Every September I get a little nostalgic. I loved my university days — wearing sweatpants to class, toonie Tuesdays at the campus pub, and of course, my days on the student newspaper. But more than that, I loved the university experience. Every day I learned something new and was able to experience something completely different. That first year was incredibly special. I met some of my best friends, found out I hated philosophy, and learned that I was able to be an independent human being, capable of making my own decisions (whether they were the right ones is still debatable).
But first year can also be a little overwhelming. However, if you listen to those with a little more experience (ahem me), you’ll be fine! Here is what I wish I knew when I started university:
Make sure to participate in Frosh Week: I knew a few people who did not participate in any Frosh (or 101-week) celebrations, and honestly, that was a big shame. Frosh week is the perfect time to get to know your campus and the other people in your program. I met some of my best friends during that crazy week and they helped me get through the next four years. It’s also a great distraction before you have to delve into the textbooks.
Have fun, but not too much fun: It’s every students prerogative to have fun during their first year of university. Whether that means hitting the bars or a residence party — make sure you go and mingle with new people. It’s also important to de-stress and take your mind off of school. But remember to make your studies a priority. Most universities and colleges offer grants to first year students that can be renewed if your grade point average is high enough. It’s also plausible that you will have the same professor in your second and third year, so it’s important to make those good first impressions. Don’t goof off too much. Instead of going out with your roommates every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, just go for one of those days. That way you can go all out and have a blast without regretting the decision later.
*Note: It took me a while to learn that Thursday is like a Friday in university speak.
Look for older versions of textbooks: University is expensive. There is tuition, housing, supplies, food, and then textbooks on top of it all. While most first year students want their textbooks new and shiny, make sure to ask the professor what has changed from the older version. If it’s just a few pictures or citations, purchased the older version. Also, don’t rule out used textbook. Most people don’t highlight in their books and the used books usually just have a few bent pages —nothing that can hinder your academic success.
Make your room (or your half) personal: For most, your room has always been an escape. It’s the place where you went when you were mad at your parents, upset about a relationship, or even when you just wanted some peace and quiet. However, residence can be a bit different. First of all, you may be sharing a room with another person, something most of us haven’t done since we were five years old. Make sure that your space really is your own. Find posters, pictures of family and friends, decorate with pillows or add your own blankets. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but make sure the room represents your personality and is able to act as a safe haven from the craziness of university life.
Do your readings: This seems like a lame piece of advice — but honestly, if I had done all my readings during the semester in first year it would have saved me a lot of cramming come exam days. Try using Sundays to catch up on readings. Get off campus, go to a restaurant, café, or even sit outdoors and power them.
Go to a sports game: Sports may not be your thing, but the sense of community and spirit that can be found at a university sports game is incredible. Not only is it a chance to dress up in your school colours and grab a few drinks with friends, the high you get from cheering a winning (or even a loosing) team is really unique. You may even gain a small appreciation of the sport of your choice. My only other piece of advice would be to dress appropriately. Football begins in the fall and it can get pretty cool in those stadiums so make sure to wear layers.
Don’t be afraid to get help: University can be overwhelming. You may only have five or six classes, but each one has an extensive reading list and many assignments. Not to mention there is the pressure of living on your own, working a part-time job, and any other life commitments. It’s okay to be stressed and anxious. Make sure to keep in contact with family and friends who can support you throughout your first year, and remember that nothing is the end of the world. If you need help, ask for it! There are lots of services available on campus and your professors will welcome you during their office hours if there is something you don’t understand. Feel free to take advantage of the on-campus health care, especially counsellors. Remember that it will be tough, but university is a fun experience. Take advantage of these moments while you can!
What advice would you give to those starting their first year of university or college this week?