Whether it’s maintaining a 4.0 GPA, becoming the life of the party, or reinventing yourself completely, we all have huge expectations for university. For me, it was all of them, and suffice it to say, I failed. But, in an effort not to let my mistakes go completely unrewarded, I’ve reflected on all the reasons why my first year was (to put it simply) a complete and utter mess, and have compiled them here for you, reader, so that with any luck your first-year experience can really be as great as you’re expecting it to be.
You are where you live
For me, and for a lot of incoming students, first year is a great opportunity to try on a new identity. There’s nothing quite like a completely blank slate to reinvent the person you were boxed into being in high school. At least that’s the idea. Which is why it was a particularly odd choice to choose the residence in which everyone from my high school who came to Dal (and there were a lot of us) were also living. Not only that, but I roomed with one of my best friends from high school, with two other best friends just down the hall.
"Don't get me wrong, first year can be terrifying, and the thought of meeting all new people is daunting—but try not to let that fear seduce you into not branching out at all."
Because I already had friends all around me, I never felt the need to go out of my way to meet new people or seek new experiences and I ended up keeping myself boxed into the high school persona that I was looking to reinvent.
My advice: if you’re nervous about being completely on your own in first year, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having old friends around to support you and ease your transition. With that said, take some classes on your own, join a club or society, or knock on the doors of the people you don’t know yet. If your res experience is, as mine was, essentially a glorified high school field trip, you still have plenty of opportunities to branch out and grow and you should take them!
On the topic of res, let’s talk partying. I’m about to sound like a nagging mom, but it needs to be said: take it easy. It’s no secret that party culture is, for some, a bigger draw for university than academics are, and I’m not trying to suggest that all residences should operate more like convent. But guys, you need to calm down. It’s not a nightclub.
"While it may be tempting to drink five nights a week, especially when there are no parents around, I can say from personal experience that this is a bad idea."
You will get burnt out, your mental and physical health will suffer, and you will end up doing something stupid and embarrassing. I’m not saying that having fun isn’t an important part of university, but if you find yourself punching a hole in the wall five nights a week, or even once, it’s time to take it down a notch.
Explore your surroundings (and food choices)
While res is a great way to meet people, get acclimatized to living on your own, and get used to campus life. There’s a whole city to explore off campus! When I was in first year, I didn’t see Halifax Harbour until February, and the first time I ate at a restaurant other than Coburg Social (a block away from my residence) was in April, the night before I left for summer break. Holing yourself up on campus will, without a doubt, make your experience at university more miserable. If you want to exclusively eat meal hall pizza, that’s your prerogative. But there’s a ton to explore, and you’d be missing out if you limited your experience by only staying on campus.
While we’re on the topic of meal hall pizza, let’s talk about the Freshman 15. It’s real, and denial will not save you. While weight gain is natural, and isn’t necessarily a problem, throwing any knowledge of proper nutrition out the window for an entire year most definitely is. Almost every night that I lived in residence I ate not only my dinner, but a second dinner which was almost always a slice of pizza and/or fries, just because they were there.
"Believe it or not, your residence meal hall doesn't exist in a vacuum where pizza, ice cream, and fries suddenly count as healthy food."
Part of the responsibility required to live on your own in university is learning to take care of yourself. I’d be a hypocrite if I told you not to eat the pizza, but maybe consider a vegetable once in a while.
Looking back, it’s easy to see all the places I messed up in first year and to say that I’d be better off if I hadn’t—but there’s also something to be said for making mistakes. One of the best ways to learn is the hard way, and unpleasant as it can be, learning from our mistakes and growing from them is an essential aspect of growing up.
So, while I think you should take my advice, it’s not the end of the world if you ever feel like you’ve messed up. We all have expectations of who we’ll become in university, but sometimes it just doesn’t turn out that way. And the best way to overcome our setbacks is to adapt and learn, and in the end, the result could be better than you ever imagined.
Except for punching a hole in the wall. You should just avoid making that mistake altogether.