Dear first-year me
By: Manveetha Muddaluru
I was recently looking at pictures from when I attended the Horizons Leadership Conference in 2014 and was reminiscing about my first-year in university. I remember writing a letter to myself before I had started my undergrad during the conference in which I gave myself some advice for the next couple of years. Since I’ll be starting my final year at university next week, I thought it would be fun to write a letter about all the advice I would give my first-year self after having experienced it all. Here it goes!
Dear first-year me,
Right now you’re overwhelmed by all the changes happening in your life and that is completely normal. You just moved to a new city where you know no one and you are about to embark on what’s probably the hardest chapter in your life so far. The next few years of your life will be very exciting, filled with new experiences and meeting new people, but they will also present some challenges that you’ll have to overcome. So, here are a few life lessons you’ll learn during your undergrad at Mac.
- The first and the hardest thing you will learn is that failure is completely okay. In your first year, you’ll fail more assignments and midterms (and exams) than you ever thought you would and you’ll barely pass some courses. Failing something in first-year doesn’t determine the outcome of the rest of your undergrad and it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong at university. Take this as a learning opportunity to figure out what went wrong and/or reflect on what you can do differently next time. Do you need extra help in understanding some concepts? Do you need to change the way in which you’re studying for the tests or taking notes in lectures? Or if it’s because you are having a hard time transitioning to life at university and managing your time, know that this is normal!
- This brings me to my next point, ask for help when you need it! All those nights you’ll end up crying in the first term, especially during exam season, can all be avoided if you visit your profs and TAs’ office hours. Also, there is no shame in getting a tutor! Asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re any less worthy of being in your program. It is better to ask for help or clarification rather than waiting until the last minute and stressing out.
- This is really something you should have dealt with in high school, but DO NOT PROCRASTINATE! Please, just don’t do it. You will think that waiting until the last minute will be a more efficient way to finish an assignment or study for a midterm and/or exam because it will force you to focus, but in reality, it will only lead to a cycle that you will never be able to escape. Professor Clements from Math 1LS3 was right. Procrastination, especially in the first month of the term, will lead to a snowball effect wherein the things you procrastinate on will slowly pile up and by the end of the term and you’ll be running from the avalanche of things still left to check off on your to-do list. The stakes are much higher now than they were in high school and doing this will cost you a lot more than just sleep in university.
- Go to lectures! You know your own learning style best and just because your friends can get away with it and still do well in their courses doesn’t mean that you also can. You will fall behind in your courses and it will be really difficult to get caught up, so do yourself a favour and go to all your lectures.
- Yes, “bird” (easy elective) courses are great for your GPA, but you’re still paying to take them, so please take courses with content that you have some interest in. Also, “bird” courses for some might be very hard courses for others, so here’s another reason to take electives that you are actually interested in!
- Taking a fifth-year is completely alright. Your parents will be unhappy with your decision at first, but you’re better off taking the extra time to figure out what you’re interested in and learning what you truly enjoy (especially when you’re paying over $7000 for tuition each year), rather than graduating with a degree that is completely irrelevant to your future career path. Take courses that you really want to learn more about, and your grades and future self will thank you. Trust me on this!
- Although there are thousands of people on campus, there will be times when you’re walking from class to class and feel lonely, like you don’t belong or don’t have anyone to confide in, but please remember that it will take some time to meet people who you will truly connect with. You will end up meeting some of your best friends in the most random situations, so put yourself out of your comfort zone, be open-minded, and make the effort to hang out with new friends to build lasting friendships.
- Remember to put yourself first! Although this is a cliched statement, no matter how hard it is for you to say no, you will start to understand how important it is to value yourself and your own time and to not prioritize people or things that don’t respect you or your time. Most importantly, do not let people take advantage of you. This is something you’ve struggled with since you were younger, but pleasing others and compromising your own happiness will only cause you more stress, and you really don’t need any more of that in your life.
- And on that note, remember to take care of yourself! Take some time out of your day, no matter how busy you are to focus on yourself, whether that is hanging out with friends, going out for a walk, or exercising. At the end of the day, your grades are not the be-all-end-all. Your mental and physical health matter more than what’s on your transcript. In return for the time you spend taking care of yourself, you’ll be rewarded with learning how to manage and balance your time and priorities, as well as finding a way to maintain a social life away from the stress of university.
- When you finally get your first job, make sure you start saving money rather than doing more online shopping! Make a budget and you will thank yourself a few years later when you realize that your dream of travelling after university could come true if you have saved up earlier on.
- You don’t have to find a job or volunteer position in the exact industry/field you want to pursue a career path in, especially when you realize that you don’t exactly know what your passions are (and trust me there will come a time when you won’t know). Finding work in things that seem interesting to you is a perfect way to and you will realize some of your passions along the way! There is always something to be learned from any work or volunteer opportunity, whether its something you love to do or something you definitely don’t want to do in your future career path.
- You will find your happy place. With all the changes happening in your life, you will feel a little lost in your first year, but just know that with a little patience and perseverance you will find a way to help other students and be involved in the community in the way that you want to. Take the initiative to find out the different services available in your first year. Not only will you thank yourself when you need to use the services for any help, but also when you’re looking to get more involved on campus in upper years.
- You don’t have to have your future planned or know the exact answer to the question, “What do you want to do after you graduate?” in first year. You were valedictorian of your class in high school, but the harsh truth is that no matter how hard you worked or how well you did in high school, the transition to university won’t be easy for you. It will take you over three years once you start your undergrad to finally switch into a program you actually enjoy and during this process, all the dreams you had back when you were in high school will be challenged. Who you are as a person and your interests will change as you start to learn more about yourself in university and it is inevitable that your goals for the future will also change accordingly. Just because you didn’t succeed on the goals you set for yourself when you were 13 doesn’t mean that you failed, although at moments it may feel like it. Your undergrad will be a journey with many ups and downs and every year will present a new challenge, but you will become more resilient to adversity because of it! Even when you think you’ve figured everything out in later years, things will throw you off of your course in life. These might seem like setbacks, but know that something better will come along unexpectedly, so be open to new opportunities!
But most of all, thank you for sticking through all the academic, career, and personal hardships. Your ability to persevere, which you don’t know you have, is definitely something to be proud of. You will achieve great things in your undergrad even if those achievements seem small at the moment. When you look back, you’ll realize that the person you’ll have grown into by your final year is all because of you!
For now, enjoy your welcome week and take the time to explore the beautiful campus that you’ll get to call your home away from home for the next few years!
Manveetha Muddaluru blogged about her student experience for the Student Success Centre from 2018 to 2019.