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What I wish I knew before coming to University

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

As I approach the end of my fourth year, I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot about university. I’ve changed a lot in the last four years and the person I am today is definitely not the same scared 12th grader I was. Besides the obvious, like how I wish I had known we would get hit with a big, fat pandemic in the middle of my first year, I think there are a lot of other things I wish that scared 12th graders had known that I have since learned throughout the university.

In my family, I’m the oldest, therefore, I’m the first one to head off to school. I had lots of friends who were older than me and would tell me about what school was like but for the most part, they would just talk about how the work was harder and how everything at university was so much fun. For the most part, I just heard all the fabulous stories and memories my friends had, which, don’t get me wrong, they were right. University life is incredible and so much fun, but all those memories you make are just one half of the story.

I feel like I, as well as many other people, went into university with only half the picture. I came in imagining all the great times ahead of me and of course, those times came and were fantastic, but I wish that I had known more about everything else as well. By no means does this describe everything you could possibly know but these are just a few things I wish I had known more about.

Your grades will drop and that’s okay

The first major thing I learned was that your grades will drop. It’s totally normal and it happens to everyone. In your first year, everything in your life is changing rapidly. A lot of people are moving out and living on their own or with roommates for the first time. You are adjusting to needing to be responsible for yourself all the time, which can take its toll. As well, classes are suddenly getting a lot harder than they were in high school and no one is reminding you of deadlines. Everyone I know went through a phase where their grades dropped as they began school and that was totally normal. As you get used to university, the balance of it all gets easier. Your grades are constantly fluctuating but university allows you to grow and helps you to realize that grades aren’t everything and as much as seeing them drop is stressful, it isn’t something that really matters in the long run.

That you can change your mind

When you are in high school, everyone acts like you only have so long to basically decide exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. That was what the whole application process was like for me and let me tell you, it was stressful. I wish that I had known that this really wasn’t the case at all. You do not need to know what you want to do at all. You can change your mind; you can change your degree. Even if you start with one degree and want to switch programs to an entirely different faculty, you totally can. Yes, you may have to take a missed course or two, but university is all about changing your mind and making mistakes. I think it is so much better to change your mind 20 times than end up in a career you hate because your 17-year-old self took one random course and thought they may be sort of interested in that.

Learn how to budget and save

This is so important for two reasons. The first is the obvious one. University is ridiculously expensive. Tuition is insane and you pay way more for textbooks than anyone should ever have to. Being able to budget and save money in order to pay for school is essential. Then there’s the other part people don’t think about as much. You head off for school and suddenly, you are on your own. There is no longer that parental eye watching and noticing your purchases, so the desire to spend all your money grows. All that desire to spend money on buying food, clothes and drinks intensifies when you go to school. Being able to save and budget out what you will allow yourself to spend is a great skill to have prior to going to university. It’s one I really wish I had as within my first week of university, I headed to the campus shop and became a proud owner of five new sweaters, two sweatpants, a t-shirt, some leggings and a new dog collar with matching leash my dog 100% did not need but I bought anyway.

Your parents do so much more then you realize

This is huge or at least it was for me. Before leaving school, I thoroughly believed and would occasionally brag about what an independent person I was. I thought I could do anything and was basically already an independent adult. In reality, I headed off to school as an immature 18-year-old who had no idea how a credit card worked, couldn’t figure out a bus schedule and was terrified to make a phone call (honestly still working on that one). Your parents take care of you in ways you don’t even know, so many people take that for granted. So, learn from your parents, learn from what you don’t know in order to grow and be a more capable person.

How to balance your time (school vs social life vs work)

Before I started university, everyone I knew that was already in it would constantly tell me how it was like one big party. That’s definitely true. For my whole first year, we would compare living in our residence to summer camp; we lived together, ate together and hung out all the time. It was great. We went to all the parties we could and had a great time. This whole one-big-party thing is great but there comes a point when you need to think about the rest of your life rather than just your social life. You still need to do well in school, you need to get the marks and do the work. If you don’t do the work, trust me, nothing good will come from that. In my first year, this was where I really struggled. I floated through high school doing what I had to and got it done but everything I had done there I did because I had to. Then university came around and hit me like a truck. I had no sense of time management or motivation to get the work done. It started to pile up and I fell behind and struggled a lot to make it through all my classes. As I started my second year, I was doing school online due to the pandemic and looking back, I really wish that time management was something I had focused more on. University is so much fun but it is even more fun if you can go out but still do well in your classes. Plan your days, write down deadlines and make lists. Learn how to balance your time and I promise that you will thank yourself for it.

Your major doesn’t define who you are as a person

I know this one is kind of a weird one, but it really is something I’ve noticed a lot on my campus. In a way, your major is you. You have dedicated a chunk of your life to learning and studying something you are interested in, and it definitely plays a role in your life. However, it does not define you as a whole person. People tend to have stereotypes built up about what type of people take certain degree programs and what those people are like. I really don’t understand why people do this. Just because I am interested in a certain field, it does not mean that my entire personality fits within the assumption that’s built up about that program. I guess what I am trying to say is enjoy your program but be your own person. Don’t let your whole life fall into assumptions and stereotypes surrounding people who study the same thing as you.

Take electives outside your field or immediate interests

I feel like this one is especially important if you are in a really specialized degree or you don’t really know what you want to do in the future. Electives exist for a reason. It’s good to take something you never thought of taking because it may turn out that you really love it or it may inspire you to change the path you are on. So, business majors, take a class in psychology. Biology majors, take a class in political science. You may love it and it may impact your life in significant ways. You also may hate it, but oh well it was still an experience and you will still get a credit for it.

I took a class in my first year in criminology because I had recently started listening to true crime podcasts and it was completely outside my science psychology degree. Honestly, I didn’t end up loving the class, but I still learned a couple of really cool things in that class. As well, I learned a lot about issues in the criminal justice system that I hadn’t known and probably should’ve known, so I am very happy that I took that course. Take something outside your comfort zone and immediate interests and you may thank yourself for it.

You don’t have to know where you want to end up

This is a huge one. Many people go to university at around 17 or 18 years old. How are 17-year-olds supposed to know what they want to be for the rest of their life? I’m sure there are some people out there who really know, and I have to say, that’s impressive. I wish I had it together that much. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. That is why I went into a very general psychology degree. Yes, university is about studying for your future career, but university is also about finding what interests you and what you could actually see yourself doing. As I said earlier, take classes outside your comfort zone and try new things because by no means should you be expected by age 17 to have all your life planned out. I think since they told us to start thinking about our careers back in grade 10, I’ve changed what I wanted to be over 20 times, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal to change your mind and change it again because nothing is set in stone. University gives you time to find who is and get on the right path. If you head into university knowing exactly what you want, that’s fantastic. If you have absolutely no clue, that’s fantastic as well. You don’t have to know exactly what you want, you just need to get out there and try.

Know all the costs

When most people think about the costs involved in university, their first thought is tuition. That is definitely the most obvious, and probably one of the biggest bills you will have to pay while attending university. Another big one people think about is rent. Whether it be for residence or off-campus housing, that is not cheap either. Obviously, you’re going to need food while you’re at school. When most people think about the cost of school, these are the big ones they think of.

Although these three things are definitely the most important, there are a lot of other things to consider too. For example, there are textbooks. Where I grew up, textbooks were free throughout high school, we just borrowed them from the school and returned them at the end of the year. People had warned me about the cost of textbooks, but the reality of that expense didn’t hit me until I had to blow almost $1000 in my first year on textbooks (I learned really quickly though to try to find free PDFs online). It depends on where you are living but if you are renting a house or apartment, furniture is also a very important thing to have. Even if you don’t see yourself as a desk person, I highly recommend getting a desk, it makes you feel so much more put together and professional. When you feel good, you are more likely to be productive. Another thing to consider is general everyday expenses. I know not everyone is the same as me, but personally, I like to do things for fun and I’m sure others like to as well. When you go out, naturally things cost money. It’s important to have funds in order to have fun. Another thing to consider is having an emergency fund. In life, things change at the drop of a hat. You really never know when something could go wrong or a path could change. I have found it very necessary to have an emergency fund ready for anything that does go wrong. Although this may differ depending on the person, your school and your living situation, these were the main expenses I faced during my first year at school and it was a lot more than I expected. I find it very important that students know how much money they actually may need to spend and ensure they are prepared to spend it before entering university.

Know if university is really for you

This is something that may not be that important for everyone, but it is extremely important for some people. For most of my life, with myself and everyone I grew up with, it was the norm that everyone just goes to university and gets a degree and that’s how you become successful. I didn’t even really realize until I got to university that that constant pressure that success comes from a university degree doesn’t exist everywhere. I have learned now that university isn’t always the best option for everyone. Whether you head off to a college program, trade school or even straight to work, success comes from what kind of work you put into what you do, not where you go for that success. If university is not where you are destined to be, that doesn’t mean you won’t prosper; success can come from so many places. I feel it is important to know where you feel you can excel the most before deciding on a postsecondary path as following what works best for you is what is going to lead to the most success.

I hope this list of things I wish I knew before starting university has helped you!

Allie Lancaster

Wilfrid Laurier '23

Allie is a fourth-year at Wilfrid Laurier University double majoring in Psychology and English. She loves being outside and is a huge fan of hiking, boating and skiing. Some of her other passions include reading, drawing, travelling and her puppy.