What I Have Learned in My First Semester of University

By: Sarah Dai 

Ahh, first semester is over! As everyone heads back to school from the holiday break, I thought it was an appropriate time to reflect back on some of the important lessons I have learned in these past few months. Coming into university can definitely be quite a transition, especially for people who left home for the very first time. I know for me, it took a while to adjust to the new environment and be okay with taking care of myself. I made mistakes, and I learned. Here are some things I took away from the first term of university: what worked well and what I would have done differently. 

Make the most out of Frosh Week

Think about it, you only get this experience once in your whole life! It’s a great way to meet new people because everyone is just as nervous and jittery as you. It is probably the most carefree you will be all semester. Trust me, once classes start and assignments and exams start rolling in, you will be begging to go back to that first week, where the only thing you had to worry about was how to get back to your res from the frat house at 3 in the morning. Even though some uni-directed Frosh activities may seem lame, still attend! You can dip if you are really bored, but at least check them out because a lot of them are actually more fun than it seems. One of my favorite Frosh activities was the big parade towards the end of the week. At first, I was planning to not go because it didn't seem like there was much to it. A bunch of people screaming chants on the streets? What’s so exciting about that? I ended up going because my suitemates dragged me, and it turned out to be so much fun. Everyone had so much energy, and the air was filled with excitement and happiness. It was a really great experience and made me excited to start school at UofT.

Check the location of your classes, especially if they are back-to-back

UofT is a really big school, and often, the 10 minutes between classes is not enough time, especially if your next lecture is all the way on the other side of the campus. I learned this the hard way the first week of school, where I attempted to get from McLennan Physical Laboratories to Isabel Bader Theatre within that 10 minutes time slot. Let’s just say I eventually had to switch my morning lecture to 1 hour ahead because being late to Econ class every day was just not fun. This is especially hard during the winter months, because trying to make it to class while trudging through thick snow and harsh wind? NOT a good time.

Don’t skip out on your lectures, no matter how tempting it is

Some professors might post their notes online or record the lectures, but even then, I still firmly believe attending the actual lectures is very important for the following reasons:

  1. It encourages you to actually get out of bed and participate in day-to-day university life.
  2. Just because the lectures are recorded and posted online does not mean you will actually watch them. Going to class forces you to engage and pay attention (well, at least more so than if you were watching the lecture by yourself in your room).
  3. With online notes, some profs go much in depth with the concepts in class than simply what’s written online so it is always a good idea to attend the lectures and write down those details that might turn out to be crucial information to the course. 

Have a balance between your academic and social life

I cannot stress this point enough. While academics and studying does make up a huge component of university, do not completely toss aside the other, more fun aspects, such as hanging out with friends, attending social events, making new exciting memories, etc. Trust me, when times get rough, like during exams season or when you are having a quarter-life crisis, it makes it 100 times better to know that there are people you can go to and ways you can de-stress and chill. Growing up, so many people told me that university will be the best 4 years of my life: you have more freedom than back in high school, yet you don’t have to worry about being a real “adult” quite yet. Hate to break it to you, but you won’t achieve that happiness by studying in Robarts all day. Creating new memories with friends, however, will make the torture of exams feel a little less painful and help you make the most out of your uni experience.


Don’t get discouraged by a bad mark

I might as well just say this now: you WILL receive a bad grade at some point or another. That is just how university is. Sometimes, it’s simply because the prof made the exam impossibly hard, and other times, it might just be because you didn’t study enough. Either way, it’s important to not let that affect you and other aspects of your life too deeply. Just remember: it’s okay!! You will survive! When I got my first bad mark back, I felt like my whole life was ending, as dramatic as that sounds. That day, I didn’t do anything else except wallow in self-pity, thinking that I will never be smart enough to pass anything. Fortunately, I woke up the next morning with an epiphany: I realized that I shouldn’t let this one grade define me or how smart I was. It was already in the past, there was nothing I could do about it except move forward and study harder for the next exam. Somehow, this clicked with me and it is something that I believe resonates with a lot of people, especially first-years. Keep pushing through it even when it gets tough, and it will get easier!

Mental health and self-care is IMPORTANT

This was something I struggled with a lot in my first term of university. The first few weeks were okay, but as soon as schoolwork started piling up, my self-care awareness went down drastically. My room was a mess, I didn’t do laundry for weeks, I ate horribly, and went to bed at ridiculously late hours. It affected my mental, emotional, and physical state. Eventually, the exhaustion caught up to me and I realized that not only was this negatively impacting my schoolwork, but I was so drained all the time I couldn’t concentrate properly on anything. I decided to start changing little things, like going to bed a bit earlier, cleaning my desk every couple of days to keep it tidy, and setting time aside every day to wind down and relax. Even though they were small changes, it really helped me get back on track with my emotional and mental state. I found that once those aspects of my life started looking up, it really helped bring up a lot of other things too, like more effective studying techniques, better focus capabilities in class, and overall happier state of mind.

Find study areas that work well for YOU

There are tons of quiet spaces on campus that you can work in. The key thing is to find one that allows you to get things done. Everyone knows Robarts, the huge turkey-shaped library that is always crammed during exams, but it is not the ideal studying spot for everyone. Some have complained about the lack of windows and how confined it can feel. Others absolutely love it and stays there for hours every day. It all comes down to preference. There are tons of other smaller libraries that are quieter and less busy around campus, as well as common areas in colleges, dorm rooms, and cute coffee shops. They all hold a slightly different atmosphere and environment, and it completely depends on what helps you focus best. No matter how prepared you are, the workload at university definitely gets rough at times, and it’s crucial to have places where you are able to spend a few hours with the confusing nature of derivatives and limits without getting completely distracted.

Find what makes you happy, and then make it happen!

As cheesy as this sounds, it is very true. Whether that is joining a club or attending an event, do whatever it is that embraces your uniqueness. In university, nobody has the time to care and gossip over ridiculous drama and people’s so-called “image”. I’d like to believe that uni students are beyond that level of pettiness that might have been present in high school. Stop caring what others think, and just go out and find your happiness. I had a long, deep talk one time with a friend of mine about hobbies and interests and it really got me thinking about the importance of finding those activities. They define who you are and add qualities that are beyond academics. Keep your eye out for those opportunities in university and I promise you, it will be worth it.  


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