4 Things I Wish I Knew as a First Year Student

Allison HoI know it can be scary to begin university, and in my case, being an international student meant that I was going to be away from family and friends, or in other words, home…

Hi! I’m Allison and I come from Panama, which is in Central America, so my native language is Spanish. To date, I have been living in Canada for about 2 years and let me tell you, it’s been challenging but also a rewarding experience that I don’t regret at all. 

I remember before school started, what scared me the most was facing “university life” with all the big assignments, and research papers. I was lucky I did the iBASE program (an intensive English language program for 7 weeks) during the summer, right before big lectures were going to become my daily routine. It consisted of three main courses: Academic Skills, Writing Skills and Speaking Skills. The iBASE program prepared me and gave me a hint of how assignments in university needed to be done, how I could meet my instructors’ expectations, and as a result, get good grades!  

Now, looking back at myself 2 years ago, I often think about the things I wish I knew as I first year student:

My paper, my story

Many times I’d find myself stuck on a paper because I was writing based on how I thought instructors wanted me topencil write. I wanted my instructors to love my piece of writing and agree with my point of view. Doing this, not only made writing boring, but also difficult. It was not until after long hours of scrolling on the Internet that I found an article talking about how to make the writing process fun. It mentioned how you should write what you really believe in and are passionate about, instead of trying to “fit in” with your professor’s mindset. Of course, you should always follow the specific guidelines instructors ask, like the type of paper you should write, the word count, as well as the structure. However, once I started applying this method of researching, really understanding where I stood, I was able to write interesting papers where I’d defend my own point of view, all within the parameters of the assignment.

Writing is not a linear process

Fiction and RealityBelieving you should always start by the first section of your paper, followed by the second one, and so forth, is a false idea of writing. Due to this mindset, I was afraid of reaching out for help at the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC). And no, at the beginning I never went to them for help. It was not only until my term paper for iBASE required me to go to one of the drop-in sessions they hosted that I finally sought out the WCC. I was so scared of showing my paper to these “writing experts” because I didn’t have a complete, polished document. After this appointment, I understood that writing is not a linear process. Sometimes you’ll find yourself going back and deleting paragraphs that may be too repetitive, or even going right into to the body of your paper and leaving the introduction to the end. In fact, there’s no magic recipe on how to write perfectly. After that session, and now as the WCC Readiness Ambassador, I’ve understood more of the resources that they offer at the WCC and how they help students at any stage of their writing process. So don’t be afraid to come and ask for help. Take advantage of this service!

There are lots of writing resources for first-years

Waterloo Ready to WriteAs I previously mentioned, I had no idea how to write research papers or any piece of writing at a university level until I did iBASE. I now believe that seeking out new ways to develop my writing skills as a first-year back then, would have helped ease my nerves before that big assignment.

Recently, the WCC designed the Waterloo Ready to Write initiative, a complete guide on how to write at a university level to help students like you and I tackle different communication tasks we could encounter throughout the term. You’ll find everything you need for that next paper you’re assigned to do: there are self-guided workshops, learning resources, 1-to-1 appointments, and undergraduate writing groups to help you deliver effective papers to your instructors.

So now that you know about it, don’t miss out, and check out Waterloo Ready to Write! I’m sure you’ll be able to find what you need to help you this term.

Dog MemeThe WCC is your best friend

Trust me, there’s no need to have a full paper done to visit the WCC. I think most people (including myself) have/had this idea that the WCC only reviews your writing to provide feedback. However, through online 1-to-1 appointments, professional Writing Advisors and Peer Tutors can sit with you and help you brainstorm ideas from the beginning of your assignment to the very end. In fact, they are here to support you in every step of the writing process. Whether you’re almost done with your assignment and only want a quick revision, or don’t even have a topic to write about, I know they’d be more than happy to help you!

Closing Thoughts

Overall, these are the top 4 things I wish I knew as a first-year when writing any type of paper. I hope that after reading my story, you’ll feel more comfortable to reach out for help and have a better understanding of the many WCC services that are available to you as an undergrad student at UW.

Thanks for making it here, and happy writing!

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