How I Survived First Year: 10 Insider Tips

Guest post by Calum Wood

When it really comes down to it, first year isn’t that hard. Albeit, I was a pre-admit Business student who never really had to grind it out quite like the engineers. Setting them aside, however, the difficulties I had in first year were almost all consequences of not understanding what it took to navigate a successful semester.

I wish I could go back and relive first year knowing what I know now, but since I can’t go back in time, please enjoy these 10 UVic hacks I wish I had back in September of 2014.

1. The first few weeks of classes are deceivingly easy. It may not seem like there’s much to do besides readings, little assignments and bookmarking course websites. This is a blessing. Enjoy this time because the workload will soon pick up astronomically. Instead of stressing out about why the workload seems so easy, use this time to meet new people. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Meet as many people as you can. From day one, literally go door to door and introduce yourself. Everyone is looking for a group of friends, and groups will soon be made. It makes life much easier if you know someone in as many groups as possible. It allows you to meet a whole array of people and really find friends you can relate to. None of this happens if you don’t put yourself out there from day one though.

3. Put yourself out there on day one. Literally on your very first night, go outside. Everyone gathers on the grass fields outside Cluster. Can’t miss them. Some are quiet, some are rowdy, but everyone is meeting new people from other buildings and floors other than their own. Don’t be shy, just jump right into a circle of people and introduce yourself. You might come to love those people, you might come to hate them, but you’ll never know if you don’t meet them. It’s a blast.

4. Don’t panic if you don’t do as well you were expecting to on your first midterm. My first midterm was in Math 151, it was worth 25% of my grade. I left studying until a few days before, buckled down, got confused, asked a friend, they were confused, so decided that the midterm couldn’t be as hard as the practice material. Scored a 45% on my very first exam. Thought I would flunk out by Christmas. Turns out nearly half the class didn’t get the grades they thought they would.

For the next midterm I went to the Math Help Centre, worked at every single question until I understood it, and scored a 95%. Finished the course with an 84%. If you take advantage of the resources around you from the start you might not even have to fail your first midterm. But don’t worry if you do.

5. Finals are insane. I think I had 5 finals in first year, which ranged from being worth 35% to 50% of my final grade. These are tests worth stressing about. During finals, the norm is to lock yourself in your room all day, emerging only for coffee, food and quick workouts.

The finals grind usually lasts two weeks, and the hardest times are the first few days (as you get accustomed to the grind-life) and then the day/two days before your hardest exams. Finals are a bad time, but everyone goes through it, and as long as you apply yourself, you should pass everything no problem. Just remember that the professors aren’t going to chase you like they do in high school; if you need help, you go to them.

6. It’s okay to occasionally miss class. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it but it’s fully okay to take a personal day if you’re sick or need it for your mental health. You will quickly learn which classes you can afford to miss and which classes you’d rather die than fall behind in.

The first-year consensus is that 8:30 classes are difficult to get up for. I would advise you to take as few of these as possible. While I’m on the subject of classes, you will learn that some are 1 hour and 20 minutes long, some are 50 minutes long, and some are 3 hours long. These classes occur twice a week, three times per week, and once a week respectively. I like 50 minute classes for my easier courses, and 1 hour 20 minute classes for my harder ones. Everyone’s different though.

7. Make friends with people who live in cluster. Once the excitement of the first month has died down, the Clusternauts have the best places to hang out and chill. Maybe I’m a little biased because I lived in cluster, but I definitely wouldn’t have known half the people I do now if I didn’t have an ‘open cluster’ policy most Friday and Saturday nights.

8. You are expected to act like an adult. The university does a great job of understanding that this is, for most of us, our first times living away from home, but you are still expected to display adult behaviour. If you make childish mistakes you could be written up, which has consequences. As long as you show some responsibility you should be fine.

9. Ben Eggleston is a great guy. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the guy who invented the ‘Ben Eggleston Grade Calculator’ — Google it. It’s a simple tool that allows you to calculate your current grade in a course, and the grade you will receive if you get [insert grade] on the remaining [insert percentage] of course work. It’s the ultimate way to calm your nerves before a big test, especially during finals. Generally, Ben Eggleston will assure you that even if you completely bomb the test, you will still pass the course.

10. Unless you know for sure what degree you want, use your first year to take a variety of courses. Otherwise, as you dive deeper and deeper into your degree, you may realize it isn’t what you thought it was, and your friend’s degree may appeal much more to you. To avoid the hassle of switching degrees, it’s best to take a variety of courses from the start, so that you can be sure you are in the program that’s right for you.

I’m sure I could think of tons more tips, but I’ll stop here for now. Part of the joy of first year is experiencing the unknown. Get out there and live it up, make mistakes, and learn for yourself. I don’t care what anyone else says, it’s the best year of your life. Focus on school, but don’t let it take over your life. There is way too much fun to have, people to meet, beaches to explore and laughs to share. Good luck in September.

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