Navigating university online as a first-year student

University can be tough, the transition from high-school to university can be overwhelming. Now imagine all that being shifted online. Yes, it seems intimidating, but as a current first-year student who doesn’t know what being on campus feels like, I’ve picked up on a few things that work for me when figuring out this online schooling situation. Rest assured that online school is not as scary as you might think and yes, you can actually make friends even if everything is virtual. 

Take breaks

Being stuck in my room all day can feel isolating. To make up for that, I go for a run or bicycle ride in the morning. On my busier days, I make sure to go for a 10-minute walk to give my eyes a rest from staring at my computer screen. I make time for this right in the morning or during my lunch break. 

View of Markham

Pretend you are attending an in-person class

While your classroom is now probably somewhere in your house, treat each day as if you were going to class in person. The perk here is that you don’t need to wake up early to be on time for 8 a.m. classes however, switching out of your pajamas can make you feel more productive and you’ll be less likely to go back to sleep during the day. 

Everyone’s work-from-home situation looks different, so if you have a desk, set it as your workspace. Make sure it has little to no distractions so that you can focus on school. This helps when trying to have a good balance between school and your personal life. I also recommend getting one of those folding tables so that your desk can be anywhere in the house, especially if you need a change of scenery. 

Student using fold-up table as a desk

Organization is key 

Watch those deadlines! As a Journalism student you’ll hear your professors emphasize almost weekly, the importance of meeting deadlines. I make use of my Ryerson Google Calendar as I can clearly see when I have classes, and I plan accordingly to make time to study, complete assignments and balance my part-time job. I also have two large calendars by my desk so I can glance over and see what assignments, quizzes, etc I have for the coming week and month. 

Two calendars placed above student's desk

Stay connected 

As a first-year, I was freaking about not making any friends. I thought I’d be this lonely student having to figure it out all on my own. Nevertheless, professors were aware we were starting university for the first time, so many incorporated Zoom Breakout Rooms so students could interact with one another. This resulted in making friends in my program and having people to text when I need help or just to catch up about life.

Prior to starting school, I joined the WhyRyerson Facebook accepted group where I connected with other students by joining group chats. It was nice to be a part of these chats as I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous about starting school. 

No matter what, I can confidently say that making friends is possible, and easier, than you think – even when online. Everyone is in the same boat as you, so don’t worry about not making friends because it will happen.


Virtual study sessions 

While meeting friends in-person isn’t always a possibility these days, having FaceTime sessions is a great way to get work done without being by yourself. Losing motivation while being at home is common, but having friends by your side can push you to stay on track, and it’s always nice to chat with someone when you are in need of a break. 

Student waving during virtual FaceTime session


Join the Tri-Mentoring Program 

My final advice is joining the Tri-Mentoring Program. I am skeptical of mentoring programs because I never thought I could benefit from it. Since school was online, I thought it would be worth the shot, and I’m glad I made the choice to join. I was connected with a fourth-year Journalism student and we got to talk about everything! We have monthly chats that are casual, I get to ask her all my questions and she shares her advice. Befriending upper-year students is a major bonus because you can lean on them when you need support or have questions because they have been through it all. 


With all that said, first year has been an interesting experience for me, I didn’t imagine it to be online, but I can confirm that I’m enjoying all my classes, especially my Journalism classes. On the bright side, I don’t have to worry about getting lost on campus when trying to find my classes as classes this year are just a Zoom click away. 


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A photo of Nyashia with her hair in a bun, wearing a pink long sleeve shirt and sitting on a bench