University life: Expectations versus reality

Hey, Marauders! Welcome to the first post of the Mac101 blog series. Over the next two weeks, these daily blogs will highlight some unique perspectives and advice to prepare you for university life at McMaster.

Learn more about Mac101

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

July 10, 2023

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

Each day of Mac101, I’ll focus on different academic areas and share my own experiences navigating university that will hopefully add to your toolkit. My hope is that after reading these blogs and attending the sessions, you feel more prepared for some of the challenges you may face during university life.

Five university realities

It’s natural to have some expectations about what university life is going to be like, and you may be surprised about the inconsistencies. Media portrayal can be inaccurate, for instance, it’s not always going to be a social scene, and other students may not have the same experience as you. Here are five common expectations and realities from my perspective.

You’re going to be meeting a ton of new people, and the reality is that you are not going to form close friendships with every single person you encounter. You may even be temporarily joining friend groups. Figuring out where you fit in can be overwhelming.

It’s important to value the quality of friendships over the quantity of friends. It takes some time and experience to find the right friends. 

Tip: Remember to put yourself out there and try to connect with those around you but do not put too much pressure on yourself if you haven’t found your close friends yet. 

You are paying several thousand dollars in tuition, so why skip class when you are paying a substantial amount of money for them? There are many reasons why students may not attend lectures, but I wouldn’t make skipping them a habit.

Lectures typically tend to be the basis for most of your assessments. They serve as a map for your assignments and exams. Your professor is the one who will be writing your evaluations.

Tip: Many professors make direct references to testable material during classes that are usually not noted in PowerPoints. 

University is all about balance. You will have chances to go out. In fact, doing so will do wonders for your mental health and social circle. What is important is to be strategic when you do decide to go out. 

If going out will interfere with your ability to complete a project or is right before an important test, prioritize your studies and stay in.

Tip: The more you can stay on top of or ahead of your workload, the more freedom you will have to be able to go out and have fun when plans do come up. 

Parties can be fun and can serve as a place to meet people. However, if that is not your scene, there are other opportunities to make friends. My best advice is to attend events that you know you are going to enjoy. The people you meet there will likely enjoy similar things and if you don’t find people to connect with, at least you will have fun.

However, don’t be afraid to try new things. You won’t know if you like something or not until you have given it a couple of chances, so make sure to have an open mind and find as many things you enjoy as possible.

Tip: Check out some awesome clubs you can join on campus! 

Scheduled class time will be drastically different from the seven hours of high school. Don’t be fooled by all the extra time, however, because this is available for you to put in additional studying time to make sure you get through assignments and have a thorough understanding of the concepts you learn that you will later be tested on.

The tradeoff is you are responsible for structuring your time and holding yourself accountable. The best way to minimize stress is to attend all your classes, take good notes and study outside of class.

Tip: If you treat the university school week like the high school week and commit the same number of hours, you will build good habits.

Signing off

I hope you were able to learn more about university life by comparing some expectations versus realities. Remember, your university experience will be unique to you, but I hope this post is helpful in clarifying some of the universal realities of university life.  

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.