10 Dos and Don’ts for Your First Year at Carleton

Well, here we are again. Another year of school is on the horizon. Soon, thousands of students will be entering their first year of college and university. As a student who has experienced the first year of classes in both environments, here are my 10 dos and don’ts when you’ve moved in, all alone, and feel like a true adult for the first time in your life.


  1. 1.  DO go to class and be on time

    I can’t stress this point enough. Be on time for everything. It’s respectful to your professors and your peers. You are paying to be there. Do not skip classes, and do not let your friends try to convince you to. Even if you feel like you’re going to die of boredom in that calculus class, just sit down and listen. Grab notes from your new friend and thank me later. The minute you let yourself skip class is the moment your momentum stops and you’ll need to find new motivation to get back in the game. The fact that you’re spending thousands of dollars to be there should be enough - and if it’s not, drink more coffee. And get. To. Class.

  2. 2. DON’T go to class unorganized

    Before you get all excited and happy to be back in school, settle down. Get a day planner. Write out your weekly schedule, daily schedule, and major events you know about before school starts - and keep this up during the year. Make that planner your life and stick to it. I don’t care if you think you are organized and don’t need one - you’re wrong, and this is what you’re missing in your life! You can find extremely cute (and cheap) day planners at Chapters. 

  3. 3. DO get involved with clubs.  

    Here’s a little hack to help you succeed this year. You may ask, “But how will I do all the homework I’ve been assigned?” Well, the more time you spend at school, the better. Joining a school club will take you outside your school work, while staying oriented around school. You may find it challenging to fit everything, but you’ll have the chance to meet new people and learn more about your interests, which helps with the stress of first year. Review #2 for tips on how to manage the juggle, because clubs are definitely worth it.


  4. 4. DON’T be that party animal.  

    Congratulations, you’ve moved out of the house and are finally able to party without telling your mom you’re 'just spending the night at a friend’s place'. Don’t be that person who constantly abuses that privilege.

    I’m not saying don’t go out and enjoy the night life of the new city, because I love a good night out with a bottle of my favorite poison. However, first year is going to be full of temptation to drink every weekend. Trust me, I’ve been there. Twice. Know your limits, listen to your body, and focus on what you’re there to do. Get that degreeeee!  

  5. 5. 5. DO focus on your mental health.  

    You’re going to get busy with school life. You’re going to reach a point in the semester where all your focus is on studying for a final, but also completing final labs and assignments. You will feel as if there isn’t enough time to study, and you’re going to find yourself in a rut where you just want to cry and sleep. This is normal and okay. This is university. You may have to brew a pot of coffee for your all-nighter - but do know when you need a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed don’t hesitate to take advantage of Carleton's FREE counselling services or talk to a loved one. Please take care of yourself. You deserve it.


  6. 6. DO make time for fitness.  

    Researchers suggest the best way to retain information you’ve been studying is to get your blood pumping by hitting the gym or going for a run. According to a 2016 research article on high excercise and its effects on memory retention, by regularly incorporating high intensity training within ones routine, you can excel mentally. 

    Make sure to keep that balance by working the brain and your muscles. Not only will your grades improve, but your  mental health will thank you. The gym can be an intimidating place for first year students. Even if you just go for 30 minutes to walk on a treadmill, make yourself comfortable and ease your way into it. Eventually you’ll be planking and grunting with the rest of them.


  7. 7. DO explore your school.

    It doesn’t matter if you only have class in Mackenzie Building the entire semester. Go explore all buildings and get to know your school. Who knows - you could find your favorite study spot in the engineering building, the empty classroom above Tim Horton’s, or in a hidden café at the back of the school.

    A classic study from 1978 concluded that students who studied the same material in multiple spots retained more information than those who stayed in one place. Go get that chai tea, go to your study spot, and get your grind on!

  8. 8.  DON’T spend all your money in the first semester.

    If you attend a school in larger cities like Toronto and Ottawa, then you are constantly around great shopping spots. That being said, save as much as you can in the summer, and budget for the semester.

    Your OSAP or loan shouldn’t be used for that second pair of Nike shoes you think you need. You can thank me in December when you don’t have to go home during Christmas break crying to your parents for more money.

    This is your new life, so think responsibly. Loans don't just go away after school ends. 

  9. 9. DO get a job if financial burdens are taking a toll on you.

    If money is too tight and you don’t have anyone to back you up, getting a job isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it can save you during hard times. 

    Here is some advice to keep your grades up while working on that dough: try finding a job on campus. You can find all available campus jobs on central.carleton.ca under the MySuccess portal. You can apply to work at a café, restaurant, or office on campus.

    Being close to class is another great initiative to study. Plus, it saves on the cost of commuting and travel time.

  10. 10. DON’T get a pet.

    This should be a no brainer, but I fell into this trap too. Don’t let your roommate, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your sister, your brother, or even your classmates convince you to get a pet. They may be adorable, but they are more work than you think.

    School is your responsibility now. Adding a pet is like adding a child to the equation. It’s not easy to do while studying and living on your own. Let me save you the guilt and frustration now: get a fish, get a plant, but do not get a cat or dog. Do yourself and your future pet a favour: take care of yourself before you take care of another living creature. 

DO have an amazing semester and get that degree!