10 Tips: Surviving My First Year at Uni

As chaotic as that photo of my dorm room seems, I did manage to make it through freshman year. This seemed to be the quickest 8 months I’ve ever experienced. But at the same time, September 1st feels years away. Here’s how I survived.

Invest in a planner

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Don’t skimp out on a quality planner. I recommend one that fits in your book bag easily (rather than a wall calendar) so that you have no excuse to use it, wherever you are. If you find a gorgeous one, you’ll be more motivated to use it and make it your own. Sitting down and writing out all my important dates and deadlines (reading week, friends’ birthdays etc) really made a difference. Not only did it keep me reminded that I really needed to start an essay soon; it gave me things to look forward to! Every so often our cafeteria would have a chocolate fountain, so seeing that on my planner always brightened my day.

Attend events

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If you’re lucky enough to live on campus (or close by), take advantage of all the amazing events the university has planned. Most of them are free, and have free food as well (what more could you ask for?) My university had yoga-in-the-dark, ice cream destress sessions and renaissance mask-making tutorials! Some of them are silly, but they’re so worth it when you’re fed up with schoolwork.

I would not have been able to make it through the school week without filling up my weekend with exciting things to do too. It’s all about balance, so try mixing up parties with mall trips and walks outside. I loved attending protests I was passionate about and discovering little shops in the Glebe.

Treat school like a job

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I’ve been using the word “school week” for a reason. This really put me in a productive mindset that allowed me to maintain my sanity. I chose to see Monday-Thursday as my “working days,” because I attended lectures, did my readings and worked on papers. I made sure to go to the cafeteria often to stay fuelled, and tried to limit my phone-time until the evening. This enabled me to take more of a break on Fridays (my day off!) and enjoy going to the gym, watching youtube and slowly chipping away at long-term assignments if needed. On Saturdays I did not do any work. I usually went for a big, slow brunch with my roommates and checked out the Rideau Centre (no, I didn’t make a purchase every time!) Sundays, I poked around with any remaining work and mentally prepared myself for the next “work” week, like by engaging in self-care.

Drink water

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One of the main things I neglect if I’m busy or not mentally-aware, is WATER. I can last a long time without water, and this dehydration really makes me feel sluggish and unmotivated. Although I’ve probably disturbed half the Carleton population bustling through the aisles mid-lecture to go pee, it’s all worth it when I know I’m keeping myself hydrated.

Tea is great as well, especially when you need to wake yourself up for an 8:30 class, or when you need to wind down after a long day. By buying in bulk, you’ll save a ton of money (and time) as you avoid waiting in Starbucks for an overpriced cup of warm, flavoured water.

Remember “you get what you put in” 

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This little mantra really stuck with me throughout the year. I realized that not only am I here to become educated, I am paying to be here (or eventually will be, thanks parents and student loans.) This mantra helped me fight back the looming thoughts of debt that hung over my head as I lay in my dorm room, hearing the O-train whistle by.  I’m not going to let this capitalist society take advantage of me, I’m going to get all that I can from this institution. This means trying to do my readings, and actually paying attention in lecture. Some of my textbooks were hundreds of dollars, and I’ll be re-selling them to next year’s freshmen anyways, so I might as well fill up my brain with some knowledge. Of course, there were days where I would be surfing Pinterest during lecture, I’m only human.

Celebrate

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You don’t need an excuse to celebrate. Going out for a friend’s birthday or attending a semi-formal is definitely memorable, but sometimes university gets so crazy that you really have to seek out some kind of celebration. Whether I attended Winterlude or simply grabbed some snacks and had a movie night in the residence lounge, this was celebrating my first year!

Get involved

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I used to roll my eyes whenever someone told me to, “get involved.” But, there’s a reason this has been used so often. I have to admit it’s so true. I would have been bored out of mind if I didn’t join some campus activities/clubs/associations. In particular, I joined Spoon University, and dedicated some time to writing for the English Department. Only recently, I ran for an editorial position at Carleton University Women in Business’s Ignite Magazine (and got it, yay!) So next year, I’m pumped to contribute even more .

As a sidenote, remember that if you don’t have the time (or mental energy) to get super involved, don’t get down on yourself. There were times when I had to let my blogging goals slide because I was so busy with academics, and if I ever feel overwhelmed in the future, I won’t hesitate to reign myself in.

Don’t drop a course just because you’re not getting great marks

I’m a bit of a hypocrite here. The very first class I went to on my first day at university; I dropped the next day. I had taken French all through high school and I wasn’t prepared for the level of fluency here in Ottawa. Most students admitted to being bilingual, although it was an intermediate class. Here was my reasoning: I had a gut instinct that the class would not only be difficult, but mentally straining. Language classes are a whole other animal in university, and I wasn’t interested in pursing French any further anyways.

On the other hand, my History class was definitely a challenge, but at least my professor taught it in the English language. My first assignment I handed in: 50%. I nearly had a heart attack. After going to his office hours, working my butt off and staying positive, I managed to be recognized as top of the class, and receive a 95% on my final paper. If anyone ever tells you that you receive great marks (or poor marks), based on your intelligence level; they are wrong. I think it’s unfair to chalk up a good grade to “just being smart,” doing well in school is a combination of dedication, determination, and a positive attitude. At least, in my opinion. And with this advice, I learned that even if I didn’t raise my mark anywhere above a 50%, this class was still extremely valuable.

Don’t doubt yourself

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Once I left high school, I realized how little people actually care about you. At least, the people who aren’t a huge part of your life (fortunately, I have an amazing family and group of friends who care about me deeply). Finally, I was surrounded by a more diverse group of people on campus, people who celebrated difference and mostly didn’t give two flying frogs about what other people thought about them. Here were some doubts I got over:

I used to wear makeup every single day in high school (full-face: foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick, etc), and it wasn’t that I cared about what other people thought so much as it was just what I thought I wanted. I truly did enjoy wearing makeup everyday (and still do!) but the transition to university also revealed to me that I enjoy letting my skin breathe or wearing minimal makeup once in a while. I take it day by day.

Sometimes I would feel guilty for the way I would spend my time. I would choose to do work rather than go out sometimes, or I would spend some alone time in order to recharge. I thought that maybe I should be pushing myself to spend my time differently; I realized that I shouldn’t doubt how I live, as long as I’m doing it authentically. University taught me to never doubt doing what brings me happiness and feels right.

Be grateful

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Would this post be complete without the most cliche saying of them all? I’ll keep it short and sweet. I am blessed to attend university (especially one as lovely as this one), and the experiences of first year have shaped me in ways I never expected. I’m so thankful. Here’s to next year (and a kick off to summer vacation!)

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