What I Wish I Knew In First Year: Reflections From a Fourth Year Student

It feels like just yesterday I was leaving Waterloo, Ontario to head to the big city and start my university career in Toronto. However, at the same time, the move feels like a lifetime ago as I’ve learned so much since I was in my first year. Mistakes are important to grow, but maybe if I share some of my learnings you can avoid some of the things I would’ve done differently in my first year.

I wish I knew:

1. About campus job opportunities

In my first year, I worked off-campus in a retail position near the CF Toronto Eaton Centre. Although this job did help me develop sales skills and an income while in school, it was hard to manage as the company wasn’t very accommodating to student schedules. It was hard to get time off near exams and holidays, and sometimes they required me to work more hours in a week than I had time for. Luckily, in my second year, I discovered the beauty of on-campus jobs. Working on campus has allowed me to develop relevant career skills and tuition money, but the positions are also flexible and operate around my school schedule. I never have to stress about having time off to study for exams or go home to see my family during the holidays. A bonus is that campus jobs look great on a resume!

2. A bad grade isn’t the end of the world

Most university students receive a grade they are unhappy with during their education. The course content moves at a faster pace in university than high-school, and it can be a lot to adjust to. The mark may lead to a lower course grade than what was hoped for, but luckily, employers typically just look at the cumulative grade point average (CGPA). This means that they are looking at the average of all course marks together. So, a high mark you might have got in your sociology elective will balance out your less than great economics mark. The best part is that as your university career goes on, more courses are added to your CGPA, and that tiny grade has less and less effect on your overall average. The best thing you can do when you receive a bad grade is to shrug it off, and look at it as something to motivate you to do better in your other classes!

3. Not all courses can be used in minors

When I started university I thought that if I took any sociology course from the Liberal Table, that any of those courses could be used towards a minor. It wasn’t until my second year that I found out only courses from the Sociology Minor Table could be used for a sociology minor. Most classes from my liberal table were also in the minor table, but some were not in both. For example, I took Pop Culture as a liberal, which can not be used towards the minor. Minors aren’t for everyone, but if you are considering a minor, look at the minor table early on in your university career so you know what is possible!

4. About hidden study spots

If you’re like me, studying in the same spot can often get boring and you may often switch up your location. Ryerson is in the centre of downtown, so at times (usually exam season) it can be a challenge to find a good study spot. However, as a seasoned fourth year, I can tell you, there are always still empty spots – you just have to know where to find them! The best ones, in my opinion, are the comfy coffee shops near campus. My favourites include the Aroma on Bay Street, the Starbucks on Queen Street, Page One, and the Bluestone Lane on Queen Street. Beyond coffee shops, on campus, the library usually has more empty study spots than the Student Learning Centre, and small study spaces in buildings like the Image Arts Centre can be perfect for a shift in environment.

5. Making time for the gym is important

In my first year, I was adapting to so many new changes that sometimes it was easy to forget about things like my health. I loved that at no extra cost I had access to two Ryerson gyms: The Recreation and Athletic Centre and the Mattamy Athletic Centre, but I wasn’t making time in my schedule to go regularly. I treated it as something extra I would do when I had extra time a few occasions a month. Since realizing that my health is something I need to make time for, I have left certain areas empty in my schedule to go to the gym four to five times a week. This has had a positive impact on my mental and physical health, and I would recommend doing this to any incoming first years.

6. All-nighters don’t work

The best-case scenario is to always be prepared for exams ahead of time and not leave the majority of your studying for the last minute. However, the transition can be a bit rough in the first year of university, and sometimes you might not realize all of the studying involved for an exam until the last minute. This isn’t an ideal situation, but if you do ever find yourself in this situation, my advice is to be strategic.

Let’s say you’re already tired from studying for the exam you just finished, and now you have another exam in 16 hours. Your options are: stay up all night and go over as much course content as possible (probably all of it) or study the topics you feel will cover a larger portion of the exam and aim to get five to seven hours of sleep.

In my first year, I tried option one for a macroeconomics exam, and by the time the exam came around I was so tired, I couldn’t even process the exam questions. I ended up being lucky, and I still passed the class, but after that, I swore to myself I would never put myself through that again. Today, I’m a lot better at staying ahead, and I haven’t had to choose between these options recently, but I do always ensure I have at least five hours of sleep in me before an exam, as I know I can’t function otherwise.

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