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The world’s best first-year advice

By Demilade Odusola and Rachneet Randhawa, September 23 2021—

If we were to write a letter to our first-year self back when we were freshmen we would give ourselves a lot of advice for embarking on our university journey. Now, looking back, we want to impart some valuable advice so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. Here’s some unsolicited but hopefully useful advice for the upcoming year. 

Know the difference between “F” and “W”: 

This is my best-kept advice. Be wary of the huge difference between a Failure, or “F,” and Withdrawal, or “W,” because one doesn’t sting as hard as the other. If you were to score less than 50 per cent overall in a course and end up with an F, your GPA would plummet and although possible, it’s difficult to recover to good standing. A withdrawal is when you remove yourself from a course by the academic calendar deadline. Although both show up on your academic transcript, one has a greater impact than the other. Please don’t get into the mindset of winging it — it’s tempting as a first-year student to do this in a junior-level course and take your chances. But trust me, it’s not worth it. Your head will be spinning when you realize that professors do indeed drop F-bombs and no sir, it’s not high school where you can brush it off during summer school.

Join a club: 

There are over 300 clubs ranging from sports clubs to cultural and ethnic clubs to academic clubs and they can all be found on the Students’ Union (SU) website. Clubs are a great way to make friends if you are looking to meet people who share similar interests with you outside of your area of study or degree. 

Go to professor office hours and use academic resources:

Another must that is often overlooked is going to office hours. Many new students find it nerve-racking to have a sit-down with their course professor. In fact, by default, professors will have office hours for the semester, but most students fail to take advantage of them. It seems daunting at first, but trust us, your instructors are the ones to cheer you on. Not only are they a powerhouse of knowledge, they may also impart some valuable advice for approaching your next big assignment, or provide timely feedback on how to do better on your next midterm. But always remember to go prepared with a handful of questions ready to go as it looks impolite and as if you’re disinterested. Typically, your professors and TAs are always available to help — all you have to do is ask. There are also lots of academic resources offered by UCalgary that are only a search away on the school website.

Book an appointment with your program advisor early on:

Another mistake I see students making is going to generic faculty academic advising rather than their program advising. Of course, this is difficult if you don’t have your degree program decided, which is why we recommend booking an appointment with an Exploratory Advisor at the Student Success Center at the Taylor Family Digital Library. Once you do, your program advisor will help you determine the best track to complete your core and elective requirements. We would advise you to talk to your faculty advisors at least once a semester just to make sure you are on track for completing your degree. You can also use that to figure out what steps you need to take to get back on track.

Create a virtual study group:

For those of you who commute to campus or who work and have less time for camaraderie and socialization but are also wanting someone to discuss course material with, online study groups are a great two-in-one deal. With Facebook groups or applications like Slack or Discord, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch and set up a regular Zoom or Google hangouts and study group. Although study groups are not for everyone, what I appreciate about them is that they allow you to become transparent and accountable. Also, since you’re forced to re-teach the course material to another person, you can reinforce your understanding of it. There are so many people all around campus — students and staff alike — that are willing to help and offer assistance in whatever capacity they can. There are bound to be struggles, issues or concerns while you are studying, and more than likely there are other people that have gone through or are going through those same situations. Sharing your issues with someone and reaching out for help will very likely help you reach a solution quicker. 

Start networking early:

Networking is essential for exchanging information and professional development. You will see multiple events like the Career Fair and Graduate School Fair pop up on campus so be sure to drop by them once in a while. If you want more coaching, check out the campus Career Services who can give you more tactics. Finally, another way to meet people is by attending events on campus. Many different faculties and offices like the International Students Services or Leadership and Student Engagement Office are always hosting and organizing events on campus. 

Take advantage of student discounts and deals:

I think this is the one good reason to be — and pretty much the only reason to remain — a student, because you maintain a modicum of respect in a working society by getting some sweet deals. There’s plenty of options like the Student Price Card, UniDays and Student Beans to name a few. Plus, if you join certain clubs on campus as a contributing member, you may receive a benefits card with which you receive discounts at local shopping venues and restaurants.

Take a block week course to fulfill elective requirements:

For some reason, I came across this way too late. When I first heard an entire semester’s course can be completed within a single week, my mind was blown. This is a super great backup option for those who cannot give up their spring and summer semesters to fulfill course requirements, or cannot handle a full course load during the regular fall and winter academic school year. Some courses are exclusive to block week — like Ecofeminism, which is back by popular demand. It’s a hustle to brave a boot camp-style learning experience, but so worth it once that pesky degree requirement is done and over with. 

Self-care is important:  

Remember to take breaks and to have fun. This is one of the most important tips I can offer to any student. Schoolwork can — and will — get overwhelming and it is important to remember to take breaks and pace yourself. I know I have talked a lot about taking your studies seriously, but sometimes spending that extra hour studying will not make a difference and will only cause burnout. I read somewhere that scheduling breaks or carving out time for hanging out with friends or maintaining a social life makes it easier to actually have a social life. I do not know the extent to how true this is, but if you find that your social life is suffering because of your studies, you can try it out.

Well, there you have it. These are our tips on how to survive your first year at the U of C.  We wish you the best of luck!

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