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Dear First-Years: Advice from an Exhausted Fourth-Year

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Another September, another school year. That means waking up at 8 a.m. and taking a one-hour train ride to campus every day, once again.

Luckily for me, it’s my last one! However, for some of you reading, it’s your very first university school year, which means you’re entering an entirely new environment. As such, you may be looking for some advice to better prepare yourself for the next four or so years of your life.

While I may not have any profound advice to share with you, I can give you tips on how to stay on top of your schoolwork and can help you learn from my own university-experience faults and confusions.

So, let’s get into some university tips and tricks that I wish someone would’ve told me in my freshman year.

1. Lower Your Expectations

Yup, it’s about to get real.

Like me, some of you had probably fantasized about what university would be like when you were younger: wearing cute outfits every day, strutting around campus with textbooks in hand, hanging out in cafés with friends and feeling smart and scholarly as you take notes and twirl your pen in your fingers.

Better insert the shattering glass noise here because that’s hardly ever the case.

University life isn’t as magical as we dreamed. First off, the workload is intense. With less time in the semester than in high school, the workload becomes gruelling and even more packed. For all of us commuters out there, who have less time in general, it’s even worse. There are never enough hours in the day!

On top of that — and likely related to it — your grades will get lower. We all loved getting 90s in high school, but here in the university trenches, sometimes anything above 50% will be enough for us. Over the years, as you grow more exhausted, you’ll adopt the classic university student catchphrase: Meh. Good enough.

Now, I’m not saying to expect your grades to tumble completely downhill. I’m just saying these professors have high expectations and that, sometimes, they’re pretty hard to meet, let alone exceed.

2. Use Google Calendar

Behold: my secret weapon.

Agendas were never really my thing because they always seemed like such a hassle; remembering to write down everything that’s due into those tiny boxes, switching around date changes, and always carrying it around… Yeah. Not fun.

Instead, I opted for pretty much the same thing, except in digital form: Google Calendar. 

At the beginning of every semester, I look through all of my course syllabi and put the due dates for every assignment, test and more on my calendar. This lets me see everything I have to study and prepare for each week without any surprises. As such, I can remember everything I have to do without worrying about any assignment being late or forgotten. 

3. Join Clubs and Organizations

From magazine publications to photography clubs, universities are always buzzing with various clubs and organizations.

Clubs and organizations are a great way to feel like you’re a part of the university community; you can get to know your fellow students, including those outside of your program. It’ll encourage you to talk to people and even make new friends. On top of that, university organizations allow you to contribute to your community and learn teamwork and leadership skills.

I joined Her Campus in my first year. Being creative and coming up with article ideas every three weeks gives me a break from my schoolwork and is a way to avoid time-wasters like scrolling through social media. Like Her Campus, participating in school-oriented clubs or jobs will look sweet on your resume.

4. Don’t Listen to Your High School Teachers

“This won’t fly in university!” Yes, it will.

Weird advice, I know. But this seems to be a motto of high school teachers, and frankly, it doesn’t ring true.

Teachers would always scare us when we did something wrong, claiming while they were being lenient, university professors would not be so kind.

For instance, I remember teachers scaring me into thinking that if I made a mistake while citing in a university paper, I’d be accused of plagiarism and expelled on the spot. Luckily, that’s not the case. Most professors will simply correct your mistakes. 

This is the case with a lot of myths high school teachers peddle. Like, you won’t get locked out of class for being late — most professors are understanding and used to that, especially when many students are commuters. You also won’t get called out or yelled at if your phone goes off during class — the professor just keeps talking (again, they are used to it). 

Now, I’m not saying to be irresponsible. I’m just saying, as human beings, it’s okay to make a mistake every now and then. So long as you don’t create any negative habits, you’ve no reason to fear your professors.

5. Have Courage

New environments are scary with new people, new classes and new surroundings. It’s tough not to feel at least a little alone or scared. 

But it’s time to braven up. Believe me when I say you’ll have a hard time making friends, talking to people, and doing anything until you instill yourself with a little courage and confidence.

Nothing is easy, especially not success or joy. But, in the wise words of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, “If you’re not scared, you’re not taking a chance. And if you’re not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing?”

So raise your hand in class and share your thoughts, talk to your classmates and make friends, and go after anything that seems interesting to you. Because maybe, just maybe, it’ll change your life, in a big way or small. 

With that, I bid you adieu and good luck. Go out with your shoulders back and your head held high. Welcome to your new life, my friends. Enjoy it while it lasts, lest it slip from your fingers.

Sariya Adnan

Toronto MU '24

Sariya Adnan is currently an English student at TMU. She's been writing her whole life and hopes to use words to create a positive impact on others and the world around her.