Starting university can be daunting, especially at a school the size of U of T. But don’t worry, navigating first year and setting yourself up for an amazing undergraduate experience isn’t as hard as it seems — just follow these ten steps to make your life a whole lot easier.
1) Go to office hours: Office hours are so important, whether they are your teaching assistant (TA)’s, or the professor’s. Often all evaluations in first year classes are graded by TAs so it’s best to get to know them and understand what their marking style is like as soon as possible. It’s amazing how much it can help to have your TA actually know your name when it comes to asking for help or advice on assignments or tests. While professors and TAs can seem intimidating, they are often really accommodating. Remember, they are here to help you, so take advantage of every opportunity you can get.
2) Sit at the front of the class: Again, having a professor recognize you can go a long way. Seeing a student take initiative and actively participating in their education can really impress your profs and may grant you some leniency later on if you need an extension or think an assignment was unfairly graded. Since class sizes are so big in first year, it can be tempting to sit at the back and scroll through Facebook all class long, and sitting at the front may just be the deterrent you need to actually pay attention.
3) Go to clubs fair: I stand by the fact that clubs fair day is the most important day of first year. Getting involved on campus, beyond going to class, is much more important than you may imagine, especially if you’re a commuter. It can be really easy to feel isolated at U of T due to its sheer size. Finding a smaller community of like-minded people will make it so much easier to meet new people and make friends, especially if you find the idea of talking to people after class just a bit too daunting. U of T has hundreds of clubs for any interest you can possibly think of, and dozens of them are waiting for you to join them at the clubs fair, so go!
4) Do your research: U of T has a lot of invaluable resources for students, but it often doesn’t do a good job advertising them. Doing a quick search for different resources such as writing, math help, career advice, or scholarships and bursaries can be incredibly useful. The earlier you’re able to find the resources you need, the better prepared you’ll be for the year ahead.
5) Enroll in a seminar: As previously mentioned, U of T is huge, and first year classes especially are huge. If you think the transition from high school to university might be challenging for you, U of T offers a variety of first year seminars through the first year foundations and college one programs that are made to help with this transition and can help you, again, feel a bit less isolated on campus.
6) Take a class on a subject that you’ve never heard of before: When I was in first year I had no idea what sociology was, but after taking a sociology class as an elective, I loved it so much that I decided to major in it. Even if you know exactly what you want to study at university, take a class in something that is foreign to you. Not only can it help you fulfill those breadth requirements, but you may just find a new passion or interest that you’ve never thought of pursuing before.
7) Get off campus: This is very important if you’re living in residence in first year. Toronto has so much to offer and there is always something going on in the city. When you spend every waking hour on campus, it can start to feel a bit suffocating. Take some time off to explore the city and discover new places beyond Sidney Smith and Robarts.
8) Get familiar with the career centre: This is one thing I wish I had done sooner. The career centre is amazing. Whether you know what you’re going to do with your life until you retire or if you’re just taking it day by day, the career centre can help you navigate your degree and get you on the best track towards getting a career you’ll love. They also have real jobs. The work study program is incredibly useful to allow students to get work experience while accommodating their school schedule. They also have a variety of job shadowing programs that can help you discover different career paths you might be interested in.
9) Become best friends with your registrar: The registrar can really save your life. Have an issue about enrolling in a class? Need to drop a class? Need information about scholarships and bursaries? Do you just have no idea what you’re doing with your life? The registrar can help you. Every college registrar has an academic advisor that is there to help you navigate the treacherous waters that are undergrad at U of T. Use them.
10) Go to class and actually do your readings on time: Just do it. It can be so easy to slack off when you don’t have parents or teachers nagging you to go to class and do your homework, but save yourself the mental breakdown when finals are coming and stay on top of your classes and work. You’ll thank yourself later when you can actually get a good night’s sleep before your first exam instead of staying up all night trying to catch up.