I decided to go away for school which was especially hard for me in my first year. I had to adjust to the transition from high school to university, living away from my parents, cooking my own meals (in first year, I had a meal plan so I didn’t have to worry about making food, but in the later years I did), doing my own laundry, and making new friends. It can be a culture shock, especially since I went from big city to a smaller city. Here are some tips and tricks for surviving university (mostly for first year, but some tips and tricks apply for later years too!).
Tip #1: Remember that university is NOT high school
In high school, I was getting A’s and I didn’t study that hard. University is not the same, I was used to not studying very hard and I got a cold hard slap in the face when I got my first major test back. I was in Business Administration in my first year and Accounting was never my strong suit in high school. First year can be a shock to some people, but you have to remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you: most of them are living away from home, a lot are paying for their own tuition (I was very lucky that my parents paid for my schooling, and I didn’t have to worry about having a part-time job).
After enduring the first year in business, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted and switched to the arts faculty. I considered math or computer sciences, but I wasn’t sure if I loved either enough to go into sciences. After a year of taking various courses from different programs, I landed on Anthropology. Most people assume that Anthropology is digging up fossils and stuff like that, but I took Sociocultural Anthropology which is more similar to sociology than archaeology. My field of study focuses on the cultural aspects of society and studies the customs, lives and relations of people. I guess you could say that I didn’t really choose to study Anthropology, rather it chose me. It wasn’t one of my initial considerations for my field of study, but I took an online course and really enjoyed it. I took a few more courses and decided to major in anthropology at the end of my second year.
Tip #2: Go to Orientation Week (O-Week)
Orientation week is a time for you to get familiar with the campus, and meet people outside of your dorm and program. Orientation week was pretty fun for me. Although the girls I made friends with didn’t attend a lot of the activities, I was always ready and dressed to go when our icebreakers came to pick us up for the day. Most of the other girls in my dorm were woken up by the banging on the doors and emerged from their rooms with sleep in their eyes. Despite the fact that the girls I made friends with didn’t participate a lot, I’m glad I went to every single activity and made friends with other people in our group. You pay for O-Week, so don’t waste the money by sleeping in or skipping the activities. I think I would’ve regretted missing out on O-Week.
Tip #3: Introduce yourself to whoever is sitting beside you
Don’t be shy: introduce yourself to people in your class at the beginning of the term. If you’re waiting for the prof to start and people are getting settled in, say hi to the person next to you. Ask them what program they’re in or what interested them in taking the course. It’s always nice to have a friend who waves at you when you walk into the classroom and saved you a seat beside them.
Make friends in your classes so that if you have to miss a class because you’re sick or something, you can still get the notes if your prof doesn’t post theirs online.
Also, in those first few weeks before Thanksgiving, everyone makes friends and then they’re off in their own little groups. So, try your hardest in first year to make friends because it’s harder making friends once people have already made connections with classmates. It was especially hard for me because I transferred programs, so not only were my classmates younger, they had friends from first year.
Tip #4: If you’re going away for school, don’t go home for the first month (also, don’t go home every weekend!)
Going away for school was hard on both me and M, but the best thing to do is not to go home until Thanksgiving (Canada) or if you live elsewhere, at least a month of living away. Not going home in the first month of school, forces you to come out of your shell (if you’re an introvert like me) and to make friends with floor mates and classmates. You will get homesick, but knowing that your floor mates and classmates are adjusting to living away from home too is a bit of a comfort. M had read that you shouldn’t let your child come home in the first month because it helps them adjust to living away and make new friends. I’m still introverted, but since first year, I think I’m a little more outgoing than I used to be. I had a few roommates in my later years that went home every weekend. The best ways to make lifelong friends is to STAY on the weekends and hang out with friends after a long week of tests, essays and/or assignments. Either go out for dinner, drinks (if you’re legal), or stay in and watch some movies or shows with your new friends.
Tip #5: Don’t be a lazy bum! Exercise!!
Get your new friends together and go to the gym or go by yourself and maybe meet some new people at classes. You’re paying for the gym in your tuition anyways, might as well burn off those calories from all that pasta and wraps. At my university, in the first week or two of the fall and winter terms, the classes were offered for free so you can see which ones you would want to sign up and attend for the rest of the term.
I had always heard about the Freshman Fifteen and never thought it would happen to me, but one of my fave pair of jeans that I had to donate tells a different story. I’m not sure exactly how much I gained in that first year, but I no longer fit into my Mavi skinny jeans in the following year. I went to the gym maybe two times in my first year and I literally lived right beside the gym, I didn’t even have to be outside for more than a minute. It also probably didn’t help that I had my own collection of snacks in my room that I would snack on while studying or watching a show. This leads me to Trick #1.
In most dorms, there isn’t a lot of storage space, there’s barely enough room for your bed and desk in some rooms. I was hoping for one of the new dorms that had a shared bathroom between two people, but I was assigned a dorm that had shared bathrooms and showers for the whole floor. There were 18 ladies on our floor (including our lovely RA); I was assigned to an all-female dorm. Although I was initially a little bummed about not getting one of those shared bathroom dorms, my room was almost twice the size as my friends who lived in the dorm with the shared bathrooms. The Sterilite carts don’t take up a lot of space and they’re pretty reasonably priced. You can use the carts for anything, I stored mine under my desk and I’ve used them to store clothes, food, and school supplies during my first year.
Tip #6: Get involved!
I regret not getting involved in school events, especially in my first year. So don’t be like me! Join a school club/association, intramural or sports team and make some new friends outside of your program. Of course, you will make friends with floor mates in your dorm and most of them will be from different programs, but venture outside of your dorm and get involved!
Tip #7: Study hard, but don’t forget to have fun!
In university, most people will make a few lifelong friends. I lost touch with a lot of people. I have them on Facebook and we’ll like each other’s pics every now and then, but I only stayed good friends with a couple people. So, don’t forget to go out and have some fun with your new friends (who may turn into your friends for life). You don’t necessarily have to go out to parties, but go out and familiarize yourself with this new city. Within the first month of university, I had eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner with multiple floor mates and classmates. I still remember my first visit to the mall with YH, the start of our friendship. Although, we both admit that it was a little awkward that first time because it was about a week after we met, but now we’ve been friends for six years and even lived together for three. These are your university/college years; find the perfect balance between studying and maintaining your grades and having fun.
Tip #8: Make sure you’re on the right track by checking requirements for your program
This might seem like common sense, but too many times, people will assume that they’re signed up for all the right courses and on the right track to graduate. Then, in their last term, they realize they missed a course or test and have to stay back another term. Requirements can change, so make sure each term, you check those pre-requisites and required courses for your program. I have to admit I was close to not taking the right courses in my last term, but once I realized that I had a missing credit, I went to talk to my program advisor. My program had gone through a lot of changes during the course of my studies, and certain requirements changed since I started. The advisors knew that a lot of students would not meet the requirements with certain courses, so they allowed other courses from other programs to be counted towards our credits. Thank goodness! Overlooking something like this is an extra expense that you or your parents don’t want to be paying for (tuition for another term, textbooks, rent if you’re away for school, etc.)
Trick #2: Buy a foam mattress pad! You will thank me later.
Sleeping on an old dorm mattress is never comfortable, so buy one of those foam mattress pads. While some may be expensive, they have reasonably priced ones at Walmart. Yes, they do smell, so you might want to air it out before using it. But, the smell of the foam is nothing compared to sleeping on a mattress that has a butt dent that’s not yours. Your body sinks into the wrong spots and you’ll get neck problems and not get a proper night’s rest. It also adds an extra layer between you and the mattress that has been used by plenty of others.
Tip #9: Start looking for an apartment in November/December!
It may seem early, but if you’re planning to move out of res after the first year, make sure you start looking for apartments in November or December! The good ones that are close to campus are rented out quickly by the older students who know to start looking early. So start as soon as you can and sign the rental agreements before March!
Tip #10: Bring your backpack or something with wheels when you go grocery shopping
Whether you’re shopping for snacks in first year or shopping for real food in your later years, make sure to bring your backpack, reusable grocery bags or a something with wheels! If you don’t have a car and you need to take the bus to the mall to get groceries like I did, you’ll be glad you brought a backpack or something with wheels. The local mall near my school didn’t set up the grocery store and the bus terminal with the university kids in mind, despite being a university town. The grocery store was on the opposite side of the mall from the bus terminal which meant we had to haul our groceries through the mall and onto the bus. If you can, go between classes in the afternoon because the bus would be packed at 3-4 when the high school kids were going home too.
I hope this helps those of you who plan to go away for school or who started school earlier this month. Just remember that everyone else is going through a similar experience as you are. If you have any questions or personal experiences you’d like to share, please comment below or go to my contact page and fill out the form. Good luck with your studies!