companies to see if they have online applications or postings available.
- If it’s a small business, ask to speak to the manager. If the clerk asks why, let them know you’re interested in applying.
- When you meet the manager, introduce yourself – handshakes are optional now, but return a firm handshake if it’s offered. Then, ask about their employment application process and offer to hand them your resume. Once they have it offer your thanks and wish them a good day. Being polite, but to-the-point will make a great first impression.
- Be persistent – don't stop until you’ve delivered everywhere you can.
- Be ready for the call – they may call a couple of days or a week after delivery. I found this to be an incredibly efficient way to get a job quickly.
- Be prepared some people might offer you an immediate interview. I had an immediate interview at McDonald’s when I was having lunch. I didn’t have time to be nervous.
These days, my career-oriented jobs require a little more preparation.
The company website can offer their values, work culture, history, and mission statement. Usually, they will ask why you want to work there, your research can tell them how your own values align with the company, and it proves you’ve done your homework.
- Prepare your stories
Interviewers often ask you to demonstrate your skills and will ask for examples of how you handled a difficult situation or met a deadline. You might explain a group project you worked on or how you developed a skill in sports with hard work and dedication. Gather a few stories that involve group work, team building, problem-solving, communicating, and overcoming obstacles to prove that you have the skills they are looking for. Practice telling your story.
- Prepare questions for them
The last question they may ask is if you have any questions. This is your opportunity to stand out, you can ask things like: what would make an employee in this position successful? How can an employee fit in well here? What do you like best about working here? When might I hear if I’ve been accepted for this position? Don’t ask about holidays, pay, or benefits until you’ve been offered the job.
- Prepare your references ready
Not every employer will ask for references, but you should have them ready. It can be a single sheet with the most relevant reference and their contact information at the top or letters of reference if you have those.
At the interview
Dress for the job (if it’s an office job with suits, look like you belong), be at least 10 minutes early (they might ahead of schedule or you might have a few minutes to relax) and greet your interviewer with a smile and handshake if it’s offered. During the interview keep your hands in your lap to control any nervous habits, they are distracting.
After the interview, remember to say thank-you, in person at the interview and the next day with a call, note or email. You can say something like, “I’d like to thank you for your time and for considering me for this position.” Keep it brief, it will show your future employer that you would value the position. If you haven’t heard after a week you can follow up to see when the decision will be made.
My final piece of advice when looking for a job is to stay optimistic and realize it takes time. If you keep your eyes open and keep applying, something will turn up eventually. Reach out to friends and family, see if your city has a youth employment centre, consider a job placement agency or see Find a Job.
Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:
Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:
Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.
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