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10 Things I Wish I’d Known In First Year: Advice from Upper Year Students

September 13th, 2017

Welcome to University of Waterloo, first years! As upper-year students, we wanted to share with you the things we know now that we wish we knew then – when we were in first year - that will help you ease into the Waterloo undergraduate groove.
      - Tatiana, Leanna and Xin Niu, Feds Communications Assistants

1. Just because you’ve started in a program, you don’t have to stay in it
Lots of people switch programs after first year or even later, once they realize they’re not passionate about their program or want to do something different with their life. It’s totally normal—don’t worry about “graduating on time” or figuring out exactly what you’re hoping to do after you finish. You do you, boo!

2. You’re not going to like every course
And that's okay. No matter how great your program is, there are always going to be courses you like more than others. For those courses that might require a little more motivation, try focusing on achieving your academic goals.

“In first year, I tried to give the same amount of time to all my courses,” said fourth-year English and Business major Tatiana Morand. “However, I quickly realized that wasn’t always possible, particularly since some of my classes had a lot of group work—you can’t really control how much effort your teammates are putting into the project. Once I stopped worrying so much about enjoying everything I was doing and instead just getting it done to the best of my ability, I felt much less stressed.”

3. Planning ahead is key
Don’t be afraid to look at the entire term and plan ahead. Even if it seems like those deadlines are far away now, they might be here before you know it.

“When I was in first year I was most concerned with deadlines and what would be graded, which lulled me into a false sense of security since September seemed so relaxed,” said second-year English Literature and Rhetoric student Xin Niu Zhang. “Then October hit, I was suddenly swamped, and I had no idea how I let all that work pile up! I've since learned the first month of the term is when you really have to get your act together because those deadlines and midterm dates creep up on you until everything slams you all at once.”

4. Don’t forget to learn some basic life skills
Although university has a ton of choices for classes, there aren’t many course options to learn “How to Adult.” Although it can be hard to learn some of the things that are considered “part of adulthood” if you don’t already know them, it’s a good idea to have a basic grasp on how to budget (so that you’re not stuck eating only ramen) and figure out some basic recipes (also so that you’re not stuck eating only ramen).

5. Start creating a routine
Establishing a routine is important because then you’re more likely to stick to the good habits you want to form. Want to start going to the gym? Figure out what the best time is for you, and add it to an app or to your planner. Know you’re more productive in the morning? Try to study when you wake up rather than before bed.

6. Planners might be your new best friend
Whether you prefer an app or to write in a planner, make sure the tools you’re using are the right ones for you.

"I wish I had known how to use my planner better in previous terms. It's so easy to get overwhelmed with work--I confuse dates and times pretty easily too,” said fourth-year English student Leanna Walsh. “This term I'm working really hard to get my planner and calendars in order so I can have a more balanced schedule rather than doing everything last minute. It's a really hard habit to break and so I wish I'd known how to use my planner wisely in other terms."

Pro tip: grab a free Feds planner from Turnkey desk in the SLC!

7. There are more buildings on campus than the ones you have class in
Although some programs will always have classes in the same buildings, there are other great options for study spots and places to hang out that you might never see if you stick to them. For example, EIT has a mini museum (fancy rocks and dinosaurs!) and EV3 has a gorgeous green wall—but you’d never know unless you explored. So get out there! 

8. Start looking into what you can do with your degree
Do you want to do an exchange? Are you hoping to do co-op? Waterloo offers a lot of different options, but some of them have to be set up or applied for far in advance. By doing some research before going into university or even once you’ve been here for a term or two, you’ll save yourself a lot of potential heartbreak down the line.

9. Remember to take care of yourself
Being stressed is a common part of the undergraduate student life —and acknowledging that is the first step to feeling better about it. Don’t feel bad about taking some time for yourself or learning new ways to manage stress. Sometimes this means taking a nice, hot bath, sometimes it means going out for coffee with friends, and sometimes it means accessing peer support or counseling services. Whatever you do, just remember to take care of yourself first.

10. Don’t be afraid to join new things
Feds offers plenty of clubs (over 300, depending on the term!), services (ranging from the Women’s Centre to Off-Campus Community), and student societies (which are faculty-dependent). With that many options to get involved, there’s something for everyone to try!


Written by Tatiana Morand, Communications Assistant.