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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Year Of University

Written by Raven Wilkinson

Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook

When I was getting ready for my first year of university, I was extremely excited but also very unsure of what to expect. I didn’t have any older friends who could show me the way. I didn’t have siblings to give me tips, advice, or precautions to take as I entered my first year of university. You may be feeling the same way, so I want to be that person for you! But since I am also only one person, I thought it would be best to ask a bunch of other students for input.

So, I took my question to the streets (ok, my Instagram stories):

What is one thing you wish you knew before you started your first year of university?

Here are the responses I got, along with some additional context/advice from yours truly. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

first year of university student kit
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

1. “How to manage time.”

You will receive your syllabus or course outline on the first day, maybe even weeks before the course begins. This will include all of the required readings, assignments, grade breakdowns, assignment guidelines, due dates, and midterm dates. And because these notices are given to you so early in the semester, it may seem like you have eons to complete everything. This is not—I repeat, NOT, the truth.

Learn to manage your time by writing down all the due dates in a planner, a whiteboard, a big calendar, or on your phone. Work backwards to figure out when you should begin studying or working on an assignment. You may also choose to organize your work for each class by days of the week so you can complete the work for that subject all at once. Effective time management may take some trial and error, but it is definitely a must when juggling multiple commitments in university.

2. “How majors and minors worked, and which ones were beneficial to my field.”

“I would get more out of my minor, which was a more structured course than my main program.”

“Still trying to understand what exactly my program was? Can someone help pls.”

I grouped these together to say, your program isn’t the be-all and end-all. Just because you choose a program and it’s not everything you dreamed of—that does not mean it won’t be beneficial to you in the future or teach you something valuable. That said, do your research on potential minors that can supplement your core program. Having a creative major and an analytical minor, for example, can train your mind to think and solve problems in different ways. This will also help you sell yourself when it comes time to interview for jobs. Minors are a great way to avoid switching programs but also make it easier to transfer if you’ve gained enough credits.

3. “ALL the professions available to me and which ones were oversaturated.”

Many university and college programs have a career counsellor and/or internship component that can help you figure out how your degree can be used in the “real world”. However, if your program is lacking in this arena, try meeting with your school’s general career department. Individuals from this department can help you flesh out your goals, provide feedback on your resume and cover letter, practice your elevator pitch, and potentially direct you to people who are more experienced in your field. Take advantage of these *free* services at your school, as they are much harder to come around once you leave it!

4. “It’s a HUGE adjustment. Don’t take more courses than you can handle!”

University is going to be tough—it’s what you signed up for. That said, if at any point you feel like the standard number of courses for your program is dangerously overwhelming, then talk to your academic coordinator. Figure out a plan of action and do NOT feel bad about reducing your load! You know what’s best for you. And your mental and emotional health needs to be attended to at all times.

5. “Psychology degrees require math. Take it in high school to do well!”

Honestly, I know it can suck, but even if you take a lower-level course and don’t include it in your top six courses when applying to post-secondary, I recommend taking math all throughout high school. You may not directly need it, but it is extremely useful for a number of programs. This includes psych (you’ll likely have to take uni-level statistics), marketing (hello, metrics), and more! Keeping your mind fresh in relation to some math will help you in the long run.

6. “The campus bookstore is $$$. The student-run used book store will save you $”

“PDFs of textbooks save you moneyyyyyyy.”

“Don’t buy textbooks until you find out if you need them or not.”

All three of these comments revolve around purchasing textbooks. And, yes, they are EXPENSIVE. Some courses will absolutely require them and some you may be able to get away with not ever purchasing. Either way, try to find more cost-efficient (but legal) ways to access textbooks. Whether you find them online, through used bookstores, or used book Facebook groups.

7. “Your grades aren’t fixed. If you advocate enough for yourself, profs will boost them.”

Of course, if you’re getting a 78 in the class, your prof is not going to bump you up to a 90. But if your hard work has been demonstrated throughout the semester and you can make a strong case for getting that grade to an 80, you should do so! Additionally, try communicating your course goals to the prof at the beginning of the semester in your first year of university. Their office hours are a great resource to accomplish this and also to find out what they’re looking for in your work. This will demonstrate how serious you are about doing well.  If you tell them you’re aiming for an 80 and try your best but still end up a couple of points short, the professor is much more likely to give you the boost you need.

That said, don’t expect all profs to give you this pass. I’ve been in situations where my grade was bumped. However, I’ve been in situations where the prof totally ignored my email for a casual appeal. At the end of the day, if you don’t ask, you won’t get it. At all.

8. “It wasn’t the right time to decide what I wanted to do with my life!”

Right now, you may feel immense pressure to know what you should be doing with your life. But if you don’t, that is completely normal. Every successful person I’ve come across says that success does not happen in a straight line. There are a bunch of twists and turns that occur in life, and you aren’t expected to jump right from convocation to your dream job—or even know what your dream job is! Use your first year of university to discover your likes and dislikes, and which areas of school you truly enjoy. This will help you carve a path for yourself, no matter how long it may take.

9. “Stay connected to family/home as much as possible to recharge and stay sane.”

When times get hard as they inevitably will in your first year of university, lean on those who love and support you. If you’re going away for school, it may feel like your family and friends from your hometown are too far away. But a long vent session or heart-to-heart is effective for resetting your perspective and remembering what you’re in school for. Don’t underestimate the importance of a support system!

10. “To work less hard and spend more time with my friends! It finished too quickly!”

“The days are long, but the years are short. When you’re in it, it seems like it’s never-ending.”

Those two to four years may seem like they’ll last forever. One day you’ll turn around after graduating and realize just how fleeting that time was. All in all, I had a great university experience and look back on it fondly. However, I do wish I set aside time for more social and extracurricular activities.

Take school seriously and do your best. Also, remember to slow down and take advantage of everything it has to offer beyond academics. This could be your last time to be a student and, trust me, you should cherish that.

There are so many other things students said they wish they knew before their first year of university. Whether it’s taking advantage of your student unions/associations, joining the right clubs, or knowing where to study on campus, my best advice is simply to explore it all for yourself and make the most of your experience.

Good luck on your first year of university or college, I hope you have a BLAST!

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.