Howdy, first-years. Channelling my inner psychiatrist, how do you feel? Are you nervous to begin your however-long (you have 25 years from the time you begin your degree to finish it) foray into the U of T community? Or were you like me, anxious to start studying what I loved and none of what I didn’t (re: math) while surrounded by like-minded people whom you were determined to make your friends?
You know that this is a time of change, of self-exploration, of finding your purpose in life, etc. This is true- in the end we are all here to be educated to enter the workforce in some productive capacity upon graduation. This may occur after having completed a Master’s or Doctorate degree, an internship, a post-graduate certificate, or simply your newly-minted bachelor’s degree. But this reality is still years away. For now, I digress.
Addressing Common First-Year Fear #1: I WON’T MAKE ANY FRIENDS
You know what the great thing about residence is? You are crammed in tight quarters with people who are just as lonely and afraid as you are! Take advantage of this and single out someone who seems friendly, introduce yourself, then BE yourself. Everyone is looking for a friend- Frosh Week especially is where you will likely meet the people you will keep in touch with throughout your degree. No luck at Freshers? You can still make friends in class- just repeat the tried and true identify-introduce-charm them formula as outlined above before and after class, and during breaks with the people beside you. No, you will not come across as desperate. Yes, you will make friends this way- I know I have.
Are you a commuter student first year? I was, and from the faraway land of Oakville at that. If you have not signed up for it already, attend the special Commuter Orientation many colleges host before classes begin. This is a great way to meet people to share your TTC horror-stories with. Embrace being a commuter, especially if you live with family- most of us get to come home from class to a ready-made meal and people who care about us every day, making the transition to university life so much easier.
Addressing Common First-Year Fear #2: I’M GOING TO FAIL ALL OF MY CLASSES
Some attitude you’re going into U of T with, Froshie! Clearly, if you have been accepted to this world-class institution, you are doing something right. You will get the first-year marks to be accepted into your desired program if you work hard, and work smart.
What do I mean by this? I mean do the readings and go to class. Period. You (or worse, your parents) are paying for a service, so take advantage of it. It will help you better engage with, remember and understand information for your exams. As for tutorials, go to them too. If you are like me, see them as great ways to delve deeper into course material, meet TAs who have your success as their top priority, and get tips on how to ace course essays and assignments. If your soul is crusty and jaded, see them as a guaranteed A on %15 of your course mark just for sitting on your behind and saying a few intelligent things. Whatever your reasons for going, just go, will ya?
Secondly, figure out what kind of learner you are, if you haven’t already. I learned that I am freakishly good at remembering things if I re-write what I’ve read multiple times. Yes, this means that I have copied out entire textbooks, by hand, more than once. I do this because I know how my brain works, and that I cannot remember things well that I have only read or, heaven forbid, only heard in lecture. Find what way works best to sear information into your memory, set aside time to do that thing, then do it. This is an especially useful tip for Freshman, as many of you will encounter multiple-choice exams in your first year. You need to be able to remember and access specific learning quickly- if you can do so by pulling an all-nighter re-reading your notes once before the exam, you do you, but please know that I secretly hate you.
Addressing Common First-Year Fear #3: WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE
Good for you for having this existential crisis now rather than after graduating! Because now that you are at U of T, there are plethora of resources for you to take advantage of to figure your life out! At the Career Centre, there is an Informational Interview Database where you can meet with up to 4 professionals in a field you are interested in to pick their brains and build your professional network. There is the Externship Program, in which you can meet up with alumni (sometimes for more than one day) at their place of work to see the day-to-day activities of the job you may be interested in. It was this program that made me realize that I no longer wanted to be a journalist, and wanted to work in Public Relations and Communications instead. There are seminars on writing resumes, acing interviews, and more. The one snag I personally experienced at U of T was the lack of internship opportunities in many Arts and Science programs. Unless your degree specifically requires you to have an internship to complete your studies, U of T has no resources whatsoever to set you up with one in exchange for a school credit. If you want an internship experience during your undergrad, you’ll have to arrange one on your own time, and it will likely be unpaid. Otherwise, there are many clubs at U of T that you can participate in (think you want to be a writer? Try out blogUT!) to test-drive future career paths and build skills outside the classroom along the way.
I will end this post with a personal anecdote. I had so much fun at Frosh week, suddenly being unscheduled and alone on the first day of classes meant that I spent most of my day feeling lonely. I rode the GO train home to Oakville, opened my front door to find my parents staring back at me, asking how my first day went. I then promptly burst into tears on their doorstep.
But then I reconnected with friends I’d met during Frosh Week, used the identify-introduce-charm them formula on more people who quickly became new friends, and fell in love with what I was studying. And it’s been a wonderful, challenging, crazy ride ever since.