U of T’s declassified school survival guide

We’re getting closer to the start of the school year so here are some tricks of the trade to get you started

U of T’s declassified school survival guide

So, you’ve made it to the University of Toronto — congratulations! Whether you’re a native to ‘The Six’ or a newcomer to the big city, U of T welcomes you to an exciting new academic and social frontier. That being said, you’ve just arrived at the country’s largest postsecondary institution, which can be a little intimidating. To help you get settled, here are my top tips to get you through your first semester.

1. Find your crew

Get involved! Transitions are always easier when you join ready-made groups of people that share your interests. Interested in geopolitics? Check out the United Nations Society! Want to get involved in dance? Audition for the Silhouettes Dance Company! Heck, you can even contribute to The Varsity! There are over 1000 clubs at U of T, and Clubs Day makes it easy for you to pick and choose a group that is right for you. Don’t miss your opportunity to explore interests and meet new people during the “Week of Welcome” hosted by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) at King’s College Circle.

If you’re a student at the St. George campus and in the Faculty of Arts & Science, try getting involved in your college. The college system forms smaller communities within this large institution, making it less daunting. Each has its own culture, government, and set of clubs. Why not look into college-specific activities and institutions to help yourself feel more at home in your own little corner of the university? Most colleges boast their own publication; for example  The Gargoyle at University College, and The Strand at Victoria College. And always remember to keep an eye out for events throughout the year and during your college’s orientation week.

2. Explore the city

Take advantage of our location — we are in the biggest city in Canada, and Toronto is bursting at the seams with things to see and do. Each neighbourhood in Toronto has a diverse culture, and with it a wealth of student budget-friendly things to do on weekends and after class. Take a stroll through Kensington Market, check out the Art Gallery of Ontario (free if you’re under 25), or visit the animals at Riverdale Farm. As you discover all that Toronto has to offer, you’ll begin to feel more at home in the city.

3. Study (unfortunately) 

It can’t all be fun and games: you’ve come to an academically-rigorous school, notorious for its high course loads and subsequent unofficial nickname, ‘U of Tears.’ That being said, there are plenty of resources available to help you succeed. For example, take advantage of the aid centres for disciplines like statistics, economics, and philosophy, and check out your college’s writing centre for help with essays. Your registrar is also always there to help, so book an appointment or visit during drop-in hours to sort out your degree planning. Finally, don’t forget that there are 42 libraries to choose from at U of T, so do some sleuthing and find the right one for your studying needs.

With all that Toronto and the university has to offer, first year can be incredible, but it can also be very overwhelming. If you are feeling particularly stressed by school or the transition into first year, check if your college, department, or program offers counseling services, or contact a Distress Centre of Toronto at 416-408-HELP (4357). 

Best of luck and a warm welcome to U of T!

What to do when you’re about to start university

Work smarter… not harder

What to do when you’re about to start university

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.

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

Fear Factor ain’t got nothing on being a freshman

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

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!

Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

This summer, the Arts & Culture section of The Varsity will be exploring how to navigate your first year at U of T

Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

The room was empty, vacant of all objects except for a wooden desk and a bed, both of which were broken — stuck at their hinges for time eternal. It was a nice spring day. Sunlight bathed the walls over my head and brightened my outfit: blue jeans, a blue button-up, and blue pleather shoes matched with a blue jacket.

I scanned the room’s figure one final time. For eight months, I had built up my dorm, covered it in French art, philosophy books, and coordinating sheets. It was home. But as May 1 came and went, so would my access to the building.

When I moved into residence, university was unknown. Although scared of being alone and innocent, I was anxious for a new start, and it seemed as if there was a bounty of opportunities for one. I diligently chose coffee cups, slaved over course selection, and awaited move-in day like a horse before a race. Facts could not yet impede my imagination which told me that there was perfection ahead.

From existence comes expectations of essence. Humans like to envision a world where ideals are attainable. We live in one moment, yet look forward to the next in order to create the ‘good life.’ Thus, when expectations of university are not met, students can become forlorn and feel obliged to live amongst the debris of our dreams. Or that’s what happened to me, at least. I had to tackle feelings of disappointment after the school year ended.  

I found myself looking out the window of my kitchen. The house felt stiff. Its red bricks weathered by the hot summers and long winters. I saw straight green trees, black planters, blue spruces, and baby grass. And I thought that this had always been the way — the trees, the house, the pool — nothing had changed, but something was missing. I wasn’t a new person.  

It’s from there that I had to look into myself, and truly distinguish that which I desired and that which I am.  

At the AGO, there is a piece comprising of five white canvases taped onto the back of a cardboard-like material. Its description is “finding the artist’s presence in absence.” The idea that deficiency isn’t negative strikes me quite well, and it’s important for incoming first years in my experience.

In the time ahead, you are going to hold preconceived notions about what university life is supposed to be like. These ideas are never going to conform with what your reality presents, so find presence in their absence. Learn to carve meaning from every moment, whether it’s ideal or not. Releasing the notion of ‘what I desire to be’ is a process, but it’s helping me to recognize all the good around me. I’m letting myself grow in between the broken pieces of my expectations — to feel bliss, and not disappointment. If you can accept that there is nothing controllable or definitive in your existence, the year will be great.