Some Really, Really Specific Tips for First-Years

If you’re a new student, you’ve probably seen about a dozen brochures, blog posts, and web pages about how to succeed in your first year. Most of that advice, however, is fairly abstract: “take advantage of opportunities”, “use this as a chance to grow”, etc. The resources that do get concrete tend also to be a little too specific to certain schools or experiences, and you may find yourself taking advice from a web-page intended for new students at the Ahwatukee Foothills Center campus of South Mountain Community College. If you’re being advised by a family member or friend, you may find that they’re outdated – “remember to stand up when the professor enters the classroom” – or too distorted by fond memories – “always take a pen to class. My friend Tim used to have so many pens…” – to be of much use. What you need is concrete, specific advice from someone who’s generally too grumpy to have fond memories and doesn’t know anyone named Tim. What you need is this post.

5 Really, Really Specific Tips for New Students to UofT

Don’t Buy a Textbook Before Your First Class
Remember that scene in Legally Blonde where it’s the first day of law school and the professor asks questions about the assigned reading and Elle is humiliated? Relax. Not only will you not likely have to do any reading before classes start (if you do it’ll be on the Blackboard Portal), you shouldn’t even buy a textbook until the first day of class. You may find that the textbook or reading package is unnecessary; many professors lecture directly the contents of the reading or simply ignore them all together. Check the syllabus carefully and deduce to what extent reading will be required – you may find that all evaluations are based on lecture content. It’s never too late to buy the book, but in most cases it’s impossible to return it. This isn’t exactly the kind of advice one is supposed to be giving bright-eyed students entering their first years of university, but I guess I’m embittered by the $180 I spent on textbooks this past year for classes that didn’t once use them.

It’s also worth noting that most textbooks can be bought for huge discounts: off the top of my head there’s Amazon, TUSBE, and the U.T.S.U Book Exchange.

There Are No Desks in the Humanities
Seriously. This baffled me so intensely my jaw actually dropped a little every time I walked into a classroom I hadn’t seen before. In the vast majority of humanities lecturing theatres/classrooms, there are only chairs with those little moveable platforms on the arms that are smaller than 8.5×11″ sheets of paper. If you are the kind of person who likes to spread your work out over a large space and consult your textbook and notes at the same time, you need to devise a new system ASAP. One of the sounds I so closely relate to my first few weeks of university is a dull thud followed by a poorly-muffled expletive as some poor schlub’s oversized laptop fell off their arm-rest desk.

Social Media is an Amazing Asset
This piece of advice was given to me when I attended a “leadership at UofT” workshop before classes began. Every organization on campus, from Uoft B.E.E.S to Woodsworth College, has a page on either Facebook or Twitter, usually both. They are regularly updated with useful information about programs and events. It was through Twitter that I learned about an opening at blogUT in my freshman year, using an account I opened the night of that leadership seminar. By the next morning I was following almost 30 on-campus organizations, and that number is still growing.

You Don’t Have to Go to Frosh Week
You should know by now that you have no academic or contractual obligation to participate in Frosh Week, but you’re still likely to hear about how important the event is to making friends and people forming life-long bonds. Though Frosh is a great way to meet new people, it is by no means the only one; if you’re in residence you’re going to be meeting swathes in your first few days and if not you have classes and clubs to fix you up socially. The truth is Frosh Week is not for all people, and I suspect most who won’t enjoy it know long beforehand that this is true for them. Just remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, then or at any other time.

You Ought to Go to the Clubs Fair
Though coinciding with Frosh Week, the U.T.S.U Clubs Fair is its own separate, glorious entity. It’s one day in which every major campus club sets up a kiosk on King’s College Circle and looks for new members. You’re likely to pick up a lot of cool swag (grab as many clipboards as possible; see tip #2) but it’s also a terrific opportunity to see what your extra-curricular life could be over the next four years. Clubs ranging from religious to athletic, culinary to academic represent proudly with signs and banners and the occasional cupcake. The best way to play it is to bring a bag and go past every kiosk slowly, taking an info card or brochure or whatever from each of them. Then, when you get home, dump them all out and sort through the ones you’d like to try and the ones you would not.

Memorize Your Student Number; Use Your utoronto.ca Address; Carry Your T-Card
Most people figure this out intuitively but if you’re not one of them you might be in trouble. A University of Toronto student number is needed to sign up for many clubs, correspond officially with administrators and teachers, submit assignments (often), and fill out forms. A utoronto.ca e-mail address is needed to e-mail professors, TAs, and administrators; it is also automatically entered when you sign up for a class. Be aware that announcements and private messages will come only through your official student e-mail address and check it daily. Your T-Card is also the only permissible form of identification on exams and such, and it can carry money to be used in the library on printers and photocopiers. The reason I’ve grouped these points together is simple: you are a part of an institution now and you need to use its tools.

Schedule Your Life
First, decide if you’re a print person or a digital person. If you prefer a hard copy of your schedule, pick up a free UTSU handbook in September; if you’re more of a computer kind of person I strongly recommend Google Calendar. At the beginning of the year you can use your schedule to keep track of social events and workshops. Once classes have begun, sit down with your schedule and go through each class’ syllabus, transcribing every assignment due date, test, and tutorial. As the year goes on you can use it for social events, plans to meet with friends, appointments, etc. If you’re also the kind of person who prefers to be very organized – or hates to be very organized, and therefore needs to be – use it to schedule the times you plan to read, do homework, and study. It may sound ridiculous to schedule something like reading, which can be done anywhere and at any time, but if you don’t pencil it in you might not ever get around to it.

3 Replies to “Some Really, Really Specific Tips for First-Years”

  1. I LOVE this. I’m going into my third year and all of these definitely apply and have applied to me throughout the last three years (I’m a Humanities student, didn’t go to 90% of frosh and love, love, love transcribing course syllabuses into my schedule).

  2. Also, eat good food (there is no excuse for bad food with a Metro on Bloor/Spadina, sushi places everywhere, asian noodles, etc). And GO TO THE GYM! You are paying for TWO gyms, the AC and Hart House, so use them at least once a week. Take free drop-in Bootcamp classes at Hart House and try spinning or squash. It will make a HUGE difference in your quality of life. Also, on October 20th you can register to stair climb the CN tower for charity. Do it. Google it.

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