Moving on: Higher education

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Learn about things to consider if you are planning to attend higher education including how to decide on the right type of education for you and expectations of higher education.

Key points

  • Higher education includes university, college, trade school or a training institute.
  • To help you decide which type is right for you, consider your interests, understand your strengths and weaknesses, set SMART goals for your education and do your research.
  • Higher education requires you to be more responsible for your own learning and manage your own time, rather than relying on your teacher to check in with you.

The choice to pursue higher education

Many survivors of teenaged cancer pursue higher education (education after high school). You may pursue more education out of interest, or you may have a specific career or job in mind. Either way, the following information will help you plan for attending school and give you some tips to succeed.

What types of higher education are available?

Higher education includes attending trade school, a training institute, college or university. The school you choose depends on what you want to do in the future. For example, if you wish to become a teacher, you will need to go to university. If you want a job in radio and broadcasting, you may choose a college. To become a chef, you may attend a specialized training institute; and to become a welder, you can go to a trade school.

How do I decide which type of education is right for me?

Consider your interests

Higher education takes quite a bit of time and effort. Having a real interest in what you are learning will go a long way towards helping you succeed.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

What are you good at? What do you struggle with? Facing cancer may have given you strength, resilience and the motivation to exceed expectations. You may also have some physical or cognitive deficits (challenges) because of cancer or treatment. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you set realistic educational goals and figure out how to achieve them.

Talk to your health-care team if you have, or suspect you have, a learning deficit. They may recommend you have a neuropsychological assessment. A neuropsychological assessment is done by a specially trained psychologist who will look at how you think and learn. They can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can set realistic educational goals. The assessment can also give you information to communicate to the school you will attend, so you can get the right supports to help you succeed. Schools are expected to accommodate learning deficits, and having a neuropsychological assessment can be a source of documentation.

Set realistic goals

Having realistic goals for your education will help keep you focused and motivated. Goals should be SMART. This means:

  • Specific. You have a greater chance of achieving a specific goal than a general one.
  • Measurable. You’ll only know if you’re on track to achieving your goal if you can measure your progress. To know if your goal is measurable, ask questions like "How many?", "How much?", or "How often?"
  • Achievable. Start with a small goal and then build on it. This will help increase your chances of sticking with the goal. You can achieve almost any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and give yourself enough time to carry out those steps.
  • Realistic for your lifestyle. Goals should be possible or realistic, but also should push you. For example, going wilderness camping might be unrealistic especially when you are on chemotherapy. However, going on a picnic with your friends might be more realistic.
  • Time frame. This sets a deadline for when you hope to achieve your goal. By having a date to work towards, you will be more likely to put effort into achieving your goals.

Your high school guidance counsellor, or a social worker or psychologist on your health-care team, may be able to help you generate SMART goals and a plan to achieve them. They can also help you figure out what kinds of supports (if any) you will need.

Do your research

University, college, training institute and trade school websites have lots of information on programs and courses available. Many schools also offer information sessions and tours. To explore your options, search online to see whether there will be a learning or career fair in your community.

If you have specific physical or learning needs, be sure to call the schools you are considering and inquire about how they can support you. Try saying something like, "I have some questions about how you support students with special needs. Who can I speak to about that?"

What are the expectations of higher education?

Higher education is geared toward adult learning. Students or trainees are expected to independently schedule their time, manage their work load, and plan projects and meetings. You may also be expected to complete group work outside of scheduled classroom time. You will have less teacher contact and spend less time in classes than you did in high school. If you have an issue, you are expected to contact your teacher rather than wait for your teacher to contact you. This can be pretty great (no one checking your homework!), but it can also be challenging. Be sure to get an agenda to help you stay organized.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019