My Grade 12 Self – Uni Questions

Talen as a tired first year student.

High School and university can be like oil and water. Sure, they seem to share similarities on the surface – both are for education, both have a bunch of young people in small rooms for extended periods of time, and both are meant to prepare you for the ‘real world’ – but what’s on the inside of these two classes of institutions can be starkly (and scarily) different.

When I was in grade 12, I had several questions about how University would be different, why everyone told me it was so hard, and what this was going to do to me as a person.

After seven years at UVic (6 in undergrad, 1+ in a master’s degree), I’m here to answer the questions I had – and hopefully some of yours, too.

1. How do I decide my first year course load? What if I choose the wrong program?

Talen in his 7th year of studies at UVic

I remember spending days deciding on the ‘right’ program for me to take when I began my undergraduate journey. I ended up with nothing but a headache and more questions about what my classes were going to be like.

needed to know that all my doors were going to stay open in the future, and that my decisions wouldn’t jeopardize the possibility that I would want to change my mind (and my program) later on.

The result of this internal deliberation? I took a massive course load of a variety of sciences, including math courses that I didn’t need to take at all – much less in my first semester as an undergrad.

I wound up getting poorer grades and more stress because I could never really shake the feeling that the decision I made when enrolling at UVic would be final – if I decided on a program, there was no going back.

I was absolutely wrong, of course. At UVic, you don’t need to declare most programs until your second year – and even then, there are always ways you can swap your major and not lose your course credit momentum. Also, there are specific experts designed to help you make these decisions!

Undergraduate academic advisors are here for the purpose of helping students craft their academic journey, and not get caught up in some of the angst that comes with deciding on a degree. After my first year as an undergrad, I saw advisors more frequently, and this question became less scary (and more fun) to handle.

2. University is such a big pond (i.e. larger population) compared to my high school, and I’m living off campus. How will I find friends?

Outdoors Club on Clubs Day

Ah, the classic ‘how will I make friends’ fear. I would like to say this goes away after high school (or at any point in life), but I’ve found that it tends to stick around. But, here’s what I would say to myself as a grade 12 worrying about the friend factor…

One word: clubs.

No, not the alcoholic/dance variety of clubs. University clubs!

I know it sounds corny, but hear me out. The greatest predictor of friendship in post-secondary education is proximity (among other factors). So, by enrolling in one (or 4 if you’re me in first year) of the 200+ university clubs or course unions that UVic offers, you get a chance to learn a new activity or skill while also being in close proximity with like-minded students for a whole year! For an awkward 18-year-old who hated small talk and random conversations with strangers, these groups were essential for my social wellbeing.

3. How will I make it through university financially? The idea of going into student debt is scary.

The idea of ‘how will I pay for this’ is a real, valid fear that I think can still affect students after they graduate. And as undergraduate students – particularly if you are like me and didn’t have the necessary financial competencies – even talking about student financial aid can be terrifying.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a full answer for this question. Student life can be challenging before adding financial stressors, and in a cost-of-living crisis it can make focusing on schoolwork especially challenging.

However, I will say that the Student Awards and Financial Aid office made these challenges a lot easier for me, and were able to connect me to available funding and resources to make it through the most financially challenging times of my degree. Also, there are a number of student-funded initiatives on campus for those in need, including the UVSS food bank for students in need.

Personally, I think the best thing about university is that it can make you question what you want to do in this world. While I’ve always found it difficult how this often has to come with introducing students to financial struggles, I am thankful for the resources at UVic that made my negative experiences more bearable.


I had a number of other questions as a high school students that I’ll have to address in another post – stay tuned!

You may also like...