Navigating your first year

A hopeful student pretending that their life will not inevitably fall apart during another semester of school. element5 unsplash

Accessing resources, attending events, or chatting with professors; there are endless layers to the university experience.

by rayanne gwilliam, contributor

As someone who has navigated university in a multitude of ways, the best piece of advice I can give is to give yourself permission to be new. The anxious and nauseating butterflies, excited wide eyes, and clammy hands are all normal. Some people just project confidences in hiding those signs better than others, but it does not mean they are not just as unsure as you are. Do not be too hard on yourself if you were an Einstein in high school but you lose your footing a bit in university – they are not the same. They are both forms of schooling, yes, but the curriculum and structure are completely different. The workload makes it more important to be organized, and it is a direct investment in your future.

As you may have figured out, there are a lot of formalities that need to be followed. But fear not, there are also a lot of resources for students. I urge you to not feel like you are a bad student for using them or that you are too good for them; they would not exist if they were not meant to be good for students. For example: the writing centre can be a life saver when you are writing papers, counselling services can help with the stress that comes with being a student, and the student success centre can help with getting equipment and accommodations when necessary. There is no shame in accessing any of these or others for help. You needed to be taught how to use a spoon at one point, right? Give yourself a break. No first-year university student starts out knowing what they are doing. It is a process of learning how to learn the material properly, ironically.

Another thing I suggest is going to the buildings your classes are in a bit before they start, because you are inevitably going to get lost and be late if you wait until just before, thinking it will be simple. It’s not. Even better, take a tour of the campus if it is offered at your high school once you have picked your major, and do more in-depth walk throughs of the buildings you know you will have classes in. If nothing else, ask around! You might find a second- or third-year student who can point you in the right direction, or maybe another first year, so at least you can be lost together. You can navigate the concrete maze and go exploring; either way you will be learning something, even if it is what not to do next time.

Unless you have no desire, enter competitions, go to events, and maybe join clubs or other student groups. Do not avoid doing something because you are intimidated by the idea. Experiences are part of the learning process, as learning is ongoing – and never one dimensional. Another strong recommendation is to utilize academic advisors and career counselling in planning all phases of being a post-secondary student. Even as you are applying, if possible. Even though you can get career counselling in some high schools, it is important to remember that universities are much more equipped in comparison with tools to help with this sort of thing. Not to mention their inter-working knowledge due to it being their job to help you navigate what is best suited to you and how to achieve it.

Lastly, be courteous to yourself and other students, and remember there are different pathways in university and life that people are meant to take. Some go to get degrees, others to upgrade for work, some get certificates or diplomas, and some come for accredited training certificates in a specific career. No matter what the case, nobody is out of place here, and any level of investment in yourself that you achieve is worth celebrating. Whether it’s a Ph. D in Psychology, a certificate in Justice Studies, a business diploma, or an education degree, it takes work, dedication, and perseverance. Pat yourself on the back once in a while – you deserve it.


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