We all enter university at different times in our lives. For some, enrollment starts as soon as the high school graduation cap hits your head—sometimes even earlier. Some are prepared for the student life (which in itself can mean a variety of things: straight A’s or no Z’s). Students that aren’t legally allowed to drink; others who have danced with the devil for years. Some parents might be a block away, while others live in static-filled phone calls the next time zone over. A few students know exactly what to do and what they accomplish before graduation. For others, like myself, enrollment comes after a break from academia and the oh shit realization that times have changed, and mathematic equations are a distant, foggy memory.
I haven’t had a perfect college experience, and I’m still prone to falling in the same traps that I did in my first year. But if I could go back in time and change anything. . . I totally would. I’d change everything. That’s not to say I’m not proud of the few accomplishments I’ve achieved. I just think I could have done them, and more. And better.
Here are a few things I wish I had paid a bit more attention to in my first (and second) year at VIU.
- Writing Center: They’ll help you articulate an argument (for a thesis, not on why you deserve to hand something in late). They’ll help you with dreaded formatting (APA, Chicago, MLA), with tone, with sources. Heck, they’ll help you with titles.
- Office Hours: specifically, your professors’ office hours. There is nothing (NOTHING) more important than making sure the professors you’ll be spending four years with know your name. Take it from someone who has taken multiple classes with the same professor and has been mistaken for someone else. Go to them. You don’t even need to have a problem or a question. But make sure you go for more than just arguing for a higher grade.
- Student Activity Fee: you’re paying for them. Find out what kind of stuff you can get. Gym memberships, intramurals, hiking, surfing, snorkelling.
- Let go of the expectations. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and the farther away you get the better it’s going to look. I think there is a minuscule piece of me that will look back and say that these were the best years of my life—while knowing full well that I have cried in 3 offices, 2 gardens, and every other night of my first year.
- Put your blinders on. Don’t compare marks, don’t read your friends essays, and for god sake don’t make matching schedules. Be a little selfish. You do you, dude.
- At the same time, get informed about all the ways to become part of the student life on campus. Become a little social butterfly. While you’re here to get an academic education, being part of a team teaches good practices and gives you a strong support system. Join a club, go to a Mariners game, see a show at the campus theatre, attend extra-curricular events.
- Intern! The best course I ever took was an internship program that taught me how to market myself and eventually got me a job. It is so important to get real-world experience onto your resume. And it might be something silly, but just get your foot in the door.
- Reach out to professionals in your industry. Email alumni, go to book launches, meet with professors, ask if you can review projects and research. 99% of the time they’ll want to talk to you. Maybe they’ll have advice for you. Not too long ago they were in your shoes. And maintain those relationships for when you need a job after graduation.
- Don’t force yourself into electives that won’t work for you. I took a few courses that I struggled with, that kept me up all night and took away time I could (and should) have had for other classes. Similarly, shop around your required courses. Examine what methods serve you best. Do you hate writing essays? Find a class that has a project. Fall asleep during lectures? Find an online option. This is your time to find something fun (yes, fun classes exist) and something that excites you. Did you know there are English courses on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars? There are classes on comic books. Seize the opportunity to find something that stimulates you outside of your degree requirements.
- Do your required readings. I promise there is a reason your incredibly intelligent, educated professors assigned it. It’s not because they love the smell of fear in the morning (however, The Nav is unable to deny these accusations at this time). Do the recommended readings too.
- There are 409 stairs at VIU.
Do with this information what you will.