My Experience Living Off Campus as a First-Year


Ever wondered what life is like living off-campus as a first-year? Ever been told that it would be a struggle, that you wouldn’t make as many friends, and that it would be hard to adjust to? As a first-year who is currently living off-campus, I’m going to tell you that those were all things I heard from friends and upper-years.  They said that it would be difficult to not live in residence during first-year. After all, you can gain more experience living in residence and you would also meet new people and make friends, right? I’m here to tell you that isn’t actually true and having experienced it firsthand, it’s not as scary as others make it seem.


What happened?


It all started in at the beginning of June.


On June 3rd, I realized that I had missed the June 1st deadline for the residence ranking deposit deadline. I remember looking anxiously at the date on the uWaterloo housing website thinking OHMYGOD WHAT AM I GONNA DO NOW?! I called my upper-year friends and told them about my situation. I asked for their help about how I should resolve this problem. I once dreamed about living in residence, getting to meet new friends and fellow first-years in my program, and maybe even vlogging about living in residence. Now I was rudely awakened by the fact that it might not actually happen after missing  one of the most important deadlines.


I didn’t know what else to do, so I called the university’s housing services to ask. They told me I should apply for the Vacancy Wait List, so if someone else doesn’t want their spot anymore, or the university finds that they have extra spots left, I will still have a chance of living on campus. At this time, I still had hopes that my plan could still work and it would turn out alright in the end.


So I waited.


And waited.


And waited.


And waited.


I’d gotten a couple emails over the summer about the situation with the wait list, but all said  was “Currently, space is very limited in residence and we will be unable to send out any vacancy offers until (date).” At first, I didn’t worry too much because my friends told me that I was very likely to get an offer closer to September. I also had work during the summer, so I just kept my concerns at the back of my mind.


But the start of school was coming closer and closer. Finally, it reached the week of August 29th and the email was still the same: please keep waiting, but we suggest you start searching off-campus. At this point, I couldn’t wait any longer. Mom and I discussed the situation because we knew it had become too urgent at this point to just keep waiting. On September 2nd, two days before Orientation Week, we had to find a place for me to live and we had to make a deposit at the end of our search. The hunt for a home began. I’m not going to tell you the whole story, but long story short: there was really tight timing, a bit of a struggle, but I did end up finding a place to stay and I’m glad I did. Although I regret choosing the cheapest place and not finding a higher quality rental, I was able to find a place at last, which calmed me down after two long months of worrying.


Then university started and this is is when I stumbled and tumbled and fell flat on my face a few times. As my friends said, it was a bit of a struggle living by myself for the first month. I was used to living in a family of six and now I was left on my own to survive the real world. At first, I did think about putting money onto my student card so that if I was in a rush, I could just buy something at school for convenience. However, as someone who sticks by their three-meals-a-day schedule, it also made no sense to wake up super early to go on campus and buy breakfast, so I decided that I should get used to grocery shopping and making my own meals. There were also a few times that I didn’t have enough time to pack a lunch in the morning. I tried going home between my classes when I had an hour to spare or so, but after a week or two, I realized that I was wasting too much time. I decided to get up earlier each morning so that I would have sufficient time to make breakfast and prepare a small lunch. After a while, I got used to waking up early and it made my day a lot easier.


September was a month of learning experiences and full of surprises. I had to learn to schedule time between study sessions for cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, and random events that seemed pretty interesting. I wanted to join clubs at first, but realized that I should probably get used to the pace of university before I add any extra-curricular activities to my already full plate, especially when meetings all started right before the first round of exams. I also learned that it wasn’t just about time management, but also about how to study efficiently. University is different from high school because the professor is going to tell you to do the readings and also make notes on everything involved with the course material, but I came to realize that there is no time to do ALL the readings. After the first round of midterms - which I messed up on - I decided to only focus on the lecture material from class and just expand on those concepts in my textbook. It’s made my life easier and saved me time for doing other things. The last big thing that I learned is that a four month calendar can be a lifesaver. I purchased a calendar from the university bookstore at the beginning of the month, and it acts as a constant reminder of all the upcoming due dates and deadlines for assignments, projects and exams. It was only when I took the time to plan out my calendar did I realize that there may be some weeks where I would be less busy, but there would be a week of midterms right after that. Knowing that,  I had have to plan my time in preparation for the midterms. Otherwise, I don’t know what I would do as a first-year who doesn’t even know how to effectively prepare for midterms.


Now that two months have passed, I am finally getting a sense of surviving the university life. I can say that living off-campus as a first-year is not bad, especially when renting is a lot less than living in residence. Also since I cook (decently), I don’t complain about the quality of the food. Although I sometimes wish I lived around other first-years and people in my program, I’m pretty happy with living off-campus and I’m also kinda glad that this happened. All I can say is: Sometimes you won’t get what you’re looking for, but that’s because you’re heading in a direction that’s better and you’ll get to learn new things along the way. Be prepared for the unexpected and be open to new things.


Thanks for reading my story, and I hope you enjoyed!