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Tips for first year: if you’re afraid, you’re doing it right

Fear Factor ain’t got nothing on being a freshman
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Winter blues hit hard but everyone feels them. Spring is nearly here! SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
Winter blues hit hard but everyone feels them. Spring is nearly here! SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

If you’re entering the University of Toronto as a freshman, there are a few assumptions someone could make about your high school experience: you must have been the right combination of keen, stalwart, and lucky. You must have been a fairly good student in at least one of the many offered subjects. And you must have done something to make yourself stand out from tens of thousands of other applicants.

Maybe your acceptance letter came as a surprise. Possibly it didn’t. Either way, you now find yourself faced with the reality that your right-place-right-time-ness has yielded results. University is starting and everything before it is inconveniently wrapping up.

When I was in that position — suitcase in one hand, acceptance letter in the other, hailing down felicitations — I wasn’t feeling proud, overjoyed, or even relieved below the surface. I could feel the tunnel of well-wishes close up behind me as I was dropped face-first into my future. 

Jesus, I was scared out of my mind.

Seeing welcome materials curtly acknowledge my “apprehension”, my “nerves”, or, if they were feeling particularly brave, my “anxiety”, made something inside me sour. 

The word was fear. Plain and simple.

In one of the best classes I ever took, I would later learn that the words people use to describe things are paramount to the way they feel about them. It’s a shame that few people openly acknowledge that every student arrives at the pearly gates of U of T exhausted, bewildered, and scared out of their minds, because recognizing that fear allows first years to be, despite themselves, a special kind of brave.

University is an investment opportunity in academia. It’s essentially a store that sells you the right set of circumstances to do something with your brain. It’s a tired cliché, don’t get me wrong, but the thing to get from university isn’t the degree.

The second that you step on campus, you will be fighting every inch of your body screaming at you to go back to what you know. This will be true for the first class you attend, and every class after it. However, it gets easier: with every bit of coursework, midterms, socialization, you practically will feel yourself changing.

You might not feel it then, or in the weeks or months that trundle by, but one day you’ll look down at your robe and your diploma, taking pictures at convocation, in a city you’ve grown in and with, and wonder how you ever could have been afraid of that new beginning.

So please have hope. Be afraid. Feel the fear.

You’re braver than you think.

And just to help out with the little things, stick these tips in your back pocket, they might come in handy:

  1. Buy used textbooks from upper-years. You need books, they need cash: it’s practically symbiotic.
  2.  Robarts might be a peacock, but it is a turkey.
  3. Take the walk or bus ride to Staples for school supplies. The Bookstore is lucrative, but you’re better than that.
  4. Go to the gym, if not for fitness, then for distraction.
  5.  Go to a few Varsity Blues games. They’re always cooler than you think they’ll be.
  6. When you get a mark you don’t like, let yourself grieve. It’s a process. 
  7.  If you’re bored of your locale and want to see more of the city, traveling to the other campuses is like stepping into another town altogether.

And with all that being said, consider this a warm welcome class of 2023. Trust me — you got this!