As a fourth-year about to graduate in a few weeks, I decided to reflect back on my university journey. The years just flew by and the hustle of university life really leaves you with no time to think and reflect. My mind has always just been focused on “what’s next”. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great attitude to adopt, it keeps you driven and focused for the most part… but it can also ruin your mental health, make you forget about your original goal, and prevent you from staying in the present and enjoying the moment. So to all those first years out there, this article is for you. Here are some things that university has taught me.
1. Reflecting and refocusing are key in university. Do not let the hustle culture get to you and evaluate your decisions, think “why am I doing this?” and “what will it achieve?”. Yes, getting good grades is important, we all want a high GPA… but why? Is there a master’s program you see yourself going for after undergrad that requires the 4.0 as a prerequisite, or is it because your parents expect nothing less than the 4.0? Also, where is that master’s program eventually going to get you? Do you genuinely enjoy the courses in your major or will another major you enjoy more get you the same jobs at the end of your university journey? Lots of questions to reflect on and I suggest writing them down and looking back on them each year!
2. Have an open mind. Not everyone has their life figured out at 18, even though sometimes we think we do. It’s important to have an open mind because you really do not know what is out there and high school does not give you enough exposure to understand that! So take courses that are completely unrelated to your degree or major. Not only will this give you more exposure to other career paths, but it will also stretch your thinking. As a science student, most of my courses were molecular and physiology related, and then I took economics… no offense to business students, but I really thought you guys had it easy until taking this course! It was definitely not an easy course, but it opened up my perspective about companies and the market. And now the conversations my family has at the dinner table that I once considered “boring” are not all that boring because I can actually contribute to them! Taking some business courses made me realize that maybe I like business and learning about management and organizations a little more than I like learning about the intricacies of the human body. You never know what possibilities are out there when you try something new!
3. Doing extracurricular activities in my undergrad became a great way for me to network, make friends and develop my other interests outside of science. However, it’s important to not pile on extracurriculars just for the sake of developing your resume. Look for extracurriculars that allow you to develop new skills and take on leadership roles. The extracurriculars are often what help you to find jobs because you refine and develop your soft skills. When you join too many extracurriculars you won’t be able to fully commit to doing them because you spread yourself out thin, especially when you have a heavy course load. The goal is to find clubs that offer you positions where you can grow, almost like a part-time job! So look for 2-3 clubs, where at least one makes you work a little harder than the others and pushes you to develop skills that may be needed in a work environment.
4. Go out with friends, have crazy adventures, and stop taking yourself so seriously. University is a journey, not an end goal. The harsh reality is, you don’t just graduate university and land up in your dream job with everything set and ready to go. Life itself is a journey so you might as well have some fun along the way. University is the time where you may have the most freedom (especially if you live away from home). You can afford the late nights and time out with your friends (if you have later classes or days off). Sometimes group study sessions can also turn into something fun (if you’re a nerd like me). Some of my favourite memories are actually the ones where my friends were out late in the library studying for a midterm. Although it was stressful at the time, we made it fun by getting food and drinks. It definitely made studying a bit more fun and relaxing.
As a graduating student reflecting back on my undergraduate years, university has been a place where I grew and learned so much. The four years do fly by, but they are so important because they help shape your future as you transition from school to work. I encourage all the first and second years to take advantage of the time they have by filling it with as many diverse and interesting opportunities!