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  • Karley Rynard

16 Tips for Incoming First Years

As I enter my fourth year at UofT, I begin to reminisce on what it was like being in first year. Everything is so new and exciting, yet intimidating, all at the same time. In this post, I will be providing my best advice and tips for incoming first-years from my soon-to-be fourth-year perspective!

1. Go to Your Orientations

The first tip is simple. I recommend you go to your program or college orientation. Although some of the events are a bit cliche, you’re bound to meet some new friends. When I was dropped off on campus I knew almost nobody, so orientation was a great way to meet new people.

At UofT, the orientation week is run through the individual colleges, so most of the friends I met weren’t in the same program as me. Take this chance to meet people you may not typically run into during your everyday campus life

2. Having Tunnel Vision

Do not stress about the future right away. The first week I overwhelmed myself with future due dates and the fear of not being able to succeed. Don’t do this. You will succeed, you will get good grades, and you will have a great experience.

Ultimately, you need to have tunnel vision when you’re in university. This means focusing on yourself and your goals separate from what other people are doing. If someone gets a better grade than you, don’t let it upset you. If someone is joining more clubs, don’t let that degrade you. Another person’s success doesn’t take away from yours. Worry about what you want to accomplish and how you will achieve those goals.

3. Go to Class

My next tip is going to class. You never know what tips or hints the professor might give you for an exam or assignment while you’re in class. Lots of classes also have participation grades, so you don’t want to miss out on that. GPA isn’t everything, but you still want to ensure your grades are up.

In all honesty, there are some classes that may be best learned without physically attending class. However, I recommend you go to class for at least the first 3-4 weeks then make this decision based on how you learn best and what you think is right. Just remember, you’re paying a lot of money to sit in the class and learn from your professor and other students - try not to miss out on this opportunity. You will also likely meet some new friends in class too.

4. GPA Isn’t Everything: Get Involved on Campus

Another piece of advice I would give to incoming first years would be to get involved on campus! This is so important because the university experience truly is what you make of it. In your 4 years at university, you will grow and change immensely as a person. Make sure you take time to pursue your interests and hobbies. Joining clubs also allow you to meet like-minded individuals. Joining RCIG was one of the best decisions I made in my first year because I met some of my best friends through the club. I also met upper-year mentors who shared advice and resources with me through the years.

There are lots of program-specific clubs you can look into and join. There are general clubs for the wider school to join based on niche interests. You might also consider trying out for a sports team or joining an intramural league. If you can’t seem to find a club for your hobby, consider starting one! You don’t know who else on campus might be looking for the same type of club you are.

5. Find A Go-To Study Spot

When you’re on campus, find a place you feel motivated and productive. If you have a few free hours between classes (for example), try to get some work done and save yourself the time later on. Try different study halls and libraries to find your favourite one. Whenever you have some time to burn you can head over there and get some homework done.

6. Make “Study Groups”

What I mean by this is find other students in your classes and program that think and study similarly to you. Use each other to stay motivated and on top of your work. You can meet up with this group of friends and study together when you have exams, assignments, etc.

However, be careful studying with friends. There needs to be a balance of group and individual study. Sometimes group study can be distracting, although at the same time, much more fun. Divide your time and stay as focused as possible during the time you spend studying. If you meet up with friends to study for 2 hours and get nothing done, then you have used 2 hours of time, plus the 2 hours you will need to put in later to complete that work. Try to be as productive as possible in your work hours so you can enjoy your spare time stress-free.

7. Stay Organized - Use Calendars & Checklists

This tip seems pretty intuitive but it’s very important. Once you get to university you are expected to know when your assignments are due, when your exams are taking place, and how much time you need to study. Nobody else tells you what to do or when to do it, so try to stay organized from the beginning.

In the first week of class when I get my syllabi I will go into my calendar and input all the important due dates. That way I’m never caught off guard when there’s a test or assignment. The same thing goes for extracurriculars - block off time for meetings so you never forget.

8. Take Advantage of Resources Available

Another piece of advice I have is to take advantage of the resources you have access to as a student.

For example, your registrar likely offers services such as a writing center - if you need help with an essay, go there! If you need help choosing a major or specialist, talk with someone in your registrar or an academic advisor. You are not alone.

Also, get to know your professors. I’m not saying you need to build a relationship with every single one, but if there’s a professor who has experience in an industry you are interested in, take the time to get to know them better. Visit their office hours, ask them questions. Most professors are happy to help their students out.

9. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

University is all about growing as an individual and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Go out with your friends, experience new things, learn new skills, meet lots of people, go to that campus event - whatever is outside of your comfort zone, do it!

10. Start Something New…

Have you ever considered doing a side hustle? Starting a club? Starting a Business? This might be your time to look into it. As you get older, your life piles up with more pressures and more responsibilities. This might be the best time to do something. This past year I actually started a blog called Big Sister Blog, and my only regret is not starting sooner. Don’t worry about what other people think - if there’s something you want to try, start now!

11. Explore the City

Being in a new city is so exciting - make sure you take some time to explore it. Try out local restaurants, parks, and shops. You could even just go for a walk through different neighbourhoods in the city. All I’m saying is to take advantage of the change of scenery.

12. Call Your Parents

This tip seems silly but call your family members at least every once in a while. Check on them and let them know you’re okay too. You don’t see your family as often once you’re in school so it’s important to show them you care. A simple 10-minute phone call once a week will show them that.

13. Always Back Up Your Work

I feel like this one goes without saying, but back up all your work. Seriously. I’ve lost work multiple times in my life from software malfunctions in different apps and on my computer in general. If you’re using Microsoft, upload the file so it autosaves on the cloud. Back up your work on Google Drive if you need to. However you decide to do it, just make sure it’s done. There’s nothing worse than re-doing an entire assignment the night before it’s due because your Macbook crashed yet again.

14. Get A Credit Card

Although this tip is just advice for life in general, I would highly recommend signing up for a credit card if you don’t already have one. Building good credit as early as possible will help raise your credit score. Just be careful, don’t spend more than you can afford and run your credit through the roof.

15. Keeping Your Mental Health In-Check

This point is super important. Always monitor your mental health. Throughout the school semester, mental health can sometimes worsen, sometimes improve. You’re never alone, take advantage of the mental health resources your campus offers. UofT has therapy sessions, counselling, wellness workshops and more. Talk to a friend or family member you trust.

School can be tough on our mental health sometimes but remember you are not alone.

It’s okay to not be okay. Just make sure you get the help you need and talk to someone.

16. Worry About Internships Later

This piece of advice will change based on who you ask, but in my opinion, the summer after first year is your last “fun” summer. I recommend still getting a job to save up, but try to do something fun. For example, I worked at an ice cream stand the summer after my first year. Internships can be very competitive and they’re typically harder to land if you’re in your first year. If you do want an internship this year, that’s fine, go you! Just don’t get down on yourself if you don’t find anything. You will next year!

Final Advice

At the end of the day, you only have 4 years of university (in most cases). Make the most of this time. Focus on yourself and achieving your own goals. Don’t worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Discover your passions, try something new, and step outside of your comfort zone. These 4 years should be some of the best years of your life!

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