As a fourth-year student in the Telfer BCom program, I remember vividly how each year at the University of Ottawa, more specifically at Telfer, was like for me. For most students coming into university, it is hard to picture what to expect in your first year, as university is much different than the scheduled routine of high school, regardless of which town, city, or country you graduated from.
Over the years, I realize I would have benefitted from key knowledge, advice and information in first year, where ambiguity, change, and confusion are typically high. Therefore, I have broken down three key tips in which first-year students may benefit from knowing in advance of starting their university career. I hope you may find them as useful as I would have found this information to be in my first year.
Tip #1: Be Prepared to Adjust your Study Strategy
Your first year is the most ambiguous, as it is usually different for most students. However, the majority of students can attest to feeling shocked, confused, and like they’re trying to relearn how to walk. Most of us have a clear idea of how to study thanks to our high school classes, however, the difference between university and high school is that you have a lot more content to study for your courses at a much faster rate.
Additionally, you will most likely notice that you may have to study differently for each course, or at least for each type of course, or even with various professors. For example, a course that is textbook heavy will require you to read your textbook on a weekly basis, and if you write your textbook notes using your laptop then you may also want to take your lecture notes using a laptop as well, so that you can easily merge your notes making it more efficient to study for exams. In comparison to your more practical courses such as Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting, where you will most likely want to write your notes using pen and paper and instead of weekly textbook readings, you’re doing practice questions using paper as well. Therefore, expect to adjust your note-taking method and studying approach with each course you take. Keep in mind as well that your strategy may be completely different than your friends’, which is completely normal.
Ensure that you figure this out within the first week of new courses, if possible. The sooner you have a strategy for each of your courses, the easier studying for your midterms and finals will be. This may sound straightforward, but this is crucial as you can easily get overwhelmed during midterm season if you haven’t realized this early on; you may be cramming to organize your notes, when you should be studying the material instead. Bottom line: don’t skip “syllabus week”!
Tip #2: Be Aware of the Opportunities Around You
Aside from courses and studying, first year is all about exploring and learning more about yourself. You will be entering a brand new world, where opportunities are offered to you all the time, such as being a member or even a first-year representative for a Telfer club, volunteering with clubs outside of Telfer, getting a job on campus, or attending events and workshops hosted by Telfer’s Student Services such as the Peer Mentorship Office or the Telfer Career Centre.
Don’t be overwhelmed! Depending on the type of person you are, you may want to wait until another year to participate in extracurriculars, or you may want to join as many as you can the day you arrive. There is no wrong strategy, so long as you never limit yourself from exploring new opportunities for too long, whether it’s extracurriculars or simply attending campus events. You will learn rather quickly that Telfer has a lot of opportunities for you, and so in order to make the most out of your university experience by the time you graduate, attending events you’re interested in or engaging in extracurriculars will go a long way for your personal and professional growth.
Tip #3 Negative Stress is NOT Inevitable
It is no secret that university is stressful. Most of us will be taking four or five courses, each taking a lot of time and energy. It can be extremely difficult to maintain a balance between courses, extracurriculars, social life, house chores, cooking/meal prepping, fitness, commuting and everything else in between. It is important to realize that reaching that perfect balance is unrealistic, whether as a student, working adult, parent, etc. Therefore, instead of stressing about being imbalanced, dedicate more time to learning about a routine that works with your lifestyle and priorities. The more you are self-aware, the more likely you will be at a state close to balance (but remember, we will never be perfectly balanced and that is OK!).
Another important point to recognize is that although university is stressful, it doesn’t have to be taxing on your mental and physical health. University is infamous for accepting “stress culture”, where suffering is normal. You do not have to be suffering to be a good university student.
I like to categorize stress as negative stress and positive stress. Positive stress is inevitable, as university is a high-stress, fast-paced and heavy-loaded environment, and experiencing a stress where it pressures you to get work done efficiently, to be organized and make wise decisions about how you spend your time is GOOD. Negative stress, however, is taxing stress, where your mental and physical health are compromised. This type of stress happens when we don’t take corrective measures using our positive stress. Negative stress is NOT inevitable. You can go through university successfully without compromising your physical and mental health. You don’t have to take all-nighters, compromise your social life, or cram for exams to do well.
When we are in first year, we are still learning how to manage our time, to determine what routine works for us, and to become self-aware of our priorities and limits. Therefore, expect to experience stress, however, do not expect to suffer with negative stress. Be patient with yourself, invest in self-awareness, and make the most out of the positive stress you will experience.
When I was in first year, and even second year, I was constantly stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious, as I didn’t know what my study style was, what my priorities were, and how to manage my time. Those are expected reasons to feel overwhelmed when starting university for any student. However, I could have limited my negative stress by being realistic with myself, telling myself that I am still learning about who I am, what my priorities are, and what kind of student I am.
Other reasons that enhanced my stress was not knowing about the above three tips I broke down for you. I didn’t know until too late that I had to create a study strategy for each course within the first week of classes, I didn’t tell myself to not compare my methods and routine to my friends, and I definitely wasn’t aware about the difference between positive and negative stress. Therefore, I hope by reading through these tips that you are more mentally prepared and aware of what to expect and what to do for your first year in university.
Goodluck and don’t hesitate to reach out for additional tips, advice and support from myself, or from Telfer’s Student Services Centre!