This year will be different, but it can still be great

Your first year isn't going to be the same as mine, but that doesn't mean it won't be just as good. And you can wear this year like a badge of honour.

Henry Hicks building Photo: Natalie Mike

At this time of year three years ago, I spent nearly every waking moment with a confusing mix of excitement and nervousness turning the butterflies in my stomach into knots and back endlessly. The uncertainty that you feel the summer before going into first year is as much a part of the university experience as buying your first Dal sweatshirt or figuring out the perfect place to sit in the McCain auditorium.

For the new incoming first years, though, I imagine that this summer is tinged with a different kind of uncertainty. Not only are you about to enter an entirely new chapter of your life, you’re entering it under circumstances that no one, not one person, has ever experienced their first year before: online classes, limited capacity residences and, oh yeah, a pandemic. The first-year experience is always one of exploration and new experiences, but this is something altogether. So that nervousness you’re feeling? Yeah, I’d say that that’s a valid feeling.


Take my advice

Despite this upcoming semester looking almost nothing like my first semester at Dal, I can with certainty (and a little bit of embarrassment) say that I made more than my fair share of mistakes in first year, and as a result, have accumulated a wealth of advice to offer you to make your first year the best it can possibly be, even in the current circumstances.

The social aspect of university is, for many, one of the most exciting parts of the transition into the new chapter of your life. One of the major appeals of going away to school is meeting new friends and living on your own for the first time. For many of you, though, excitement quickly turned to disappointment as you learned that not only O-Week but all classes would be held online, and that not all of you would be able to live in residence as you had hoped. Fear not, though! There are still plenty of ways to make new friends in school—you just may not see them in person for a few months.

When I was in first year, Facebook groups and Instagram accounts popped up for incoming students to introduce themselves to their new classmates. Take part in them! Even if you don’t want to post your own picture, don’t be afraid to message someone who appears to have common interests or who you think you’d get along with. Lots of people I know met people who are their best friends to this day through first-year groups. Societies and clubs are another great way to meet new people with similar interests. While it’s uncertain as to whether societies will be holding in-person meetings as they regularly do, you’ll be able to join and participate no matter what!


Find your passion

Believe it or not, academics make up a large part of your university experience, too. Again, classes will be different than ever before, but one piece of advice that I give everyone, regardless of their age, holds true: take classes that interest you. It’s a million times easier (that statistic may need to be fact-checked) to get yourself to do an assignment or a reading when you actually want to engage with the information.

The beautiful thing about university is that there is a class for literally anything—from the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll to Animation to Witchcraft, you’ll be able to find a class you like (providing your program allows for electives). With that in mind, you may find that you don’t have any room in your program to take the classes you find interesting. If that’s the case, that particular program might not be for you. Don’t be afraid to change your major or even your program if you’re not feeling it—you may end up having to take a summer course or an extra semester, but ultimately the extra work is worth it if you’re studying something that makes you happy.


Online doesn’t have to mean remote

While online classes may not seem like the ideal situation for your debut into university learning, there are tons of things that helped me when I was in first year that still hold true. Make a study group! Though you may not be able to get together and pull long nights in residence common rooms the way I did, several brains are almost always better than one—especially when you’re all experiencing university classes for the first time. Ask around to see who’s in your classes and schedule Zoom calls to go over notes or assignments. Having a study group is the perfect way to make sure you didn’t miss any information (some professors talk FAST), that you always have someone to proofread your essays, and to make new friends!

While this time before starting first year feels nothing but uncertain, one thing is for sure: this school year will be unlike any other. Instead of mourning the loss of the typical university experience you’ve been expecting, look at it this way: you’re pioneers! You’re embarking on a first-year journey that no one’s ever been on and no one may ever go on again.

This is as good a time as any to explore and experiment, even if it needs to be from the comfort of your self-isolation bubble. While it’s impossible to foresee exactly what the school year ahead will bring for us all, I hope that some of my advice can help everything run a little more smoothly, so that you’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as campus opens back up.