I was awash with information during my first year of university. However, no one really sat down with me and discussed some of the smaller – yet still really useful – bits of advice. So, I’ve compiled a list of my own experiences and lessons learned:
- There are tons of different places to buy textbooks.
As a first year student, I put little time or effort into scheduling my classes or being organized in general. Eventually my disorganization caught up with me, and I had to rush out at the last minute to buy several textbooks. Of course I didn’t have the luxury of shopping around: I headed straight to the school bookstore.
Although the bookstore is almost guaranteed to have the textbook you need, you also pay a heavy premium for the convenience. Textbooks can often be found cheaper from other students, secondhand bookstores, or online. When I started my second year, I met with other students to sell my old textbooks, and bought new ones in the same way. I’ve also had a lot of success with the Toronto University Student’s Book Exchange.
- Organization, planning, time management and motivation are key skills to succeed in university.
I was not a lazy or unmotivated first year student, but I was a disorganized one. I didn’t realize, but the Student Federation at my school hands out free student planners at the beginning of each school year. It’s vital to snag a planner early, and then find out the due dates of major assignments, projects, and exams. You can find all of this information in your course syllabus. Go through your planner and highlight any important dates. Organization is vital! If you take a few baby steps now in planning your year, it will pay off in the long run. I stuck to this method for the rest of my academic career, and realize now that there is no such thing as too much planning. There’s nothing worse than forgetting about a deadline.
- In my first year of university I wanted to cycle to school. Great – off I went!
I would lock my bike up outside on a bike rack. However, a few months later I finished class one day and came outside to an empty bike rack – my bike had been stolen. I was gutted, as it was a pretty new bike, and my main way to get to and from school. For the rest of the semester I was relegated to taking the bus. However, when finishing my final semester of first year, I learned that York had an underground, gated and locked, bike cage. I wish I knew about it before. Eventually I saved up enough money to buy a new bike, and by my second year I was back to cycling, and now storing my bike safely and securely.
After a quick look, most universities offer some kind of bike cage. Although they are not normally advertised, it’s definitely worth looking into. For example, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and York University all have bike cages.
- Here’s a tip I was lucky enough to hear before I started first year: if you haven’t been able to get into a course that you really want, fear not!
The first week of college and university is a big game of musical chairs: students will constantly be adding and dropping courses. There’s a good possibility that if you try to enroll every day, eventually you will be able to get into the course you were after. It’s also best to attend the course, even if you are not enrolled. Explain your situation to your professor, and they can often help with your enrollment, and your previous attendance is a great example of your commitment to the class. Just be careful of class drop/enrollment deadlines, and make sure you have a backup in case you don’t end up getting into your preferred class. This tip allowed me to get into classes that were previously full. It’s frustrating when you desperately want to get into a class that is full, but it’s important to remember not to give up and move on too easily. Keep at it, and eventually your persistence will be rewarded.
- Here’s something I didn’t learn until my third or fourth year: relax.
Your first year of university is not necessarily about blitzing classes and getting A+’s in everything. First year is really about finding your rhythm. And you will find it! First year classes are an introduction to your academic career, and are designed to make your transition as smooth as possible. I will always remember my first year economics professor juggle three balls. He said that each ball represented a part of your life: school, work, and your personal life. You will eventually drop one of these balls – but that need not spell disaster. Know that you will struggle and fail in some areas, and that there is always support to help you succeed.