I was 17 years old when my grade 12 English teacher asked me where I'll be attending school after I graduate. Like most parents, I was pressured to attend university because college was stigmatized as the place where unintelligent people go. Ironically, most of my peers, after graduating from the University of Toronto (top #20 globally), found themselves enrolled in college programs across the GTA. Here's what I learned from this experience.
1) A professor in my final year told me that University doesn't prepare you for jobs, it equips you with intellectual tools. It trains you how to read, write, and think critically. Yes, there are some programs that are geared toward the job market such as computer science, accounting, business administration, and engineering. For the most part, however, a bachelor's degree is a launch pad. It prepares you for post-graduate programs such as law school, medical school, and the MBA. For such programs, a bachelors degree is often times a requirement, too.
2) College equips you with technical skills. In other words, if you want to be better positioned to enter the job market, college is the place to be, and the place to go. Now the question is: should you go to university first, and college second? Should you forgo university altogether? What programs will prepare me to enter the job market today?
First, understand what a university has to offer. For example, students with a liberal arts degree from a top ranking university are often described as having the "golden ticket" to enter the booming tech market. Coupling a college diploma with a liberal arts degree can position you for success as you pursue your first full-time job. You have the necessary intellectual tools to think critically, communicate clearly, and write well while also building on your technical skills.
Second, I would recommend forgoing the pursuit of a university education if reading 100 pages per class and writing 5-20 page essays is not something you can imagine yourself doing for four years. Perhaps start off with a college education, and if you feel ready for a bigger and more challenging commitment, move on to a university program.
Lastly, programs that I'd look out for today are three: data analytics/data science, full-stack web development (programming/coding), and machine learning/artificial intelligence. Demand for these skills are predicted to increase astronomically in the years to come.
3) Self-taught, accomplished professionals are on the rise, as well as the demand for them. IBM even committed itself to reducing the number of employees they hire out of college/university programs. They want self-taught, motivated, high-achievers to invest in. Google used to computer science graduated from the top universities in North America strictly based on grades, now it looks for proof of teamwork, empathy, strong communication skills in their candidates. The dynamics of the work-place and the qualities that companies are looking for in a candidate are changing fast. STEM is no longer #1, but always great to have.
4) Online, nano-degrees are getting really popular, as well as MOOCs. They're a great way to spend very little time, and money, to discover a subject and gauge your interest before spending thousands of dollars and 2-4 years on a college/university program. Many of my peers enrolled in a program, and spent 1-2 years before realizing this isn't what they want to do. It is a common experience and you want to guard yourself against it.
5) I firmly believe that no one should jump from highschool to university. Intellectually and experientially, you are just not prepared at the age of 17 to make life-long decisions and commit to a program you know almost nothing about. Needless to say, you most likely have even less awareness regarding the job market. I recommend that highschool students take a year off after high school to attend information sessions, panel discussions for certain industries, and networking events that happen all over Toronto. If you're not a social person, the internet provides immense amounts of information and insight from industry leaders about the direction that the market is taking. Make smart investments, and don't let others decide for you.