By Clare He

Source: University of Toronto

I was recently asked the question “What advice do you have for first-year students?” by a family friend who will be an incoming freshman in September. I could’ve answered with something generic like “get involved” or “study hard”, but I had very different answers for her. To be honest, I haven’t had the time to really reflect on my first year of university. It feels like I was just thrown into this whirlwind of classes, friends, and life, and I’m still waiting for the storm to calm. Though my experience may differ from that of other students, I feel like I’ve dipped my feet into a little bit of everything on campus: clubs, events, food spots, and study spaces. That being said, I am leaving behind my list of must-dos for interested incoming first years.

1. Don’t live in the library, enjoy the city

I can’t lie. University starts hard and only gets harder. Even if the content isn’t that challenging, the combination of so many classes, projects, and deadlines happening all at once can make life pretty hectic. In the beginning of the year, I was just holed up in my room studying day in and day out, but I soon realized that I was not taking advantage of living in downtown Toronto. There is always something to do, whether it’s exploring new restaurants, visiting a museum (even better when it’s free for students), or visiting a new neighborhood with friends. You owe it to yourself to make your university experience a memorable one. Taking some time for yourself this way also allows you to recharge and approach your work with a clearer mind when you get back to it.

2. Go to events, especially if they have free food

As an introvert, going to events is incredibly scary. I received a lot of advice to put myself out there and engage with new people. In reality, it’s easier said than done. However, many on-campus events can be very enjoyable, especially when there is

an activity (like painting) and free food: it often gets the most introverted out of their dorms. Going with friends can also take the pressure off walking up to new people alone, but even if you do go by yourself, I find it is easier to start a conversation when there are activities around to break the ice.

3. Research your profs to maximize those grades

Sometimes, this isn’t always possible. Getting a “better” professor is also subjective, but if you know which ones fit your style of learning better, that may be extremely beneficial to your performance in a course. Also, getting material from friends in other lecture sections or attending other lectures yourself may be the step you need to grasp that concept you just can’t seem to move past.

4. Find study locations that double as food spots

Studying is taxing, tiring, and boring. I find it is best to reward yourself with a drink or snack as you are working. However, when you don’t want to walk very far or completely interrupt your study session by relocating to a completely different location just to satisfy your hunger, finding study spots near a Starbucks or Tims is not only convenient, but also avoids disrupting your studying.

5. Don’t be afraid to change friends

Making friends was one of my greatest fears entering first year. You may be inclined to stay with the people you meet right at the beginning or along the way, but if you don’t feel like they are a right fit for you, it is okay to look for new friends. Everyone in first year is trying to see where they fit in, and they, like you, are trying to connect with different personalities. The people you surround yourself with are incredibly important, so this tip is crucial.

6. Working smart can sometimes mean procrastinating

In general, you should try to avoid procrastination, but when exam season rolls around or when the work just gets too tough, it is okay to prioritize different classes at different times. To be honest, I’ve fallen behind several times, but I always make sure I find time to catch up. It is doable, and it is okay if you are not completely on top of everything. As long as you set time to properly focus and learn the content you missed, trust me, you will be fine.

Though university can be a big adjustment, it is not radically different from high school. Explore and thrive in this new environment as best as you can.

University life is not simply about being a student and attending classes and writing essays. It is more about freedom, opportunity, and discovery. I hope that is what you take away. It is a privilege to get to experience.