Around this time last year, university acceptance letters were rolling in as high school seniors desperately awaited those nicely packaged envelopes that would reveal their fate. I know because I was one of them.

Each of us has our own personal reasons behind our decision to attend this university. U of T is regarded as one of the most prestigious schools in Canada, attracting many of the most determined and hard-working students, but the competitive and rigorous nature of work here deterred some of my own friends from attending this fine institution.

If these pessimistic associations are true, do they actually hinder student life and life after university? To unravel this mystery, I decided to interview several first-year students with the hopes of dispelling several myths surrounding U of T.

Chris Dryden, a first-year engineering student who lives on campus, confessed: “After the fun of Frosh week was over, I realized how academically intensive U of T is, and the huge commitment that the engineering program entails.” He also noticed that U of T can be socially limiting for commuter students.

In response, Rotman Commerce and commuter student Joe Atkinson-Orlando agreed that getting involved can be difficult for commuter students but suggested that with the right amount of effort, a social life at U of T is possible.

“There are no morning announcements,” said Inayat Singh, who intends to pursue Psychology and Cognitive Science, implying that the onus is on each student to discover opportunities they might find fulfilling.

I would argue that the ambitiousness so evident in U of T students is not perpetuated by the establishment itself, but rather the people surrounding us. Dryden also observed that dedication is the common thread that binds us students together, stating that hard work was not only reflected in our academic pursuits, but also in “various side-projects and initiatives that [students] would work on.”

Although some people may feel pressured to compete with the students who go beyond the typical daily schedule of a university student, simply indulging the idea of developing a competitive edge demonstrates the will to thrive, now and in the future.

Still, the desire to excel in university life makes our lives “incredibly enriched [but] incredibly busy, incredibly exhausted, and incredibly broke,” as prospective Diaspora and Transnational Studies student Maral Attarzadeh put it.

Some students, like Sneha Patel, find the culture at U of T “quite welcoming, diverse and friendly.” Valeria Gonzalez Rios, who has never lived in the same place for more than two years, revealed that although “[U of T] seemed intimidating… I consider it home away from home.”

However, not all students feel the same way. Elizebeth Thorkelson, who intends to study Political Science, said that the University of Toronto still has more to do in terms of creating a safe space for minorities and finding ways to reduce, if not eliminate, the overwhelming number of sexual assaults that take place at fraternities.

In addressing these concerns, U of T might become a more accepting and safe place for everyone.

I also spoke to a recent graduate of U of T for insight into how the competitive university experience described by first-year students might affect our futures in the professional world. Adlai Salcedo, who graduated in 2016, commented that U of T’s competitive nature contributed to his own personal and professional development, rather than directing his energy to the need to “beat someone else” in order to garner success.

“I am always seeking opportunities to enhance my skills and to make a change in the community, majorly to stay marketable in this ever-changing digital economy, but also to create change in our interconnected world. UofT taught me how to self-learn and enjoy the path of lifelong learning. I am therefore very grateful for the opportunities UofT provided me,” said Salcedo.

Accepting our offers to U of T required us to chase the visions we had for our own futures. While it may be tough at times, students can take comfort in knowing that this competitive edge, along with the dedication and hard work required to succeed at this university, is what will lead us to success.

Does U of T live up to its reputation?

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