Dear 18-Year-Old Me

Emma at the House of CommonsThat’s a wrap! After five years at the University of Waterloo, I am saying my goodbyes and moving on. I know people will tell you that your time at university will fly by, but you won’t believe them. In the middle of exam season, your time in school will seem endless. But let me tell you, life has a way of sneaking up on you, and before you know it, you’ll be walking across the stage at convocation. Over the past five years, I have learned a few things, and I wanted to share some tips and tricks with you before you start your adventure at the University of Waterloo. Who knows? You just might learn something new.

Some of your best learning will occur outside of the classroom

I think one of the best things about the University of Waterloo is how innovative and experiential the learning process can be, if you keep your eyes open for the right opportunities. Always be looking for opportunities to apply what you’re learning in your courses. Speak to professors about working on their research. Take your education and apply it at a volunteer position. These experiences will help you to discover what works and what doesn't and leave you better prepared for applying your learning after school ends. I was able to apply my knowledge while working as part of a team to develop a marketing plan for Hillside Music Festival. This incredible opportunity came as part of Environment and Business’ 4th year capstone project. This experience was invaluable for cementing the practical applications of what I was learning in my courses.

Co-op terms can be lonely. Get involved in your local community

I found co-op terms to be a bit of a struggle. I got invaluable work experience in diverse locations such as Grande Prairie, Alberta and London, Ontario. I am grateful for the skills I have developed while on the job, but I found moving around so much meant I was often in a new city and didn’t know anyone.

Emma working on co-op as a park ranger

I learned to get involved in the communities where I was living through volunteering. This gave me something to do in my spare time and helped me to meet new people. For example, I began volunteering with a local Girl Guide group while on co-op in Hamilton. It was really rewarding to be able to help girls develop into confident, resourceful young women, and I made great friends in the city. I also found online resources like Meetup were great ways to meet locals interested in my hobbies.

Can’t find the right course for your interests? Make one!

In my final year of study, I realized that a lot of my volunteer work focused on youth education and empowerment around environmental issues. I approached one of my professors about creating an independent study course that focused on my passions, and was able to translate my volunteer work into research that fit my interests. I think that pursuing your passions is important, and can lead to learning that fits with your post-graduation life. Working on an independent study course taught me discipline and research skills, and gave me experience with multi-disciplinary subjects. Find a professor that shares your interests and go for it.

Go easy on yourself

I get it. The transition from high school to university can be tough. Waterloo attracts the best and the brightest, and we often get caught up trying to get excellent grades or the perfect resume. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments and reflect on all the hard work that brought you to this moment. You have so many unique talents and skills to share with the world. Don’t reduce your worth to your grades or how many co-op interviews you get. Work hard, but take time every day to care for yourself. There is only one you and self-care is key to avoiding burnout during your university career.

Congratulations on choosing the University of Waterloo! The next five years of your life will be filled with challenges, excitement, learning and growth. I know you’re going to love it. Oh, and one more tip: always have an extra loonie on you to buy a cookie from the Environment Students’ Coffee shop. You’ll never have another cookie like it, and you’ll miss them when you’re gone.

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For a high school guidance counsellor, great stuff for a heads up for university bound students

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