Assuming I couldn’t accidentally cause some sort of butterfly effect that would prevent me being born, I wish I could travel back in time and tell my Freshman Self a few things about university. Considering I’ve already forgotten the answers to every exam, this is what I’d tell the younger me.
1) Plan ahead. WAY ahead.
It happens to every semester. Searching through the course calendar, I find the perfect class. It sounds interesting, it fits perfectly into my schedule and it fulfills my upper-year science requirement. The prof has checks out on RateMyProfessors and the course has a high score on Bird Courses. But I don’t have one of the prerequisites! If I’d been smart enough to plan, I would have that first year zoology credit that’s mandatory for nearly everything. Instead, I’m stuck with Phytochemical Biosystems.
2) You’re richer than you think.
Or at least, you’re less broke than you think. There are plenty of ways to get money beyond student loans—scholarships, bursaries, and work study programs that not only get you some cash, but also valuable work experience. The Ontario Work Study Program is one example. If you’re receiving student loans, then you’re probably eligible. Also be sure to check out the Maclean’s Scholarship finder.
3) It’s going to get easier.
The first year is the worst year. It’s sort of like the first 20 minutes of the movie Inception, when you have no idea what the hell is going on. But if you hang in there, things will start making sense. You’ll realize that university isn’t impossibly more difficult than high school. In fact, once you’ve acclimatized, it’s easier in some ways. And it’s only gets better. Once some of those nasty prerequisites are out of the way, you can take courses that truly interest you. My interests happen to coincide with those listed on Bird Courses.
4) It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.
As a seasoned procrastinator, I can say with experience and authority that procrastination is not a good idea. Especially when you leave multiple things to the last minute. Here’s what I finally realized: there comes a point where writing an essay is less difficult than NOT writing an essay. After you’ve checked your email, looked at your Facebook notifications, watched a bunch of mindless videos on YouTube and then read some random Wikipedia articles, procrastinating actually becomes more difficult than finishing your work. A better option? Keep those pages closed.
Scott Dobson-Mitchell studies at the University of Waterloo. Follow @ScottyDobson on Twitter.