A university term of firsts

Hey, Marauders! I want to share some firsts you may experience this upcoming year. Your transition is full of new experiences and I want to help you feel better prepared. I will share my experiences and tips of a few first experiences in university. 

Learn more about Mac101

These blogs are part of Mac101: Introduction to University Life, a collection of events, workshops and more to support your university transition.

July 14, 2023

By: Nabeelah (McMaster Graduate, Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)

Now when I say first friend, I certainly do not mean your first ever friend but the first friendship you may form at university! You’re probably a pro at making friends at this point but the first new friend you make at university is still a milestone that I think warrants some celebration. This person may be your roommate, a floormate or someone you meet during welcome week.

I remember the first new friend I made at university was my roommate, and throughout the year we became very close. We are still very close friends and continue to live together in our student house!

Tip: Putting yourself out there and making friends can be a nerve-racking process but also very rewarding. I suggest putting yourself out there and attending as many orientation events as you can because you’re likely to meet someone you’ll get along with. You never know where you might find a friend.  

The first time you step into a lecture hall may be overwhelming. It certainly is a new environment not like any other high school class you have attended in the past. You may be one of 500 students in the lecture hall, but that’s okay! Everyone is in a similar position, and they are just as anxious to attend their first university lecture.

I remember my first lecture at university was for a chemistry course and I was surprised by the sheer amount of people occupying the lecture hall. You don’t need to be too worried about taking the perfect notes for the first day of class as chances are it will be a syllabus review so take this as an opportunity to accustom yourself to the new environment.

Tip: The first lecture is always the most daunting, but I promise it will become routine after a while.  

Depending on the course you’re taking, these experiences can be massively different. Either way, you will probably be a bit nervous at the start. Often, labs or tutorials can count towards marks, so understandably you may feel more pressure than a normal lecture. It is important however to look past this and fully take in the experience as it will likely end up being some of the most enjoyable and hands-on learning you will get to do. Going into your first lab/tutorial, make sure you know what to expect by reading through your course outline and viewing any introductory material.

I came to my first tutorial prepared, which immediately helped boost my confidence. Lastly remember that the TAs/profs understand that it is the first session of the year and will do their best to ease everyone into things. These sessions are primarily to enrich your learning either through added experiential learning or through extra in-depth explanation/discussion.

Tip: Appreciate these for what they are and hopefully you will enjoy them, especially your first one. 

The first assignment was a very nerve-wracking process for me as I was not too familiar with the professors’ expectations or marking style. It was a big learning curve, and to be honest, I didn’t even really understand what the assignment was truly asking me to do. I was super nervous submitting my first assignment.

Remember that it’s a new environment with new expectations and arguably higher standards, so you’ll have to put in a bit more effort than you may be used to. Use the resources you have available around you. I asked for help from the professor to help complete my first assignment.


  • Plan out how you are going to accomplish your goal.
  • Create action items and deadlines.
  • Measure your progress.

You may be asking, what are office hours? Office hours are times when you can meet your professors or teaching assistants to discuss the material being presented in class or ask any questions you may have about evaluations. You should make the most of office hours as it is a great way to improve your learning and grades and get to know your professor. The first time you attend office hours can be scary because you might be nervous about saying the wrong thing or may be intimidated but remember that professors are just people. They are interested in seeing you succeed.

I was grateful for having the option of going to office hours when midterm season rolled around because the professors were very helpful and provided great clarifications. 

Tip: Have an idea of the questions you want to ask beforehand and try to make it an enjoyable experience. This will be a great way to introduce yourself and will enhance your learning experience.

There is nothing quite like the stress of your first midterm. You’ve probably heard horror stories, you are probably scared to see the difference between university and high school, all these things contribute to test anxiety. Do not stress out too much when it comes to midterms because you will only hurt your performance. If you prepare properly for any midterm, exam, etc., do lots of practice and bolster your understanding of the concepts being tested, you will be successful. Try to separate the actual test from the mystery and fear associated with university tests and remember that your profs will give you the tools and knowledge to succeed if you put in the work.

Tip: Go into your first midterm with confidence that you will ace it and back up that confidence by building your understanding of the concepts you know are being tested. 

University is certainly not easy and when you receive a bad grade, you may blame yourself for not studying harder or be super hard on yourself. However, despite feeling down, it’s important to remember that everyone has received a bad grade at some point in their university career, most likely in their first year seeing that it is a big transition. This experience in no way reflects your capabilities as a student. Take it as a learning experience. Maybe you could’ve spent a little longer studying for that evaluation or maybe you need to find a more effective study strategy.

I was able to establish an effective study schedule after using a bad midterm grade as a wake-up call. I am grateful for this experience as I have been able to become a better student as a result.

Tip: This bad grade can present itself as an opportunity for you to take accountability while recognizing what changes need to be enforced.  

Living away from home can be super tough for anyone, no matter if home is half an hour away or on the other side of the world. In order to manage this, make sure to keep in contact with friends and family. In my first semester, almost every weekend I would commute back to my hometown, Scarborough.

Also, establishing friends and a support system away from home is important. This can be friends from residence, roommates, classmates, club members, even faculty members. In my second semester, I was more comfortable spending weekends on campus as I felt more supported and integrated into the community. 

Tip: I would suggest bringing reminders of what makes you feel comfortable.

Signing off

This term will undoubtedly be one that is full of firsts, and I hope after reading this blog, you have a better idea of what to expect.

Nabeelah student blogger

Nabeelah (she/her) is the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. She has recently graduated from the Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour program here at McMaster University. Outside of school, she loves to play tennis, bake and hang out with friends and family.