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Year One: Uni 101 for first-years

By Anjali Choudhary, December 31 2020—

Everyone says you learn so much more from your mistakes than your successes will ever teach you. That being said, however inevitable a stressful and completely disoriented semester may seem, a little bit of guidance can set you on the right path for the rest of your university career.

In an interview with The Gauntlet, Rayane Issa, an executive member of the Faculty of Arts Students’ Association, and fourth-year Neuroscience and Political Science student at the University of Calgary, shares her top six secrets for making the most of your university experience. These tips may not complete your one-month overdue assignment, but if the university experience has been anything short of spectacular so far, they might drastically change that.


The high-pressure atmosphere created prior to beginning university can often make the entire experience seem obligatory and dull. However, there are a multitude of opportunities to heighten your experience on campus. Issa tells first-year undergraduates that one of the best ways to get involved on campus within your first year is definitely through clubs.

“The University of Calgary has over 350 clubs which is fairly amazing, so there is pretty much a place for everyone to be,” says Issa.

Students are able to reach out to these clubs through the Student Union’s ClubHub, specific club emails, or through their social media platforms.


As a new student, in a pandemic or otherwise, you are exposed to thousands of new potential friends, study buddies and coffee dates. No longer are you confined in the small and seemingly homogenous bubble of your former high school peers, but accompanying all the new faces is the struggle to figure out how to create truly meaningful connections. Issa claims that, despite being in her fourth year, she still sometimes struggles to create connections with staff and faculty. In order to overcome this challenge, she encourages students “to be willing to take that first step and actually talk to people.” However, the days of approaching a friendly face on campus have been replaced with eerily quiet breakout room sessions on Zoom. To adapt to this new situation, Issa recommends that students just email some of your classmates.

“I think that is the easiest way because we all have access to the students on our course email lists via D2L,” she says. “Rather than reaching out through Instagram, which might be a little weird or intimidating, sending an email never hurts.”


The panic of realizing that you have a paper due in a few hours, which was completely overlooked, is truly an unmatched feeling. To avoid this, Issa claims that her biggest study tip is “ensuring you are going through all of your course outlines and inputting them in your calendar” as soon as they are received.

“Given that everything is online right now, we tend to miss some of these deadlines and I think having everything in your calendar is what works best,” she says. “It gives you a sense of urgency and a way to organize your entire life around your school — rather than having to organize school around your life.”


No matter how self-reliant and resilient you may be, having a solid support system instantly makes hardships and struggles a little easier to manage.

“If people can’t reach out to their families as a support system they should reach out to a friend, a councillor or someone that they think might be able to help them — just to have someone to support them in their journey,” Issa says. “I have had a number of first-year students reach out to me [asking me] to be their mentor because they didn’t have a support system at home. Reaching out to someone who you think might be a leader on campus, like anyone on the Students’ Union, would be amazing. They can give you some tips on how to handle the stress you’re going to encounter.”


“It is really important to realize that the step from high school to university is a fairly big step and no one will find that easy regardless of how talented you are,” insists Issa. “Just realizing that there is going to be a learning curve is one of the biggest things.

“Everyone has their own pathway when it comes to university,” she adds. “There are definitely different comfort levels that people should assess about themselves. Do not be afraid of growth and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Embrace every step of the way.” 


If you are currently struggling and questioning how good of an idea going to university really was, remember that more than 190,000 students have gone through the same struggles and made it all the way to graduation.

“The biggest thing is for you to enjoy university,” concludes Issa. “I know it’s hard, mainly in the circumstances we are in right now — but ensure you are in something you like and something you are passionate about. Contrary to the current emotions of the majority of first-year students, she claims that the experience “doesn’t have to be stressful; it can be fun.” 

We were all given a completely clean slate this fall, with the opportunity to entirely change our lives. The fact that you are here right now — whether you are having a blast, or struggling to finish the semester — means you have the potential to be extraordinary, and you have been thus far. With the help of these tips, and your all encompassing, amazing self, this first year will be one to remember!

Year One is a column about the first-year experience at the University of Calgary.  This column is part of our Voices section.

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