I just entered my fourth year here at the University of Waterloo, and it’s got me reflecting on my time as a first-year student. I’ve learned a ton about being a university student over the past few years, and I wish I could go back to my seventeen-year-old self and give him so much advice. But unfortunately, time travel doesn’t exist yet, so I will gladly settle for sharing some of what I wish I could tell my first-year self with you.
1. Give yourself time to adjust
University is a brand-new experience, filled with lots of exciting opportunities but also some unexpected challenges. You’ll find yourself trying to find a new routine, but it might take you some time to settle into one you like. When you look around, it may look like everyone has their life together, and you’re the only one who’s struggling to adjust but trust me—you’re not. Everyone is in the same boat.
You need to give yourself time to settle in and adjust to your new normal. Get oriented with your new surroundings. Find your routine and ease into everything. Don’t beat yourself up for not having everything figured out within your first week. And once you’ve adjusted, you can hit the ground running.
2. Go over your readings more than once
Once you’ve gotten organized, you’re ready to hit the books. It might be a good idea to hit them more than once if you want to make the most out of the course material. I always try to read through them once to make notes, and then after reviewing my notes, I go through them a second time to make sure I understand what’s being said. Textbooks are dense, and chances are, you didn’t get all the information the first time. Making notes helps you put the pieces together and deepen your understanding of concepts, but then re-applying that knowledge with another look through the chapter (or chapters) will make sure you have a deep understanding of what’s being taught.
Two times might not be enough either! Always remember that it’s totally normal to revisit chapters later on in the term to refresh your memory. This is especially helpful ahead of midterms, exams, and large assignments.
3. Go to office hours
When I started at the University of Waterloo, I was scared to go to office hours. I was worried about bothering my professors with silly questions. But that was a really bad outlook—professors host office hours for you, not for them. Always feel free to pop by and ask a question. They love to talk more about the topics covered in class, and you might even come away with a better idea of how to apply course concepts.
Plus, it’s never a bad idea to form a friendly relationship with your professors, and office hours are the best way to start building that rapport!
4. It’s okay to have an ‘off week’
Look, university is challenging. You won’t always be on your A-game, and that’s okay. Maybe you botched an assignment, or maybe you slacked on your reading. Whatever it is, it happens, and it’s going to be alright. It’s really easy to feel like one failure is the end of the world, but that’s really not the truth. Failures are learning opportunities and just temporary setbacks. It’s vital that when you face these challenges, you give yourself time to recover, whether that’s mentally, physically, or emotionally. Recollect yourself, and when you’re ready, get back in the saddle.
If you need it, make sure to reach out to your support network or check out Counselling Services.
5. Don’t forget to socialize
University is more than just classes—it’s an opportunity for you to meet new friends and make memories during this exciting time of your life. Don’t spend your whole term with your head buried in the course material. You need to find a school-life balance that works for you and allows you to get the most out of your university experience.
And there you have it! I hope you find these tips helpful as you navigate your first year. Good luck, Warriors!