Letter to First-Years Entering University

*I lived off-campus in my first-year, so my experience may differ from yours*

Congratulations. You’re finally finished four years of high school and either you ran across the finish line (of exams), or (if you’re anything like me) you painfully crawled your way barely passed the finish line and declared it to be vacation before the school authorities could object to your freshly printed grades. (I still made it into Waterloo, just for reference). Anyways, allow your parents to give you a pat on the back for gruelling through the past weeks of exams and realize that this summer may be your last one off before you start your journey in university, where you realize that nothing is, what is seems (cue Wizards of Waverly Place). Here are some things to expect upon entry to university, things to be lookin’ out for.

I’m sure some of you have heard the expression “university is a different ball-game than high school,” and for those of you who haven’t yet, you probably get its meaning. As an arbus student going into her second year of university, there was a lot that I took from my first year; so many lessons I wish someone told me before starting my first year. Firstly, university is a learning experience. Be prepared to absorb a baseball field of information, surprising experiences, shocking first-time grades (I dropped nearly 20% in my first round of midterms), but still have the best time of your life for the next four years! You’re going to be tossed into an academic environment full of life lessons, “real world” culture experiences and do things that your high school self may  – or may not – be proud of. (Trust me, it happens.) However you go through university, there will be both times you declare to be the best moments in life, and times when you think you’re at rock bottom and life couldn’t get any worse. That’s the university experience, and I wish everyone the best of luck in your university career.

First off, Imma start with academics, because we all came here to get good grades and graduate with a degree amiright? Most people coming into Waterloo have a solid 90 average, and have rarely gotten poor grades – which you guys will more likely than not experience in your first term in university. I know it’s gonna be a bit of a blow to your self-esteem, but I can only say that getting bad grades are part of the transitional process you go through during the start of university. Unfortunately Ontario schools do a lot of grade inflation, so you are rudely awakened to what your “real” grade should be in university (that rhymes).

One of the major factors in determining how smoothly you transition is probably how quickly you can learn to study efficiently. The major difference between high school and university is that 95% of the learning material given to you in high school is in hard copy, whereas in university, most of it is online (powerpoints/pdfs), depending on your class. It is important for you to quickly find the best way to take notes, so you catch on to the learning material. For the first month, I tried to find as much time to study as possible, but that turned out to be rather inefficient and tedious. I would spend all the time I wasn’t using to eat and sleep to take notes and complete all my readings, but that was taking a toll on my physical health and my energy. After a few weeks, I ended up giving up and just focusing on lecture material, which made studying more efficient, and my grades went up too. Don’t forget to go to office hours for help!

Your social life may experience some challenges during your time at university, especially because in Waterloo you are in an alternating study/coop stream, your academic sequencing will probably not match up with the rest of your friends at other universities. However, you will have plenty of chances to make new friends here and meet new people, as long as you put in the effort to do so. The good thing about university is that you do not have to be around people you do not like, but that also means that you’ll have to put an effort into maintaining friendships with  your current friends. Although some times will definitely be challenging for you, it’s worth it in the end because it’s probably easier to keep in touch with old friends to stay away from people you don’t like.

Cooking. You either hate it or love it, I am on the hate side. Since I’m not a very picky eater, I would love to have someone cook for me, and I’ll just eat whatever they make. I just wish I always had food ready because I don’t really enjoy the process of actually having to make food. I’m also too lazy to make food sometimes, because there’s more important things to do in life than making food.

For the people out there who got easy straight A’s in high school, while being able to keep physically active, I warn you that university is a lot different. Although I wish I could say that I worked out a few times a week, that’s the complete opposite of the truth – I have never stepped foot inside the gym with the exception of exams in the PAC. When your life has been conquered by school, you get too lazy to travel to the other side of university to maintain your health. I also want to bring up the fact that you will probably have two types of meals – the healthy salad that leaves you hungry after 10mins, or the large pizza that stuffs you, but leaves you feeling gross. I should probably mention that you can also gain excessive weight from eating too much junk food, so don’t do that. The sad fact is that there are usually two extremes: you either eat healthy and end up not feeling full, or you stuff yourself with garbage food. Edit: your time management affects how much you can be physically active.

Since you’re probably not gonna remember everything I just told you for the last five minutes, here’s something that you should remember. University will be filled with different experiences; some will be among the highlights of your life and others will probably fall into the epic fail category. However, it’s entirely up to you what to make of it at the end of the day. Remember that failed midterm won’t matter five years from now, but do keep aiming for good grades. Whether the events you experience are good or bad, all end up contributing to your overall university journey, and I encourage whoever is reading this to enjoy it all, the good and the bad, because 80% of what happens probably won’t matter in the long run. That’s right, that chemistry midterm that you failed won’t matter in the next five years.

That’s probably the best description of university I can give you in a nutshell, so there you go. Remember to work hard, play harder and enjoy your 19th birthday!



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