It was 2016 when I graduated from high school in Burnaby, B.C., and I'd just gotten my acceptance letter from Dalhousie in the mail. I did everything I'm sure you're planning (or hoping) to do: I posted the news on Facebook, wrote a teary goodbye message via Instagram, and had one last get-together with some old friends before my 8-hour flight to the other side of the country. When I told the adults in my life about my university plans, they told me, “Oh Josephine, it’s going to be so different!”
“How different could it be?” I wondered. “Just do your homework and get good grades. Easy.” Well, it was not easy. There are some things I wish I'd done differently in my first year. Take my advice so you'll have an easier go of it than I did..
Office hours are there for YOU
If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to burden other people, no matter what. That was my attitude toward office hours. I never wanted to bother my professors during their office hours because why would they want to be stuck answering my (supposedly) dumb questions? Well, that’s actually the whole point of office hours. Your profs are there to help because they want to see you succeed, and these sessions are when it’s easiest to talk to them. Take advantage of them (even if they're not in person)!
Do your homework consistently
This goes without saying, right? But hey, I breezed through high school and thought I could do the same in university. Cram the night before, ace the test, and move on with an ‘A’ in the class—wrong. I got the biggest vibe check of my life in my first year. It just doesn’t work like that. I don’t want to sound like your parents or anything, but please do your homework consistently. It honestly helps you absorb class material so much more.
Review, preview, review
OK, now I just sound like a bad and lazy student. But really, review the material you covered in class later the same day! It helps keep everything fresh in your brain and solidifies the knowledge you've picked up from attending lectures and taking notes. It also doesn’t hurt to preview future class material to prep for the next lecture. You don’t have to teach yourself, just know enough before you walk through those classroom doors (or log in to the online class). It will give you a chance to think of some questions for your instructor.
Go to social outings
I’m pretty introverted, so I never went out to parties or other social outings in my first year. I was also from the other side of the country, and I didn’t have any friends who followed me to Dal. Let me tell you, I was SO lonely in my first year. I didn’t have friends who shared my interests, and I didn’t have a lot of friends I could rely on. So if my one best friend was busy, I was pretty much alone. For the love of the Dal Tiger, please go out and find some friends. A good way to meet people is through clubs and societies (that way you can meet people with similar goals and/or interests), or through social events put on by Dal After Dark or Residence Life. If you're not on campus (and social distancing makes bigger events impossible), look for small gatherings and virtual opportunities.
You’re responsible for your own time
I think the biggest difference for me was having a schedule that wasn’t so…8am to 3pm. Being able to build my own schedule and do what I wanted without my parents on my back was something new. I'll admit, time management was probably the hardest thing I had to get used to. I found that keeping a planner helped, along with having a wall calendar. Really, I used anything to remind me of how crucial my time was and how much I had to get done in such a short amount of time.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
I’m also the queen of overworking myself to the point of exhaustion and burnout. As someone who never seems to learn from their mistakes, let me tell you from first-hand experience that burnout is very real. This kind of ties in with the time management point above, but make sure you take time to just chill. Block some time off in your busy week for some quality self-care. Your mind and body will thank you when midterms and finals hit. I swear.
Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you should be limited to campus. Get out and go on an adventure! There are so many hidden gems in Halifax and Truro, it’s actually ridiculous. It’s been four years of living here and I still haven’t seen all of the city yet. I highly recommend you take the time to go out and see what this place has to offer, especially if you plan on moving back to your hometown after graduation. Here’s a hint: there’s a lot.
Do university at your own pace
Yes, I know there’s pressure to complete your university education and get that piece of paper in four years. Whether it’s four classes over two terms or 10 classes over the fall, winter and summer semesters, people view the typical undergraduate lifespan as four years. But remember that this is your education. Classes are definitely tougher than they were in high school, and you might also be dealing with other new responsibilities that sap your time. Taking five years to complete a degree is actually quite normal, and some people take longer than that, depending on their situations. Don’t limit your university experience to just four years—there’s so much that this period of life can offer you!
Well, that does it. I hope these tips helped, or at the very least made you realize that you’re not alone. Good luck!