Like many of you, heading off to university marked one of the most significant changes in my life, and began my transition into becoming an adult.
University represents a lot of firsts. Never before have you been granted this level of freedom from the constraints of living at home while you were finishing high school. Even if you aren’t moving out to attend college or university, the piercing gaze of your parent’s watchful eyes weakens once you reach this new, more independent time of your life. For that reason, this stage of your personal development and the challenges that come with it are not only exciting, but incredibly valuable.
The truth is that growing alongside all your new freedoms also represents your increasing responsibility for the choices you make. Going into my fourth year, I wondered if there was any advice that I would give to my first-year self. Although she made some pretty entertaining blunders, I think these are what my words of wisdom would be. I hope you find them useful!
1. You become like the people you to surround yourself with.
So make sure it’s for the better! Your new friends are the people you will look to for support and guidance, but I’ll warn you that if nine of your friends are skipping out on studying for a midterm to go to a pub night, chances are more than likely you’ll be the tenth. Your university or college years are a great time to meet new people and be exposed to different perspectives, and it helps to find some friends who share your aspirations. You can help keep each other on track in terms of achieving your academic goals. You’ll create some of your life’s best memories with the friends you make in university, and they will influence your life more than you may realize – so pick them thoughtfully!
2. Doing your readings and studying doesn’t seem that crucial until you get a 50% on your exam.
Sitting through a lecture having zero understanding of the subject matter is a terrible feeling. You aren’t learning anything and meanwhile the professor is hopelessly trying to reach you through your glazed-over eyes. If I could time-travel, I’d tell myself that it is important to stay on top of course material! I’m not saying you should memorize every reading. If you’re in an Arts faculty, you would have very little time to do anything else with your university experience other than reading textbooks. The key is to be smart about how and what you study. Scanning through an assigned reading chapter before a lecture will enhance the way you process that information during class. Afterwards, you can go back and further review points emphasized by your professor. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to try it at least once – you’ll feel like a genius and will build your base of knowledge before it comes time to study for your exams.
3. The hardest work you ever will do will come out of nowhere and you need to be prepared.
It won’t be a single assignment that makes you feel like your entire world is falling apart –it’s the time when you have two papers due, a midterm, your little brother’s Christmas recital, and a group project meeting all within the span of three days. At first, you might make the mistake of mapping out how much time you need to complete each task individually. However, you should be staggering your assignments and working on them at the same time, switching up your tasks as you go to make sure you’re not falling behind on everything by focusing on one project over all else. It’s important to remember to stay organized, set realistic expectations, and be aware of your entire course load. You’ll still be doing the same amount of work, but it will feel a lot easier to accomplish everything when you’ve set your own schedule and can work at the pace that’s ideal for you.
4. Have fun but decide what your balance is.
I told myself that when I got to university, I was going to be SUPER motivated and planned to spend all my time studying and doing schoolwork. That’s not exactly what ended up happening – but that’s okay! You can still do homework and keep your GPA up while having a social life. Knowing where to draw the line and reminding yourself that you can’t say yes to everything is what makes this balance work. If you’re one of those people who can get an A on a midterm that you didn’t study for, that’s great. However, it’s important to remember that what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. You probably won’t remember yet another night wandering around with your friends, but you might regret that project you neglected in later years. Go have fun, you deserve it! But If you need to be up early or have a full to-do list, decide beforehand when it’s time to call it a night or if you want to stay in and get some rest.
5. Your body and mind will only perform well if you take care of them.
This is going to be the most convenient time in your life to start ignoring proper eating habits, a decent sleeping schedule, and regular exercise. Your health and well-being is as vital to your university success as is your dedication to your academics. If there’s one thing to remember when it comes to taking care of your wellness in university, it’s this: If you don’t feel your best, the chances are it’s due to one of these three things. Whether it’s cooking a healthy meal for yourself, taking a study break to go to a workout class with a friend, or vowing to go to bed before midnight at least three nights a week, it’s important that you remember to refuel!
6. Talk to your professors.
Students tend to be intimidated when it comes to talking to their professors. However, these are one of the most important relationships you can foster during your time at school. Taking the opportunity to visit your professors during office hours will not only earn you a place in their good books, but is the best way to secure any future academic opportunities or letters of reference you may need. Additionally, your professors are interesting people who have a lot to teach you –even if you don’t have much to say about the course material, go ask questions about their research areas. Bonus points if they remember you down the line for an opportunity, whether it be for a volunteer position, a job, or an internship!
7. Call your parents.
Attending post-secondary education isn’t just a huge of transition for yourself, but for the people who have been raising you for the past 18 years. Your parents or guardians have invested a lot of time into molding you into a human being capable of taking on this experience, so the least you can do is let them know how you’re doing. Besides, you’ll find yourself asking them questions all the time, like: “How long does it take to soft boil an egg?” and “What does this light in my car mean?” No matter who you meet during your undergraduate years, your family knows you better than anyone, and they will most likely be a pillar of support when it comes to navigating your wonderful, and sometimes challenging, university years.
8. Say yes to social interactions that completely terrify you.
One of the best things about attending post-secondary education is that you’ll meet amazing friends and interesting people who will expand your worldview… But you have to meet them first. It can be challenging to meet new people and put yourself out there. Thankfully, universities figured this out a while ago: that’s why student associations have invested so much time and money into developing frosh weeks. While frosh week is a perfect opportunity to rise above any fears you may have when it comes to meeting new people, you shouldn’t stop there! Once orientation is over and there isn’t a full agenda of icebreaker activities, strike up a conversation with the person next to you in class and say yes to going to karaoke with that group of people who are already friends. Chances are, everyone is just as nervous to talk to you as you are to them. Embrace the challenge and put yourself out there! The reward of making potential lifelong friends is worth the risk of embarrassment or awkwardness.
Everyone’s university experience will come with its own opportunities and lessons. While I can’t provide you with a foolproof manual to first year success, following these points of advice will certainly be a step in the right direction. Good luck!