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Great Expectations is more than just a book on an English lit syllabus -- it is what most first-year post-secondary students start out with.

I know I did. I went into Life Sciences, thinking I’d become a doctor. I had it all mapped out from start to finish, and figured it was a relatively straightforward process to get from A to B. Wrong!

My first two undergraduate years were an eye-opening experience in terms of living away from home, balancing my social and academic life and making independent choices about my studies. By the time I graduated, the picture was looking very different. I had thought I’d be heading off to medical school, on track to making a significant salary, and wedding bells would soon be ringing. The reality: I was single, contemplating a career in business and trying to scrape together the means to move out on my own. Not quite what my younger frosh-self had imagined!

It turns out I’m not alone. In RBC’s most recent student finances poll, we took a closer look at the expectations students have upon graduation. While the majority of students expect to achieve several key life moments — own first car, draw a great salary, pay off student debt, get married -within the first five years after graduating, those expectations, and the timeframe it will take to achieve them, often changes from a first-year to a fourth-year.

Goals and priorities can, and do, shift from the moment you receive your acceptance letter and when you graduate. Here’s what first- and fourth-year students told us about what they saw for themselves five years out of school:

On earning their first $100K:

  • 64 per cent of first-year students expect they’ll make their first $100,000 within five years of graduating, compared to 55 per cent of fourth year students.
  • On getting married: 55 per cent of first-year students see wedding bells within five years after graduation, while 49 per cent of fourth-year students think so.
  • On having kids: 40 per cent of first-year students expect to start a family, while 29 per cent of fourth-years expect to do so.

No matter how big or small your expectations are, the best way to achieve them is to have a plan.

Make a Personalized Financial Plan

Knowing exactly where your money is going will help you stay on track for your short- and long-term goals — whether it’s the latest gadget, saving for a car, or planning a wedding.

Save on a Regular Basis

Developing a habit to save on a regular basis, no matter the amount, is better than not saving at all. Bonus tip: let your money work harder for you by setting up automatic transfers from your daily chequing account into a separate high-interest savings account or guaranteed investment certificate to be used towards your goals.

Build Credit

Used wisely, a credit card is a powerful way to build a credit history. Showing that you can responsibly pay back borrowed money will come in handy when applying for a loan to buy bigger things like a car or a home.
Goals and priorities will evolve as perspectives and realities come into focus the closer you are to finishing school, so make adjustments to your plan to stay on track.

After I graduated from university, I immediately landed a job in advertising — and loved it. From the creative projects to the stylish clothes, it was perfect for the 20-something me. For a while, I imagined I’d just keep moving up the ranks and within five years I’d be running a big department. Wrong again!

A few years into my career I realized I had a burning desire to gain a graduate degree. My parents had always instilled in me the value of higher education. My older siblings all went on to achieve higher degrees after university. Though I wasn’t sure I’d meet my parents’ expectations — or my own for that matter — I left my first career to pursue a Masters degree. My MBA set me yet again on a different course to try things I had never considered or thought I could do before. Looking back, I can see that being flexible and open to new experiences is all a part of the learning process and that five-year plans are really just guide posts. The real fun is in how you handle the twists and turns life presents you along the way.