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How to be a Successful Freshman?

Starting your first year as a university student at the University of Toronto, internationally known as Canada’s top ranking university and the 20th best university internationally by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, is extremely overwhelming. As a freshman, I can definitely say that the stress has already gotten to me and if I am stressed before even starting university, I can only imagine how I will fare once I actually start attending the classes.

Now, the stress is related to various things – the main one being the transition from high school to university, in which you’ll experience a different grading system and a whole new community. You will be educated by highly knowledgable professors, and experience freedom that few high school students have ever tasted before. 

Everything is your own choice: you can choose to attend your classes (no absence slips required – with 1000+ students to a 100 level course, ain’t no prof got time for that), you can freely voice your opinions, and you no longer have to follow a series of mandatory courses. Although every program is different and for some of them you’re required to take specific courses that you may not necessarily enjoy, you’re still taking the courses of a specific program and major that’s you selected yourself. This is especially hard for freshmen because we just finished high school, and as much as we’d like to think so, we are not prepared for university. So, making these choices while knowing that we are accountable for them is very difficult for us. 

As if entering university isn’t hard enough with that little voice in your head always yapping away about all the negative possibilities, you also have to deal with all the rumours and “advice” others give you about university, which only help stress you out more.

From personal experience, whenever you mention that you’ll be studying at U of T, people just feel they have the right to tell you all these horror stories of how U of T students study 20 hours a day with little sleep and they still can’t get the grades they want, or that U of T students don’t have a social life. Then they give you tips on the things you should not be doing, like how we should not get consumed by the party life at university, or that we should not procrastinate and let our school work pile up.

You’ve all heard the list of “Don’t Do’s” either by your parents, older siblings and friends, relatives, teachers or guidance councillors. If you haven’t, you’re not missing much – I basically summed it up for you above. Although they mean well, it’s not very helpful. That is why I will share with you my list of “To Do’s” and hopefully it will be as helpful to you as I hope it will be for me, from one freshman to another. 


  1. Disregard the difficult grading system. Starting university is hard enough as it is, so the rumours about the 20% drop in your average is extremely unhelpful to my present state of mind. A lot of people have been preparing themselves over the summer, either by taking advanced summer courses, or reading the course materials from prior years, only to avoid a huge drop in their average. But I plan on disregarding the grading system, and simply do my best. I know it’s easier said then done, but if you say it for long enough, you’ll actually believe it and only focus on doing your best. If your marks are lower than your expectations, you should establish temporary grading standards for your own comfort, until you finally achieve your initial standards and goals. This is a good reflection of the university system itself. At first, you may do horribly in your classes because of the high expectations U of T has for its students and general lack of a rubric. Eventually, (if you attend tutorials – YOU MUST ATTEND TUTORIALS) you will learn what TAs and profs are looking for and adjust accordingly.
  2. Organize your time and be productive. This is fairly simple to do – you just need self-control and good time management skills. These skills usually come with practice. With that said, everyone has their own unique organizational techniques, but it wouldn’t hurt to create a daily routine based on your timetable. You should prioritize your commitments, whether they’re academic, social, or personal ones, and don’t let your work get piled up. Control your temptations to watch another hour of TV or to hang with your friends, if you know that that extra hour can be used by you to study, or get a little more sleep.
  3. Get involved in campus activities. Clubs and organizations are your best friend. Not only will extra curricular activities look great on your resume (mainly because you were active right from the start), but it will also help you meet new people and make long lasting friendships. Clubs are like small communities that prevent you from being overwhelmed by your presence in the larger community that is known as University. So, take advantage of the numerous organizations and student associations that U of T has to offer. I know my first stop during Frosh week will be at the clubs fair. I’ll be signing up everywhere. 
  4. Network and Socialize. Meet new people and build strong friendships with the people at U of T. Unlike many, I encourage you to go out to the campus events and parties to meet new people and familiarize yourself with all the great individuals that make up U of T and help maintain it’s outstanding academic reputation. These people will surely end up being your study buddies and mentors in the future. 
  5. Step out of your Comfort Zone. Be the “YES MAN” at your campus. This year I’m planning on following award-winning comedian, Jim Carey’s role in the Yes Man movie; I hear a lot of good things can happen from saying yes all the time. I encourage you to accept all the opportunities that present themselves to you. The transition from high school to university is an undoubtedly difficult and significant one that acts as a rite of passage for all, so you may be shy and quick to turn down various opportunities, but you have to overcome your fears, stay confident and be willing to explore. If you don’t try, you will definitely miss out on a big part of your university experience. As Canadian entrepreneur, Brian Tracy wisely claims, “[y]ou can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
  6. Be open-minded and accept the diversity at university. You will meet tons of people from varying ages, races and nationalities. Everyone has different opinions and perspectives on diverse topics. It is important that you are not quick to judge and take this opportunity to educate yourself. Let every day be an educational one. You’re already spending half your day listening to numerous lectures; allow yourself to spend the other half enriching your cultural understanding of the world outside of your academic life at university.

Think beyond the present moment, and prepare yourself for all sorts of things, both positive and negative, but keep in mind that there’s always a time when you have to stop thinking and just go with the flow. Wait and see where your university life takes you. A little stress doesn’t hurt, but the best way to approach university is with a positive attitude and to think of the transition like all of your previous transitions, whether it was from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. In hindsight, we were silly to be so nervous about those transitions, yet at some point they were equally as big as this one.

I will test out my own tips and suggestions during my first month at U of T, and let you guys know how it goes. After all, it’s never too late to change your approach of university life.

Wish me luck!


Jina Aryaan is one of the Co-Editors-in-Chief of Her Campus UToronto. She is a fourth year student pursuing a major in Sociology, and a double minor in French and Latin American Studies at the University of Toronto. She has been working with Her Campus since her first year of University, and she is also highly involved on campus through various other leadership positions. When she's not busy studying, you can catch her running around campus to get to her next class or meeting. When she has some spare time, she's likely busy writing, discussing politics, or spending quality time with friends and family.
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