5 Things I Wish I Knew In First-Year

A photo of Middlesex College on campus on a bright sunny dayWritten by: Savannah Staszkiel, 2nd Year MIT

Photo by: M. Bettencourt, Student Experience

Without a doubt, your first year of university can be scary. Maybe you are nervous about starting at a new school with very few familiar faces, perhaps the courses you are taking seeming daunting, or maybe you feel uneasy about living in a new city, province, or country. Regardless of your worries, know you are not alone. In fact, almost 5,000 other first-year students at Western are in the same position as you, and as a Western student who has just completed my first year, I am going to share a list of 5 things I wish I knew in hopes of calming your nerves in any way I can.

1. Don’t take so-called ‘bird courses' in hopes of a good grade

With the looming pressures of maintaining a certain average to remain in your program and the flexibility of picking from a wide range of electives if you have space in your schedule, it can be extremely tempting to enroll in a so-called ‘bird course’ you read about on a Western first-year Reddit thread that claims the course has a minimal workload and guarantees a 90 in the class. However, I can speak from experience that this is rarely the case. Simply put, if you have space for electives, take courses that you have a genuine interest in (even if it doesn’t directly relate to your program). In fact, it’s actually quite beneficial to take a variety of courses to diversify your learnings and to make you a more well-rounded student. You will also have more motivation to watch or attend lectures, complete assignments, and study for finals if you enjoy the content, rather than struggling to complete a 30-page reading on a topic you are not interested in. So if you have space for electives, I highly recommend that you take classes that you have a passion for.

2. Staying on top of weekly readings and notes will pay off during exam season

Before beginning first year, many university students told me the most important thing to do in school was to attend all classes. This advice seemed ridiculous to me because I thought it was pretty obvious and I figured I would never skip class. However, I can now confirm that this simple tip is crucial. In high school, attendance was taken, making it more difficult to get away with not showing up. But, in university, your professors will not know whether or not you attended or watched lectures, and as assignments start to pile up it can become increasingly appealing to miss a lecture in order to finish a project, or to “save the lecture for the weekend”. However, this is probably the least effective strategy to use to catch up on work. Following a consistent, yet flexible self-made schedule is the best method to tackle weekly lectures, readings, and assignments. In addition, staying on top of your weekly readings and making organized, concise notes will seriously pay off during exam season. And if you want to take it a step further, preparing yourself before attending class or watching the lectures by looking over the syllabus and skimming the readings will help you take in all the information more effectively and limit “information overload”.

3. Balance is key!

Although it is always in your best interest to prioritize academics, finding a balance you can maintain between schoolwork, self-care, social time, and extracurriculars will be the key to your success. When work begins to pile up it can be easy to keep yourself in your room until you finish your assignments, however, taking study breaks is so important. I’m sure you have heard it before, but I am going to say it again: get involved! Even if you struggled to find things that interested you in high school, university offers so many more opportunities. Between clubs, sports, volunteer opportunities, and work experience, I can guarantee that there will be something for you. Yet, I urge you to avoid joining an extracurricular just because your friend is doing it or because you think it will look good on a resume. Instead, join a society that genuinely interests you! (Are you seeing a pattern?) Or, don’t be afraid to try something new. During my first year at Western, I joined the Western Novice Rowing team, and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. The people I met shaped my first-year university experience and I cannot imagine my first year without learning the new sport. Lastly, I strongly recommend that you keep your personal life separate from your school life. For example, don’t get into the bad habit of working in your bed. Rather, find a new study space like at a library or in the lounge in your residence. It will be much easier to stay focused and your room will feel like a break from studying.

4. It’s okay to not be good at everything

I am going to keep this one short and sweet because I think it is pretty self-explanatory, but in all seriousness, it is definitely more than okay to not be good at everything. Sometimes you will have a course or two that you are really struggling with, and that is completely normal. Trying your best is the only thing you can do, and oftentimes discovering your weaknesses is just as important as finding your strengths.

5. Finally, knowing where to ask for help

In relation to the previous tip, when you get stuck, knowing who or where to ask for help is key. Whether you are staying in residence or are living off-campus, Westernsophs will be there for you to help with any academic questions about courses, or to offer more general life advice! In addition, most of your courses will have labs or tutorials run by TAs, who will be the best to answer any class-specific questions. Lastly, Western provides an immense amount of services like writing and research help, which are all explained more in-depth on the Western Library website. In addition, if you visit your faculty page on the Western site, you will find drop-in times to ask questions about a class or your program in general. Overall, just know that at times, classes will get hard but you are not alone, and Western is here to help!

All in all, I hope these tips helped to ease any worries you may have about starting university. However, as much as we would like to feel entirely confident before starting something new, in reality, you will never be fully prepared for your first year of university. With that said, embrace these new challenges open-heartedly and do not be afraid to take risks! Just remember to take courses you are interested in (which will help you stay on top of your course work), get involved in matters you are passionate about, strive towards finding a balance between academic, social and personal life, learn to accept that you will not be a master at everything you do, and lastly, do not hesitate to ask for help. Good luck future Mustangs!

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