MONTREAL — Though the winter vacation is fast approaching for students, young people across the country anxious about their post-secondary plans and possible career paths likely won't get a break from worries about the future.
Eighteen-year-old Juliet Keeley is a first-year psychology student at Concordia University.
For Keeley, the decision to begin a major in psychology came naturally, she said, “after the pandemic and the mental health crisis ... we definitely need a lot more counsellors.”
This time of life has always been a difficult transition for young people, but making decisions right now is particularly fraught because of economic worries and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the pandemic solidified Keeley’s interest in psychology, it also made others question their initial career aspirations.
For example, the additional stress factors have made some of Keeley's peers reassess their career aspirations in fields such as nursing, which has been under the spotlight during the past few years.
Erjona Mulellari, program manager at the Youth on the Rise work placement program in Montreal, said inflation and the rising cost of living have given young people even more to consider.
Keeley said many of her colleagues have chosen tech industry majors such as computer science in the hope of stronger financial security.
She said the prevalence of technology, climate change and the economy are all external factors to consider.
Abby Walter, program manager at Good2Talk, a service that provides confidential support for post-secondary students, said choosing a career is one of many stressors for young people.
"No matter if you're in first year or fifth year of university or college, there are times of transition that you'll have to deal with that still brings discomfort and overwhelm even if you've gone through it before," said Walker.
Keeley said many of her peers entering the exam period for the first time have considered leaving university because the stress and pressure is too high.
Walker said it is normal for post-secondary students to feel homesick, anxious and overwhelmed and that it is important to create a network of support.
"With exams and assignments and having COVID as an added layer on top of that for even more stress, students are really feeling (overwhelmed)," said Walker.
She said the most important thing a young person struggling with mental health can do is to reach out to friends, trusted adults, counsellors or support organizations like Good2Talk.
Returning to class after two years of online and hybrid classes can be a big adjustment. Walker said there are additional stresses that in-person teaching brings such as the social anxiety of being back in a large group of people.
"Next semester I have four online classes out of five," said Keeley, who is undecided whether she prefers online or in-person classes. "Clearly COVID is still having effects on education today.”
In addition to navigating the world after more than two years of the pandemic, Mulellari said young people also have to navigate the challenging economy. Many students are "chasing higher-paying jobs" to account for inflationary costs while coping with financial anxiety.
This is especially the case for young people who do not have additional financial support, said Mulellari.
“A lot of people in my hometown at least, didn't end up going to post-secondary or they went to trade school instead," said Keeley. "They were like, 'Oh, it's getting more expensive, I can't afford that.'"
Mulellari said concerns are less about not finding a job at all, and more about not finding a job that will pay enough.
“There is the fear of hating a job but having to stay in it to afford basic living,” said Mulellari. "They're afraid of committing because they don't know what the future will bring."
Another fear preventing the commitment to a role is the overwhelming number of options to choose from, said Mulellari.
Mulellari has some advice for young people looking to get into the job market while being afraid of not liking a position.
“My advice to them is that they shouldn't be fearful and scared of new opportunities," said Mulellari. "They should consider every job as a door to an opportunity, and they should give it a try."
In addition to providing the possibility to build connections and network with people, it is through trying new roles that a young person can gain work experience while learning their employment preferences.
"There's nothing wrong with trying and failing and starting all over again," said Mulellari.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.
Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press