5 Things I Wish I Could Tell My First Year Self

With my fourth and final year coming to an end, this has been a time of self-reflection on what I could have done better, what I wish I wouldn’t have done, and what I wish I would have known when I began my university journey. There have been a multitude of tiny lessons contributing to the improvement of each and every day at university—but here are a few that stuck out to me.

1. Nobody can tell you how to study

This is one of the first things I tried to explain to my sister when she started her first year in college. We are constantly told “this is not something you can start the night before,” “the best way to study for this exam is every five minutes of your free time,” and “you should make cue cards for this class, and there is simply no other way.” The thing is—I am the reigning queen of doing things last minute. Why? Because it works for me. I find that if I sit down and try and write an essay two weeks before it’s due, my adrenaline isn’t pumping and I just can’t write. Give me two days before and I am focused, driven and excited to get something done. Would I advertise this method to everyone? Of course not. You should try and take any advice your professors give, and give their methods of studying a whirl. But the message here is that you need to find what works for YOU. Everyone is different, everyone learns differently, and there, quite frankly, is no perfect way to DO school. Try new things! Try starting your essay two weeks early, try cue cards instead of a typed review, try making songs out of your material—whatever works.

2. ALWAYS pick up your assignments, quizzes and exams

I have never been more shocked in university than the moment I discovered that grades are so interestingly malleable. In my final year, I made an effort to go and pick up my essays, tests, quizzes and assignments in person, and take a minute to discuss my grades with my TAs and professors—regardless of what the grade was. One time, my professor caught 15% worth of errors in my test grade. Had I not gone in and picked up my quiz and taken a moment to go over it, these mistakes never would have been caught. Another time, the uploaded grade on OWL was not in fact the grade I received. Names had been confused on the system and my grade had been assigned to another student. It frustrates me to think about all of the other marks I may have lost over the years to system mistakes, skipped questions in grading, and a lack of effort on my part to take the time to look into my grades. I have always thought that your grade is your grade, and there is little room for discussion—but this is hardly the case. It is our responsibility as students to look after our grades, before and after they are received. Take the time!

3. Be active

I hate to be this person, because I truly enjoy being a potato on my couch whenever I can, sleeping more than the average sloth, and having lazy days after a heinous week of projects. These are all great ways to recover, and it’s important to take a break and truly do nothing. This is also the exact narrative of my first year in school. In my second year, I found pole fitness and started taking dance classes at least three times a week, and eventually started competing. Everything changed! I was more awake and alert. My body felt healthier and happier. I found a new confidence in my body and my ability—I was finally doing something creative that I wasn’t being graded on (aside from competition) and it felt so good. My grades improved massively, my moods improved incredibly, and I also found a new family at my dance studio that helped me through times of struggle, frustration and stress with school. Being active gave me something else to work on other than school. It gave me something else to be frustrated about, proud of, and work hard towards.

4. Your future is more than your degree, your education, or your career

I walked into university with a plan; I knew exactly what I wanted to be, and I knew what I had to do to get there. I was focused and ready for the rest of my life. However, high school doesn’t teach you to think beyond your degree, your education, or your future career. I suddenly realized a lot of things about myself that didn’t compliment my career choice. I realized I really want kids. I want to travel, get married, have about 20 dogs, dance three times a week, and never bring my work home. Very little of these things would have been possible had I stuck with my original career choice. This is why it is so incredibly important to look at your life and your future holistically—and not centre it only around your education. Though we have been in school for nearly our whole lives, a life outside of school is coming. Don’t forget about it.

5. Let the little things get you by

There are going to be days when you simply don’t know how to study. You picked up a test because this article told you to, and it didn’t go very well. You went to the gym for an hour and it felt good, but now you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, and suddenly leg day doesn’t feel like your best decision. You have no idea what your future plan is, except you agree that you also want 20 dogs. I have given a few useful tips that I wish I would have known in university—but this is one of the biggest ones for me. In these moments of seeming defeat, let the little things get you by. Spend an hour looking at memes. Make a really great cup of coffee. Put your christmas tree up in September. Try on your grade 12 prom dress. Go to stores and try on more prom dresses. Do silly things with your friends. Go for walks. There is no secret to university, no universal code of success, and no perfect piece of advice. So every now and then, take a moment to just enjoy something incredibly simple.

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