Have you ever wondered why you are the person you are? When I asked my mother, she told me that some people can spend their whole life searching for answers, it wasn’t comforting.
She also said because we’re all different individuals, there is no single easy answer. Others can help to support and guide you in your life journey but it’s your life.
I started my journey by defining my happiness. Think about what happiness means to you and what you need to be happy, this makes more sense as you learn more about yourself.
For me growing up, my parents never expected me to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, instead, I was encouraged to find my purpose and be someone. To be happy and fulfilled, someone who is good to myself and others.
I learned that things like money, a degree, or a job are all just tools that help us live, but it’s not our life. It's not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. When you choose a path in life it's the start of your journey where you begin to decipher what your deeper values and motivations are.
I began working as soon as I was old enough to get a job – sometimes I've had 2 or 3 at a time. I did this because I hated asking my parents for money, especially when I could be making my own. Having a job didn't take away from my academics or athletics. I was still heavily involved in competitive dance and, though my marks weren't in the 90s, I wasn't failing either. My life has always been a bit of a balancing act.
That's part of my personal definition of happiness: I want to balance all the things I love and want to do. Since I began working at a young age, I've developed a strong work ethic and I've been able to try out a bunch of different things. I worked fast food, retail, reception, non-profits, waited tables and I've even had a grown-up office job.
These varied environments taught me what kind of work I like and what I don't. My work experience simplified my career path. I researched and realized I wanted to become an educator, not because of the paycheck or the holidays, but because I'm passionate about learning and I find purpose in the art of teaching. I have a learning disability, so school never really came easily to me, but my struggle enabled me to understand the difference that a great teacher can make. My goal is to provide a quality education to every student who walks through my door so that they can explore and grow.
The teaching profession also provides me with a creative outlet; I'm constantly challenged to find new ways to engage students and inspire them to learn. My past work experience, and the time I took to reflect on what makes me happy, have helped me to feel confident in my career path choice.
So put yourself out there, explore different environments and people, to learn what motivates you and where your deepest values lie. There are a lot of jobs that could make you happy, but time will tell what will make you happy.
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.
Funding your future
I’ve heard so many people say they can’t attend post-secondary because they can’t afford it; they don’t have enough money, their parents aren’t contributing, they have children, or some other excuse. But the reality is that many people will never have enough money to pay for post-secondary on their own upfront. People are comfortable borrowing for mortgages, vehicles, or credit cards, but they can be hesitant to take out a student loan through Student Aid, which is really an investment in your future.
Options to finance your education
Get a job
Start saving and contributing to your education.
Registered Education Saving Plan (RESP)
Use your RESP if you have one. This money was put away for you by your family and friends specifically for your post-secondary education. Income tax wasn’t paid when it was deposited, the income needs to be reported when you use it but as a student you might not have to pay much tax.
Apply for scholarships, there is so much free money in our province to get them you need to apply. Read Jade’s story for the types of scholarships and how to apply. You don’t pay back scholarships, grants, or bursaries. Grants are given to students who fall into such categories as low income (which most students do), those with a permanent disability, and those with a dependent (a child of your own or someone you care for), to name a few. A bursary is similar, see Alberta’s Advancing Futures Bursary. Remember that you will need to report these awards on your income tax.
If the options above aren’t enough, you can take out a student loan. A student loan comes from Alberta Student Aid and the Canada Student Loans program. Funding is available for both full-time and part-time students. Loan money helps you pay for your education and living costs while in school. Repayment on the loan doesn’t start until 12 months after you graduate. Interest is lower than normal loans and isn’t charged until you start repayment. When you start repayment, you will have the option to increase or decrease payments at any time. Student Aid will also check to see if you qualify for any grants.
When you’re approved for the loan, you will find out how much you are eligible for. Since parental income is no longer considered when determining student loan eligibility, most students qualify for a decent amount. It’s tempting to take more than you need but remember eventually you will have to repay it. You can use your student loan for any costs you deem fit, including tuition, rent, books, or groceries, but I'd recommend that you avoid using your loan for consumer purchases. This will help keep your debt level manageable, so it's easier to pay back.
If you’re not an Alberta resident, a bank student line of credit might be your only option, note that interest payments are required while you’re in school and the interest starts to accumulate from the day you take the money out of the bank.
When I was in elementary and junior high, teachers thought I was a daydreamer, but to me they were speaking a foreign language. In grade 9, my supportive parents started taking steps to figure out what was wrong and I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and anxiety, the type I have is a processing disorder. I was not getting information from my teachers the way I needed to receive it. My homework was done well at my own pace, but I would have a panic attack in tests.
As I entered high school, the whole education system was just beginning to understand how to support learning disabilities. I didn’t have a lot of help and there weren’t a lot of resources for me. I was barely scraping by.
Early in Grade 12 my social teacher declared I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I should plan for a future in retail. Later that year a biology teacher with learning disabilities helped me figure out how I learn. I started with a 60% average, but by the end of that year, my average went up 10% just by changing my study techniques.
For example, did you know that we all have a learning colour? Mine’s pink. If I write with a pink pen or on a pink piece of paper, or if I take a pink transparency and put it over my notes, I'll remember the information 80% better than if it’s on a regular white piece of paper. A lot of peoples’ learning colour is blue and yellow; my sister’s is olive green.
Flash cards are another tool I use. A whole chapter of notes can make me panic but if I compose flash cards of sections, it becomes easier for me to understand and remember the information. I can colour code it and turn it into a game or story, which is more interesting and not nearly as intimidating. There are all sorts of strategies and tools we can use to enhance our ability to learn.
After high school all my friends went off to university and college. My mom was the first person in her family to ever get a degree so she was very adamant all three of her children would do some form of post-secondary education. Being the oldest child with no other role model than my mother, I figured university was the way I was supposed to go, but my average wasn’t high enough to get into any of the programs I wanted. I needed to upgrade.
After high school I went to Centre High, which allows students to do a fourth, fifth, or even sixth year of high school. It’s a more affordable option than attending a public college and you don’t have to return to your old high school. Centre High also has a bunch of free resources available for students: tutors, academic strategists, and career advisors. I took advantage of all of them.
I basically re-did Grade 12 while working and travelling, so I not only grew academically but gained personal and life experience as well. When I left Centre High after that one year, my average was up 26% – I had a 96% average. It was so high I qualified for a $2,000 university scholarship. If you set your academic goals, work hard and access available resources you can achieve your goals.
Learning disability resources
The Government of Alberta describes a permanent disability as: a functional limitation caused by a physical or mental impairment that restricts the ability of a person to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in studies at the post-secondary level or the labour force. The disability is expected to remain with the person for the person’s expected natural life.
Examples of a permanent disability include:
- attention deficit
- sensory (vision/hearing)
- chronic illness
The first thing you should know about accessing these resources is that your learning disability must be documented. You need medical documents identifying your permanent disability and how it restricts your ability to participate in post-secondary studies. These can be obtained through a learning assessment conducted by a registered psychologist or an occupational therapist.
With the proper documentation in place, there are many supports and resources for students with disabilities.
Student aid has supports for students with a learning disability. Learning assessments can cost up to $4,000 depending on the kind and number of tests you need but if you apply for student aid the Canada Student Grant program covers a portion of the cost (if the assessment confirms you have a learning disability). Learn more about applying for funding through Alberta Student Aid. Grants through student aid do not need to be repaid and you could be eligible for each academic year.
- Canada Student Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities: $2,000 per loan year to help meet your education and living costs
- Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment: up to $8,000 per loan year
- Alberta Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities: up to $3,000 per loan year
- Search for funding for services and equipment ranging from $8,000 to $11,000
Institution student supports
Every post-secondary institution in the province has at least one academic strategist and possibly an occupational therapist working on campus. An academic strategist helps you understand how you learn and then guides you and offers tools or supports to help you succeed in your studies. See what your institute has to offer you could have weekly session with an academic strategist or occupational therapist, or attend group sessions. These are covered with student aid funding.
Most institutions also offer these student services for those with a learning disability:
- orientation to the school
- assessment of needs and personal or academic advising to target the best services
- referrals to additional services or agencies if the student requires services outside of the institution’s available resources
- program planning: assistance in mapping out the extent of the student’s entire program
- registration assistance: support in course selection and timetable creation
- interpretation arrangements: for those that are hard of hearing
- advocacy: active support
- liaison with departments and faculties: maintaining contact and communication with all necessary parties
- loan of available specialized equipment, such as computers, software, etc.
- obtaining permission to tape lectures
- volunteer assistance including note taking, exam writing assistance, mobility assistance, taping of readings, library research help, escort or study help, tutoring, or special project help.
These supports are here to help you reach your academic goals, you just need to access these services and ask for what you need to be successful. Also check out the Transition Planning Guide for more information on career and education planning for students with disabilities or the resources for people with disabilities (ALIS).
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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