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Lessons Learned from Four Years of Undergrad

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

 It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve already finished my last ever class of undergrad and that there are two exams standing between me and the real world but alas here I am, at the end. Given that I’m at the end, I’ve been doing some thinking about the last four years and while it’s weird for me to see it summed up on a page like this, I’ve realized that there are a couple (more than a couple) lessons I’ve learned in the past four years of undergrad courtesy of my friends, enemies, acquaintances, and experiences and fortunately, for you I’m willing to share my wisdom, so here goes nothing.

1.  On Fitting inYou have to stay true to yourself

In the rush to be accepted and liked by everyone, sometimes we omit parts of ourselves, compromise things we like to do for things other people like to do and hide things about ourselves. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people will accept you for who you are in your quirky entirety even if it takes some time and you don’t fall into the first group of people you meet in frosh week. Trust me when I say, it’s worth it to wait for people you don’t feel the need to put yourself down and hide the real you in order to fit in with.

2. On living on your own: You can freeze or microwave just about anything, but results aren’t guaranteed

For most of us, after our first year in residence we move out into a pseudo-real world where we try our hand at cooking, cleaning and generally caring for ourselves without Mom or Dad to help us (in person anyways, but coaching through phone calls is totally okay). When it comes to cooking, there are two things I now know…you can freeze anything (whether it will thaw is a different story). And, you can microwave anything (again results will vary). For the most part, the microwave has been my best friend, from nights I didn’t feel like dirtying dishes to times I didn’t want to put the effort into proper cooking, it’s been there for me and I will forever be indebted to it. (Disclaimer: Fish does occasionally explode when cooked in the microwave, proceed at your own risk). 

3.  On having a car: A car is a very powerful thing (and no I’m not talking about horsepower though that’s true too)

I was lucky enough to have a car all the way through undergrad and let me tell you it’s very powerful. At first, I was reluctant to share that I even had a car hiding beneath Tindall Field but I came to see that as someone who had a car I had a duty (twisted, I know) to shuttle my floor-mates and people I knew around to where they needed to go and besides it was pretty great to have a get away vehicle anytime life in Kingston got to be too much.  But, let me tell you, I learned really quick when someone was being nice to me to use me for my car and I had to decide whether I minded being taken advantage of for my wheels. The best rule of thumb I found was to put my foot down when I didn’t want to/need to go anywhere, ask for gas money and have people respect that it was my car thus my decision where I went and when I went (despite how inconsistent my policies may have seemed at the time). Having a car is a double-edged sword, so wield it carefully because it can be your best friend and worst enemy. 

4. On changing: It’s okay to change and change your mind

University is a time when we are constantly changing; our minds, our looks, our opinions, it’s all in constant flux. It can range from leaving school in the spring with brown hair and coming back with blonde hair in the fall, to believing in socialism. Some of your friends may struggle with the new you, and if they fight you on it maybe they were never your friends to begin with, your real friends will accept the changes as fast as they happen because underneath it all you’re still you (just a slightly improved edition).

Despite how much weight we put on the decision of what we are going to major in, it’s okay to make a mistake and change it later. Maybe it’ll take you an extra year to get the credits you need to graduate or maybe you can do it in four years like everyone else, point is that it’s okay to switch because it’s better to change your mind now than have it as a regret later. And when you do change your mind, own your decision. You don’t have to feel ashamed for making a mistake because, at the time, it wasn’t a mistake. 

5.  On Housemates: Good Housemates can make all the difference

When you have housemate issues, you tend to think you’re going through it alone. But the truth is, a lot of people have housemate issues, whether it’s as simple as clashing lifestyles, run of the mill drama or sheer incompatibility, it happens to everyone, I mean there’s no way to know in First year what these people are really like; you’ve only know them for a few months. Being uncomfortable in the place you’re calling home is no fun, and unless you can resolve the issues you need to have the courage to get out (sometimes the issues are too big to be solved).

But when you do have good housemates, it really does make all the difference. From being able to talk through issues that arise (and all the way through the night) to bonding over binge-watching, cooking, making inside jokes about all the quirky things you’ve learned about each other making new traditions as you go along (Saturday Brunch at Morrison’s?) it’ll make your whole experience a little brighter. Because when you’ve had a rough day in class, or a fight with another friend, there’s nothing like coming home, kicking back (on your disgusting couch) and watching an episode (or season) of your latest TV obsession with your housemates. 

6. On Finals Season: weird things happen in the library during Finals season

Ah yes, Finals Season, when daylight loses relevance and time is told in relation to how many days till the next exam. It’s a crazy time for us all, and when you put us all in the same building in our cramming misery, weird things start to happen. The fight for seats in Stauffer may result in camping (yes, camping) in the library for days on end, or at the very least ordering take out to your table for fear of losing your hard-won seat to the circling vultures and things that under normal circumstances are not funny may actually start to seem funny (flying apples and biology, for instance). Finals stories are like our battle scars (remember that time I learned 12 weeks of chemistry in 2 days etc.) though I’ll warn you now that to anyone that didn’t go through it with you, they might seem a little too Dali-esque to be believable or even funny. 

7.  On Friendships: making and maintaining friendships is hard work

TV Shows like FRIENDS and How I met your Mother depict making and maintaining friendships look easy (it’s as simple as an equal gender ratio, a local bar or coffee shop, and a killer apartment, right?). The truth is, finding someone you can trust and be yourself with is no easy feat though you’ll make plenty of acquaintances in University where this doesn’t quite matter. But the real friends, the people that are still standing with you on graduation day, they’ve been through a lot with you and you’ve obviously cared enough about them to put the effort into those relationships and keep them around. They may not be the group you fell into in First year; in fact, they may be a rag tag bunch that you’ve accumulated throughout your four years, some friends from First year, others from classes you’ve taken and teams you’ve joined. But, they share one thing in common, and that’s you. So remember to pat yourself on the back and thank them on graduation day because you’ve all made it to the end and I can guarantee you it probably hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. 

8.   On Time: Concept of time in University is messed up

When you live your life in 12-week semester increments, midterms actually last all term, and weekends blur into weekdays in a mass of studying and binge-watching, time isn’t really anything like it is in the real world. At the beginning, it may seem like you have forever until you’re in Grant Hall accepting that diploma but by the end, it will feel like just yesterday you were a frosh gawking over the history of the same building. You’ll stay up all hours working on massive papers, studying for exams and partying with your friends, sleep at all the wrong times and in this world it’s totally normal. Time plays tricks on us (and we play tricks on it) in University, so stop trying to understand these illusions and just embrace them for the next four years, you can rejoin the real world where naps aren’t really a thing, and staying up till 5:00am isn’t okay after grad. 

9.  On how you pictured it: It won’t turn out like you imagined or like it looks like on TV/in the movies…but that’s okay

Plenty of movies and TV shows depict college and I’ll let you in on a little secret, your own experience probably won’t look like Zac Efron’s in Neighbours or Felicity Porter’s in Felicity and while that may make you feel woefully inadequate and like you’ve done something horribly wrong to squander your college experience, the truth is you haven’t. So you have to let go of the ideal experience and just be okay with your own experience even if it looks nothing like all the benchmarks Hollywood ever gave you. 

10. On Making it to the End: Not everyone will make it through

At my high school, almost everyone went to University and I assumed that almost everyone graduated from University. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s not for everyone. That guy you knew in First year may drop out to go to college where he’ll learn applicable skills faster, your family friend may find that she too wasn’t a fan of the classwork (though the experience was fun while it lasted), others will take time off to travel and get away from bad drama and memories, and some may even find that it’s just too hard. So while we like to think that we’re nothing special for accepting our Bachelor’s Degree because everyone else we know is also getting one, we are. We made it where others didn’t, and it’s okay that they didn’t because they made the choice that was best for them, but they should serve as a reminder of what we’ve accomplished, cause it’s quite something even if it doesn’t feel like it.


11. On respecting your own degree: Science isn’t all that, and you can gain valuable skills from Arts degrees

In the world of University, there’s a binary; the Arts kids and the Science kids. And frankly, the Arts kids get a bad rap for being lazy, undisciplined and un-driven while the Science kids get all the glory. Let me tell you, as someone who dabbled in both camps, science isn’t all that (for me at least). I spent the better part of my time disrespecting my own degree and wishing to be a science kid because my friends (that weren’t in arts) had conditioned me to think that way. I started to figure out later on that the things I was learning weren’t on the surface, I could find peer-reviewed sources quickly, critically reflect on any subject assigned to me, and find bias in half the time I could in First year…and these skills would stick with me throughout my life. As heartbreaking as it is, the quantum chemistry, physiology and immunology that I spent hours laboring over at the library aren’t even with me a year later.

There’s no doubt that some people have science minds, and will ultimately find success down that road, others just aren’t built for it (me included). It’s not fair to constantly put Arts students down for not pursuing science, what was it that Einstein said? “You can’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree or it will live its whole life feeling stupid.” 

12. On the unknown: It’s okay to not know

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know things, to know what our future will look like, to know the answer, to know who we are. And as much as we hate to admit that we don’t know the answer or what we want our lives to look like, it’s kind of liberating to admit it (even if it’s in jest). Besides, we are here to learn and ask questions not to already know the answers to everything. Maybe it’s a little scary (read: terrifying) barreling towards graduation without a job or much of plan but it’s okay to put your trust in the world (or fate?) and let it work it out without having much idea at all. 

Queen's University, Class of 2016, Global Development Studies Major, Aspiring JournalistAdrenaline Junkie, Jet Setting Adventurer, Fan of Horses and Horsepower, Dreamer and Hopeful Cynic