Returning to school after an eight-month co-op placement is not an easy transition and I’ve come across a lot of people have asked me whether I prefer working or being in school. To be quite honest, I don’t have a definite answer, but here are some of my thoughts and opinions based on my experience.
Working was not as stressful as being in school.
I found a relief from stress the eight months I was working: no studying, no exams, no papers! The work environment was relaxed, flexible and I never felt too overwhelmed trying to meet my deadlines. I would spend most of my day in the office but would go home and not have to think about work rather than coming home from class and still having work in the back of my mind. My weekends were a question of “What should I do with my day today?”.
I found it easier to focus on my own personal goals/growth rather than feeling external pressure.
My first week back at school, I sat in a lecture while my prof introduced himself to the class and all my mind could remember was him going on about successful students in my program who have gone achieving great things in Silicon Valley. That’s great, don’t get me wrong: it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to work in Silicon Valley. But I find that my program has the tendency to focus on students who have gone off working for large companies that it starts to create a burden for undergraduate students to mold themselves into this standard that somehow Silicon Valley equals success and increased recognition. But the truth is, not every designer/developer ends up working in Silicon Valley and that doesn’t make them any less successful.
When I was out of school and working, trying to fit into this celebrated mold escaped from my mind and found that I was able to find joy and contentment from within myself. I found it much easier to focus on my personal growth as a designer rather than comparing myself to other students. I was working in a small start-up, but I was proud of what I was learning and how fast I was learning and in that way, yes — I found success in what I was doing and it didn’t matter where I was.
I focused on saving, saving, saving.
Of course, working meant that I had a source on income and didn’t have to worry about how much I was spending on food or clothes. I wasn’t a broke college student — at least not for the eight months I was working. It doesn’t mean that I splurged on every meal, but generally I wasn’t counting how much I was spending by the dollar. I took the opportunity to build up on my savings so I could have a more comfortable future post-graduating.
I felt disconnected from the school community.
Working full-time also meant that I didn’t get as many chances to see my friends from school, and I really missed that the most. It took more effort to try and make plans with my friends who were in school, taking classes I was falling behind in because of my absence. It made me realize how much fun school can be when you have the opportunity to take on projects and bond with friends from school. I always felt like I was falling behind on what has been happening in the school community.
I felt like I had more creative freedom in school.
Working in a company means that as a designer you need to abide by the company’s branding guidelines when creating work. At school, there is a lot more freedom in projects such as choosing your own typefaces, colours and images: most of the time you are free to explore and create in your own style of choosing.
Overall, I’m glad to be back in school but I know I’m going to miss working once midterms and papers hit me. Finishing my first co-op placement, I definitely have a better sense of what I’m looking for for my future co-op placements and what kind of work I like to do. A word of advice? Just because someone is working at a well-recognized company, does not make their life perfect because everyone struggles with different aspects of their life: focus on yourself and your own growth, not on others.