One of the first things I did when I accepted my admission to U of T was go on-line and search for as much relevant information as humanly possible. University publications, I realized, were prone to bias, at least until tuition was paid in full; the only credible sources of info on student life were publications written by students themselves. In this scramble I came upon the online editions of several campus newspapers: The Mike, Salterrae, The Gargoyle, The Howl, The Strand, and The Varsity, as well as UpbeaT and, of course, the magnificent blogUT. I scoured each and every one, trying to get a head start on university-related existential angst by means of learning exactly what it meant to be a U of Ter (is there not a better term for this? At least “Yorkie” is catchy…) and what student life would be like. I learnt a lot from that research and felt more prepared than many of my peers as I headed off to class in September; it was also the last time I did all my reading.
In the interest of altruism and the moral obligation that comes with great wisdom and knowledge,* I have compiled a brief list of things you might start considering as you begin your last summer as a non-college student. That is, unless you flunk your exams and lose your acceptance.
1) You are entitled to a little bit of pride.
Let’s face it: there are worse schools. Much worse schools. Many worse schools. The University of Toronto is a reputable, well-respected institution of which you are now part. You can hold your head a little higher and answer proudly, “I’m going to start studying at U of T” when uninterested-but-polite people ask what you’ll be doing next year. Good for you.
2) You are entitled to only a little bit of pride.
Let’s face it: there are way, way better schools. And you can’t go to them. It’s not like you had to prepare your whole academic life to get here; you didn’t even have to get decent grades for more than two years. “U of T” may hold some weight in Canada, but so do words like “rapeseed” and “twoonie”. If you lifted your head higher after the previous point, tilt it just a few degrees lower now.
3) There isn’t one universal student experience.
…and if there is, I haven’t had it. You’re likely to hear stories, usually secondhand, about how U of T will suck away your social life and replace it with studying and work and books and booking studies and studying books. You might also have heard the more generic story about how university is one continuous American Pie-themed party. Neither of these accounts is quite true, I can assure you, though how much you’d like your time here to resemble either one is up to you. Students take on different course loads, sign up for different amounts of clubs, and are socially active to sometimes vastly varying degrees. How you experience campus life is going to be unique to you and alike no one else.
Unless you’re in engineering.
4) You won’t be the smartest/best or the stupidest/worst.
Last summer, a fellow future student and I toured campus at night to get a sense of where we’d be spending our next four years. As we stopped outside building after building, each seeming to get progressively larger, my anxieties got worse until I finally said “I’m worried I’ll be the stupidest kid in the class”, to which my substantially wiser friend assured me that no, that’s statistically impossible, and anyway you’re very bright. Then I said “I’m worried I won’t be the smartest kid in the class” to which she said nothing, because it went without vocalization that no, I would not be the smartest student in any class. Have you seen my writing? Though it’s rarely helpful to consider one’s self average, always remember that you’re not likely to be the dumbest or brightest person in any given situation.
Unless you’re trying out for quizbowl, in which case, if you’re me, you’re noticeably the stupidest and most ignorant.
5) Go with the flow.
If you truly are like me, at least a small part of your obsession with school-related trivia is that is makes a nice distraction from the anxiety that comes with a whole new situation. Though you can learn a lot and prepare yourself, the best advice is to go with the flow, pay attention, learn from what goes on around you, and take it all in strides. You have a few months and the possibility to grow and change enormously from the time you read this until the time classes start, so I won’t go into specifics of with which flows you should go along. I’ll just leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein:
“I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.”**
Until then, keep reading and learning. To follow (eventually), a more specific list of how to prepare yourself for your freshman year.
*If you’re generous, you’ll read this as at least half sarcastic.
**Then again, he deeply regretted persuading FDR to pursue nuclear weaponry and the lives it cost. Hmm…