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Understanding Post-Secondary Education in BC

In my other work life, I work as an undergraduate advisor for a university. I often meet with people who have no idea where to begin. I get asked a range of questions like:

  • What is a certificate, diploma, or degree?
  • What is a major, a minor, or a concentration?
  • If I take this degree, what job will I get?
  • What do I do if I’m not admitted to the university I want?
  • When should I be applying?

I have come to realize that a lot of people don’t really know where to find the information they’re looking for. They don’t know the multitude of options available to them, and they often make choices that make me cringe because I know better alternatives are out there. Today’s blog is a brief introduction to the tools I use when discussion the various options for people exploring public post-secondary education*.

Step 1:

Find the program. Understand what you should be considering as you explore education.

Step 2:

admission

Find the admission requirements for the program. Speak to the Advisor of that program. Know exactly what is required for admission and when the admission deadlines are (usually around the end of January for a September start). Take a tour of the campus to make sure it feels right.

At this point, you may need to:

  • Have your credentials translated: Many people use the International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES) through BCIT. Make sure this is required as it can be an expensive and unnecessary process depending on your goals.
  • Have your credentials evaluated for equivalencies: Many people come to me with their credentials from another university. While I would love to say that all of the courses will transfer into the program of choice, I am unable to say how coursework will be evaluated until someone has applied to the university/college (paid the application fee and submitted all required documents). At this point, the admissions office will evaluate for transferability/equivalencies and then inform the student their decision; then, I am able to provide the guidance required.

Step 3:

If you don’t meet the admission requirements, look at ways to get them:

  • English – many schools offer a multitude of learning options. You may want to be in touch with your local library to find conversation circles to practice your English, or inquire where you should be looking for more information. Richmond Public Library offers English Circles on Fridays and Sundays.
  • High school continuing education – Look to your local school district’s website to see what type of continuing education options are available. Often, high school courses are offered for a nominal fee.
  • College transfer – Many colleges will allow students admission as a mature student (over 21 years of age) into their General Arts & Science programs. Students can then take the required number of courses required to transfer to a university (usually 8 courses). The courses taken can be counted directly towards the program requirements of your intended university program so long as you are careful in planning. The BC Transfer Guide articulates how courses transfer from one institution to another in BC.

Step 4:

Check back with the advisor of the program you’re intending to be admitted into to ensure you’re on track. Also check with the advisor of the program you’re in (if you’re transferring from another school) to see what advice they have. The more you ask questions, the more you understand.

Step 5:

Take the program, but get involved in other ways. Completion of a program does not equal an employment outcome. You must have experience alongside your education to be considered when applying for a job. Things you should be exploring in ANY campus:

  • Co-operative Education – allows you to gain work experience related to your degree choice.
  • Career Services – assistance with resumes, cover letters, employment search techniques, and so on.
  • Volunteer experience – all experience is good experience, paid or non-paid.

At any point during the process, you can check in with an advisor if you need clarification. This is what we do. If you’re not getting the answers you seek, ask again or find another advisor.

*It should be noted that there is both public and private post-secondary education in Canada. I am biased. I feel that our public education system outweighs the private education system for a number of reasons:

  • Private education is more expensive
  • Private education is not transferable to a public institution
  • Private education often has a lower employment success rate as employers do not recognize it as much they would public education

If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will answer you as best I can. If I don’t know, I will direct you to someone who will.

Finding the first job

It’s easier to find a job when you have a job, or so the story goes. When you’re a newcomer to a new country it’s a bit more complicated. Most often, you’re not coming with a job in place.

You have to get a job:

One of the most difficult things for newcomers is getting that first job. You know what you were before you moved here: Engineer or Teacher, Doctor or Lawyer, Plumber or Carpenter and so on. You arrive and find that your qualifications need to be assessed and the process is long and complicated; or you find it difficult to have any response to your search for employment.. You hear: ‘you don’t have the Canadian Experience,’ ‘your qualifications don’t meet the BC professional requirements,’ or ‘you need to take one or two courses to have your credentials articulated as equivalent to BC standards’ (only to find that the one or two courses are near impossible to get). You find that you don’t know what you are anymore, or how you can make your old life fit with the new.

As your dreams of landing a job in your trained career wanes, it’s important to remember that sometimes, you need that first job to then get the job you want. The first job gives you a pay cheque. The first job counters the ‘Canadian experience’ argument as you begin to live Canadian workplace culture. The first job gives enough breathing room to let you figure out the rest.

My advice to newcomers on finding the first job:

Set your ideal target and set your bottom line:

  • Apply for the jobs that you want, and that you’re qualified for. Apply for the jobs you want, but think you’re not qualified for. The worst that will happen is…nothing. You won’t hear anything back from your prospective employer, or you may hear any of the above variations of why you’re not qualified. The best – you’ll get the job.
  • Apply for the jobs you don’t really want (your bottom line), but could do for short periods of time. Plan to accept a job you don’t necessarily want with a goal of continuing your search. Temporary employment provides breathing room to look for new employment, contacts in the community, and experience. It also looks better on a resume when applying for other positions – employers tend to prefer hiring those who are employed.

Talk to as many people as you can:

  • The folks at your BC Public Libraries are well equipped to refer you to the appropriate resources, whether it be employment assistance, translation of documents, language training, online resources and so on.
  • Contact the organization or governing body of the career field that you wish to work for. A simple Google search for Association of _______ (fill in the blank), BC will likely put you in touch with the governing body of your career. Call them. Ask them if to tell you what you need to know. Ask if you can volunteer in some capacity. The more you connect with others, the more you learn what you need to know to transition to your career in BC.
  • Look for a MeetUp group to connect yourself with others with common goals.
  • Connect with current employees and ask if they are willing to provide you with an informational interview. It may seem awkward, but most employees are willing to share insights into what their job entails. This also builds new connections.

Ask for feedback and practice:

  • Have others review your resume and cover letter to gain feedback. Make modifications if you feel a valid point has been demonstrated and you feel comfortable with the advice.
  • If you have been declined for a position, ask them to provide you feedback. A simple question such as ‘do you have any feedback on how I performed in the job interview?’ will let them know you’re motivated for possible future positions. Take notes of what is said and take time to reflect on how you can improve.
  • Research possible interview questions and have prepared answers for as many as you can. The process of thinking through an appropriate response will save you time and energy in the interview and will help you relax.

There are many more steps to securing employment; especially in a targeted career. The keys to securing the first job are to be open to alternatives, understand that this position is not permanent, and use the resources around you. Consider this practice for your move into your ideal career.