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Being a First-Year Student in COVID: My Experience & Advice

When reflecting on my first year of university, I feel like it’s not the same type of reflection that other students may have. Just like the final semester of my senior year of high school, my entire first year of university was entirely online. While I didn’t get that in-person university experience, I feel like my first year was quite interesting, to say the least. While going through this experience I also feel that I learned a few lessons along the way, so I figured for my final article of the year, I would take some time to reflect with you and give you some advice for your future years in school.

My Program in a Nutshell

To give you some background info on me, I am currently a first-year student in the Honors Communication, Media & Film (CMF) program at UWindsor. According to my orientation guide I got at my online orientation, the CMF pathway was split into academics and experience. Normally a first-year student would be taking part in the following: for academics, I should take some required courses, I should also try and take as many CMF courses as possible to learn about my interests. I also should meet with my academic advisor and learn from upper-year students in the communications student association (CSA) program through peer mentorship. For experience, CMF students would get to go on upper-year film sets as PAs or other roles to learn about film production, and CMF students had the opportunity to get involved with areas such as CSA, UWSA, & other clubs within the school. COVID-19 ultimately changed everything here. First, courses within CMF are often a combination of lecture-based learning and labs, with labs being the hands-on experience. With COVID-19, since we had such a large program size (we have an average of 75-100 students per first-year class), we were ultimately not allowed to do any in-person labs. It was also very conflicting to take more CMF courses because if your course was in relation to production or design, that would just be more lab experience lost. As for CMFs, CSA was primarily in charge of hosting movie nights and the end-of-the-year CMF gala, which both could not be held this year. As for the experience, just like how we could not have in-person labs, upper-year students were not allowed to do their usual in-person group format for filming which meant that there were no film sets to go to.  And with clubs, I found as a first-year that clubs seemed to be really hard to discover, as some were either not running, or there was less promotion, making it harder to see what clubs were available. However, that being said, I honestly feel that I have learned a lot so here are my thoughts.

 

 

My Program in a Nutshell

To give you some background info on me, I am currently a first-year student in the Honors Communication, Media & Film (CMF) program at UWindsor. According to my orientation guide I got at my online orientation, the CMF pathway was split into academics and experience. Normally a first-year student would be taking part in the following: for academics, I should take some required courses, I should also try and take as many CMF courses as possible to learn about my interests. I also should meet with my academic advisor and learn from upper-year students in the communications student association (CSA) program through peer mentorship. For experience, CMF students would get to go on upper-year film sets as PAs or other roles to learn about film production, and CMF students had the opportunity to get involved with areas such as CSA, UWSA, & other clubs within the school. COVID-19 ultimately changed everything here. First, courses within CMF are often a combination of lecture-based learning and labs, with labs being the hands-on experience. With COVID-19, since we had such a large program size (we have an average of 75-100 students per first-year class), we were ultimately not allowed to do any in-person labs. It was also very conflicting to take more CMF courses because if your course was in relation to production or design, that would just be more lab experience lost. As for CMFs, CSA was primarily in charge of hosting movie nights and the end-of-the-year CMF gala, which both could not be held this year. As for the experience, just like how we could not have in-person labs, upper-year students were not allowed to do their usual in-person group format for filming which meant that there were no film sets to go to.  And with clubs, I found as a first-year that clubs seemed to be really hard to discover, as some were either not running, or there was less promotion, making it harder to see what clubs were available. However, that being said, I honestly feel that I have learned a lot so here are my thoughts.

Get Your Perquisites Out of The Way

I think one of the best things I have received this year from my CMF department was a degree planner. This planner includes a list of every course I need to take in order to graduate. While CMF is a very open program, we do have a few mandatory courses that need to be under our belt. From what I have gathered, whether it’s from upper-year students talking about it or trying to take book classes on uwinsite, a lot of students tend to take all of the fun courses first, and then move their other courses to the end of their four years. Since I wanted to prioritize more lab time in my future years, I decided to take all of my prerequisites, which was honestly the best decision I ever made. So, this year along with my CMF courses, I first got Effective Writing out of the way (that course was honestly not very exciting, but at least I don’t have to take it again),  I enrolled in two art courses (Studio Practice & Ideas/Time Based & Contemporary visual culture) as well as two courses in computer science (Computer Concepts for End Users and Social Media & Mobile Tech for End Users). Not only were these courses super fun to take and helped me to expand my interests, but now I’ll also have more room in my future timetables to take more courses that I will be interested in. So, as much as you might want to wait and take them at the end, take your prerequisites now! It’ll definitely be worth your while.

Expand your Academic Horizons

Going along with classes again, I found that by taking courses unrelated to CMF I was able to expand my interests. From the courses I took this year I also learned about other courses that I never expected myself to take. Specifically, with computer science, I am personally not a science girl. I never enjoyed biology, chemistry, or physics in high school, so it left me to take computer science as my only science option. But after taking them,  I realized that I actually really enjoy it! I found that the course allowed me to think differently about things in relation to my own program, and I found it was something challenging and out of my element that I really enjoyed! I’m even considering taking more classes and maybe even minoring! The art courses I took also helped broaden my mind when it came to film and imagery because while CMF focuses more on the digital perspective, these art courses helped me look at the artistic techniques of films and art, which I can take with me to future production courses I take. Not only did academics help me to expand my horizons, but extracurriculars too! For example, I took a Bystander Initiative workshop this semester and I absolutely loved it! After taking it, it made me consider taking the course behind the workshop so that one day I could lead it! I also learned more about English courses through my friends at Her Campus, where I learned that I could enroll in a course I initially thought I could not take, which means that I can take part in this course one day in the future! Not only did taking courses out of my element help me to learn what I liked, but it also helped me to learn what I didn’t like. In this year’s case, I learned that I am not the biggest fan of psychology, which ultimately taught me to avoid courses like that in the future (more on that later).

Your Professors & Advisors Are Always There

Another thing that changed with COVID-19 was the restrictions of meeting your professors and attending in-person office hours. The idea of meeting with your professor or advisor on Zoom seemed so much more nerve-wracking to me than meeting with them in person, but throughout this year I learned that they really are always there for you. Not only was meeting with my professors great from an academic perspective, but it was also great meeting them from an advice perspective too! Just by having a virtual face-to-face conversation, I felt that I was able to understand my material more, I was able to learn more about different aspects of media and communications, such as meeting with one of my professors where we just talked about social media for an hour. I was even able to have honest conversations with my advisors about my academic and career paths (I literally cried in front of my academic advisor, which was super embarrassing, but it clearly needed to be done). So regardless of how nervous you might be, your professors are always there, and I think a lot of them miss the in-person connection, so talk to them!

It’s Okay to Not Have Amazing Grades, & It’s Okay to VW

Coming back to my dislike of psychology, due to the lack of class choices I had 2nd semester, I decided to take a psychology course as I was interested in that in high school. Upon taking the course, I found they taught the biological scale of psychology rather than the emotions of psychology which turned me off from the subject. My grades were also struggling with the course, so I didn’t know what to do. Upon meeting with my academic advisor, she felt that I may not be enjoying the course because my grades were slipping and it was not what I expected the course to be, which led to her decision I should voluntarily withdraw. While withdrawing felt stressful at first, my advisor explained that voluntarily withdrawing from a course is better than doing really badly in it because you receive a VW on your transcript rather than that grade. As well, she commented that none of our future employers are going to care if I had a single VW on my transcript, and if I was looking to do a master’s degree, many master’s programs don’t worry about VW’s either. However, that doesn’t mean every time you struggle you should VW a course because that is when dropping a course doesn’t look good. Ultimately, when debating what to do, my thought process was that since I didn’t like the material and my grades were slipping, dropping the course and taking another course in the summer would be best for me, and to this day I stand by that! After our meeting, my advisor said one thing that has stayed with me, and that is, “Just because you get a B or C in a course doesn’t mean you should drop it. If you enjoy the material and feel you will learn something from it, getting a B or C in a class is always okay.” So, since that day, I’ve learned that it’s okay if I get a low grade in a class. So long as I enjoy it, I know it will be worthwhile.

Schedule and Plan

This year, I had a mix of asynchronous and synchronous courses, but at least 2/3 of my courses were not live. This meant that I had to make sure to focus in order to stay caught up. I am relatively independent and can get things done in a timely manner, so I was able to create a strategy for myself to focus which consisted of lots of schedules and lists! This year, I found the following format which consists of a mixture of paper and digital scheduling was best for me. Starting with digital, I first took all of the due dates written on my syllabi and put them on my phone’s calendar. These included exams, major projects, class times, etc. Then, I used an app on my laptop called Notion where I noted all of my quizzes, projects, homework, and readings on there so I could look back on it throughout the semester. Along with this, I also created a to-do list on my laptop so that I could make a note of everything I had due during the week, so it would always be in the back of my mind when working. Finally, for the first few weeks of the semester, I used Google sheets to create a rough timetable of my week so I can create a routine for myself. As for physical planning, I always have my weekly planner which is where I write everything that I choose to do on a daily basis. Now I know this is a lot, and I feel there will be a few things that I cut out in the following years, but for this year I found that all of this helped me to stay ahead in my studies and create a daily routine in order to stay focused

Get Involved

Getting Involved in extracurricular activities was definitely the highlight of my first year, and even though I couldn’t take part in person it definitely made my first year worthwhile. This year, the first club I joined was Her Campus (obviously, as I’m writing right now). I initially joined to be a social media member, but I found I enjoyed the club so much that I then expanded into writing. Getting involved in Her Campus allowed me to meet a lot of new friends and get to know them through our bonding sessions. It also allowed me to take a more entertaining breather from my studies, and social media & marketing is something that I really enjoy and plan to pursue, so this club gave me something to include on my resume. Since getting involved in Her Campus, I also recently ran to be a student representative on SAHSS (Society of Arts, Humanities, & Social Science) and I am planning to take up a volunteer position on Students Offering Support next year and to volunteer with CSA and CJAM in the future once we’re back in person! They always say you’re never going to remember that test you aced or that one assignment, but it’s the extracurriculars you join and the friends you make that you will always remember, and I can definitely attest to that!

So that pretty much sums up my first year of university. I obviously missed out on a lot, but I made it work! Hopefully, I’ll finally get to have my in-person university experience soon! But even though I didn’t get one this year, I would say this one is for the books!

I am a 2nd year student in the Communication, Media and Film program at UWindsor, and I am the social Media Director and a writer for my school's HerCampus! Tech-wise, I love graphic design, TV/film and social media marketing, which is why I plan to go into advertising! I also love watching movies and TV Shows, self-care, and spending time with friends!
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