After two and a half hours of helping an ickle EngSci froshie with choosing her electives, it finally dawned on me that I was actually in fourth year. Not that it really means anything superbly important for that matter (except for maybe that I should start figuring out what I should do once I graduate) but for now, being in fourth year means that I’ve left high school behind a long, long time ago. Looking back, I’ve realized that most of high school was a waste of time and that instead of calculus and career studies, they should’ve taught us the following in order to prepare us for university:
1. The art of BS – because part marks are your best friends
Whether you’re an arts student or a science student with an arts elective, learning to write as if you know everything without knowing anything at all is a crucial skill. If you’re already a master of BS, take it to the next level and learn to coherently word vomit – in other words, having the ability to write coherent paragraphs/essays by spitting every single detail you’ve learned in class because you’ve completely blanked out on a question.
2. Knowing how to slack off in a smart way
Face it, sometimes, it is actually impossible to get all those readings done. Now, I’m not telling you to go procrastinating and slack off all the time, but even the best of students find themselves buried in a pile of readings that just can’t be done. There are some classes where lectures won’t be worth going to (trust me, all of you will have a class like this) or readings that have absolutely no value to your exams and essays. Instead of just plain skipping these classes or readings, try organizing a study group that takes turns taking notes for class or readings. Read the notes before tutorials/exams/whenever. In first and second year, doing your readings for tutorials are a big part of your marks so if you’re really pressed for time and haven’t read this week’s readings, read (or at least skim) the introduction and conclusion of your readings. They should give you a rough outline of what it’s all about.
3. Learning to be nocturnal… and go to class in the morning
Sleep? What’s that? Now, if you’re done asking me stupid questions, I’d like to get my coffee.
4. How to get delicious free/cheap food and drink
Face it, the best meals of the year in res are for frosh during frosh week to butter them up. Most of the time, you’re stuck with sketchy soup, days old fruit salad and reused meat. Going to club events are a great way of getting new food. In fact, many club events feature catering just as a way to attract students. So, if you’re stuck on what club to join, I suggest you look up the student union for the PoSts you’ll be joining and keep an eye out for their events.
Also, there should be articles throughout the year on blogUT on where to get food around campus.
5. How to talk to professors and TAs
I know, talking to your professor or TA can be just about the most intimidating thing ever. However, I’ve heard it straight from the mouths of many TAs and professors that they actually want you to talk to them. Many of them find themselves with nothing to do during office hours because nobody goes to see them and they welcome that eager student with whom they can chat with. So the lesson of the day? Don’t be shy about going to see your prof or TA, they’ll appreciate it. Just go into their office with a general question or topic of discussion and it’ll show that you’re genuinely interested in the class and you’ll stand out in a good way. This will also make things easier when you go in and ask for reference letters when you’re applying for grad school.
6. How to write university level essays
In high school, the general expectations for essays are really, really, REALLY low. I remember getting an essay back in grade 10 with a grade of 90 and a comment that said, “You have a weak thesis but you have wonderful supporting arguments!” What!? No wonder I was so panicked about my first essay in university. The bottom line is, no 5 paragraph essays are allowed at university. I learned that immediately and absolutely thankful. If you know anything about the structure of a paragraph, you will know that it makes absolutely no sense to write a 5 paragraph essay. Even if you did know that, writing your first essays can be tough, so I recommend that you go to your college’s writing centres. Be sure to book your appointment early as time slots fill up really fast during essay season. If you’re a member of Trinity College, you can take advantage of their Academic Don and Peer Counsellor programs.
7. Learning about the university’s city is an important part of your university experience
I’ve met so many people who have been so focused on school that they barely know anything about Toronto. So rather than sitting in your residence all day, take a walk to clear the mind and explore a bit. Even though I’m a longtime resident of the city, I keep finding surprises all around the city each year. Just think of it as if you’re on an exchange. You definitely want to see what’s out there before you leave and Toronto is definitely not a boring city. Make friends with a longtime resident is you’re new and vice-verse and explore!
8. How to not burn yourself out
Despite all of these high expectations from your professors and yourself, you have to realize that you are human. There are weekends when you feel like not doing anything and that’s perfectly okay. Everyone (or almost everyone) has weekends like that. The only thing is, time management is key. Make a mental note (or write it down) of what you need to do and when you’ll do it instead. Feeling burnt out in the middle of the year is not an ideal situation.
For essays: if you’re having a really tough time meeting the due date, try asking for an extension. (Just make sure that it’s an absolute emergency that will likely not happen again.) Most profs will understand if you explain your situation to them but if they can’t give you that extension, see if you’re willing to take the grade deductions for handing a paper late. Sometimes it’s better to hand in a paper that is well-written and thought-out late than a rushed paper.
If you’re up to it, taking a summer school class can help lighten your course load for the following school year. (Not to mention that summer courses tend to be easier.) I would suggest taking 2 half courses in one semester so you don’t ruin your entire summer but to each their own. Also, a summer abroad will not only lighten your course load, but you get to go to a foreign country and learn! Woodsworth College summer abroad programs are wonderful because you travel in a group (so there’s less stress in terms of travel arrangements and safety) and they handle all of the paperwork for transfer credits. (No, you don’t have to be part of Woodsworth to participate.) However, if these programs aren’t right for you and your degree, U of T is awesome in that it has tons and tons of exchange partners all around the world. Just go take a look at the ISXO website and check it out! (Just a note that you can also do a full year exchange if you want.)
9. Where to make friends
When you get to university, you realize that some of your high school friends were only your friends because they were always around in your classes and whatnot. However, in university, if you made a friend somewhere, you might only see them once a week if you’re in the same classes or never again if they aren’t in the same program. If you really want to be friends, you have to make that extra effort to meet up after class and when you do, that’s when you make those friends who will last a lifetime.
Although frosh week is over, I would say that going to frosh week is one step towards creating lifelong friendships. For some of you, you made a conscious decision as to which college or program you wanted to be in and in doing so, you picked a specific environment that you thought suited you best. If you hate your college or if you missed frosh week, try joining a club or going to a special event. People there will probably have similar interests as you.
10. What you get from university is up to you
The truth of the matter is, you can learn everything you learn at university at home if you had the books and the time. The only difference is, university will give you that piece of paper saying you spent a bunch of time and money reading and writing essays and exams. In the end, your university experience depends solely on you. With your student I.D. and courses, you can go up to the leading experts in a certain field and learn more than what you read in the textbook. You can do all the things you might never be able to do again like be in a musical or organize a charity event. The only fear you should have in university is having regrets when you graduate.