An Open Letter to First Years: It’s Okay to Not be Okay

If first year has left you feeling overwhelmed, it’s normal to think you’re the only one going through the whirlwind of emotions. Here's a collection of experiences that upper-years had in their first year to give you some inspiring pearls of wisdom or to simply show you that, yes, first year can suck, but you’re definitely not alone. If they got through it, so can you!

1. “I think the best form of advice is simply put: things will change. Whether academically, personally or professionally, things change. You don’t have to be sure about anything at this point, or even at the end of first year or second year. It can be very stressful getting a crappy grade back; I got 20% on a midterm in second year. You’re not alone. Engaging in one conversation, and pushing yourself to reach out for your best interests can change that 20% on a midterm to being on the Dean’s List two years later because of your hard work. First year is tough, but I believe in you and so do so many others.

-Nic, 4th year, PsychSoc​

2. “I came from a really small town [and had] never even heard of AP or IB programs. Although I was at the top of my graduating class in high school, reality hit me hard first year. I struggled a lot to keep up with my peers. I felt hopeless…[and] by Thanksgiving, I felt so lost and depressed…[It] got to a point where I was researching how to drop out. With the support of my floor mates and my determination, I realized that I was capable of succeeding if I put in the effort. My advice is: no matter how small [or alone] you feel, I promise if you just persevere a little longer, you’ll find your niche. And if it’s all too much, don’t be afraid to admit you need help and take time to yourself. There’s always tomorrow.”     

-4th year, Life Science

3. “Please sleep eight hours a night! The idea that all-nighter will help you is a myth. Once you pull a few all-nighters, you’re so tired during the day that your productivity slows. University is a marathon, not a sprint. An all-nighter is fine once in a while, but [it’s] not sustainable for the length of an exam period or duration of a semester.”


4. “First year is definitely a learning curve, and some people master it faster than others…It’s important to know that you aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed. First year is an adjustment for everyone. Getting a low grade on an exam worth 30% won't ruin your life. Give it your best, but if you don’t do as well as you hoped, you will bounce back!”    

-3rd year, Commerce

5. “My roommate and I were so different that we couldn’t get along.”

-4th year, Arts

6. “First year was the first time I ever failed something. All through high school I got amazing grades, I was popular and I was athletic. In first year I failed courses, lost my talent for sports and became just another face among thousands. It’s important to remember that not everyone will be great at everything…A person who takes five years to complete a four year degree and graduates with a 51% is still a graduate.


7. “I heard a speaker compare mental health to a cut on your hand. Sure, it might not be too bad but you [should] still treat it...If you do nothing, [the] cut that may have once been nothing will become something serious. Treat your mental health like a cut on your hand; deal with it when it isn't serious to prevent it from becoming serious.”

-4th year, Science

8. “I found it difficult to connect with people on my residence floor in first year, and that made it harder to find a group of friends. Going through university (especially midterms) is difficult to do alone, so I’m so glad I eventually found the friends from my program that I have today.


9. “If I were to give a first year any advice, it would be to not expect to be fine all the time - be kind to yourself when you're not - to seek out truth [that] you can cling to [during] difficult times, and to not be afraid to ask for help.”


10. “At Thanksgiving in first year I was not enjoying my time at Queen’s. I hated when people asked me how I liked it. Shortly after thanksgiving, my parents divorced, and I truly did not think I was going to make it through first year. Finally, I started talking to someone. I realized so many people were feeling the same way and that I was not alone. Surprisingly, I made it through first semester, and now here I am in fourth year. It is rough and times it will suck, but you will make it!!”


Reaching out to friends, family and Queen’s support services is so important. Below are a few resources you can use if you need that extra boost in the next few weeks and throughout your university experience!

  • Queen’s Counseling: Make an appointment with confidential and professional counselors who are accessible on campus (at LaSalle, at the intersection of University Avenue and Stuart Street) to talk about anything you may be struggling with.

  • Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS)/Academic Counseling: These services help with school-related stresses and provide workshops to help you improve your academic skills!

  • Good2Talk: An over-the-phone hotline that is completely anonymous and answered by trained counselors who are there to hear your story or anything that’s on your mind.

  • Planned Parenthood: A very reliable source that ensures you get the right information about safe sex, including emergency contraceptives (Planned Parenthood clinics also offer cheaper prices for some of the same contraceptives as other pharmacies if finances are a concern for you).

  • A national and free sexual assault hotline that offers free online chats/phone calls with trained professionals.