Back to School Series
The start of your college career is just around the corner. You’ve done your campus tour, been assigned your college dorm, signed up for your classes, said goodbye to your high school friends, listened to your parents cry as they anticipate your departure, and wondered what your life will be like as a college student.
Will you get along with your roommate? Will your professors be incredibly intimidating? Will your course load be too heavy? Will you find any extracurricular activities that you enjoy? Will you make new friends? Will you be able to manage your finances? And will these be the best or the worst four years of your life?
Although this article is by no means comprehensive, it outlines some helpful tips that I’ve gathered during my years as an undergraduate and postgraduate student. These might help you make these the best – and not the worst – years of your life.
1. Get To Know Your Roommate
If you are living with a roommate, take the time to get to know him or her. After all, you will be spending the next eight months living right next to each other. After you’ve both settled in, consider going for a walk or grabbing a coffee with him or her just to get to know each other a bit.
Even if you are complete opposites, those first conversations are crucial to understanding how to make the most of your time living together. What are your schedules like? Is he or she an early riser or a night owl? How clean or messy is he or she?
Though these might seem like trivial questions, appreciating each other’s differences in lifestyle is essential to creating a healthy living situation. Having worked as a Residence Don for two years, I witnessed a strong contrast between roommates who knew how to respect each other’s boundaries and those who didn’t.
I would even suggest writing up a quick roommate contract with a short list of what you absolutely need your roommate to respect. A few examples include the need for a quiet study space at certain times during the week, a need to have the freedom to invite friends over on Friday nights, or the need to have a decently clean living space.
2. Do Not Be Shy
If you’re like me, meeting a whole new group of strangers can be intimidating. But getting yourself out there is worth it. College is not only an opportunity to improve your mind, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to improve your social life.
Like never before, you will have endless crowds of people to interact with – from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, belief systems, interests, and ideas.
During my years as an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I noticed a marked difference between high school and college. In high school, meeting new people was more difficult – there were fewer people to befriend and people were less likely to make new friends. However, in university the atmosphere was different. I made new friends left, right, and centre – at the library, in lectures, at school clubs, at formal events, at the school pub, in dorms, and the list continues.
3. Get Involved
One thing I will never regret about my university years was my choice to get involved in extracurricular activities. Not only is it a great way to meet new people, but it is also a fantastic way to develop a new skill or try something new.
Most colleges and universities have a variety of clubs and activities to choose from, and you can often find out more about them during your orientation week. Try a few in your first month, and if it’s not the right fit, there is bound to be something else that fits you like a glove.
Try a salsa class, write for your school newspaper, join an activist group, play a sport, or perform in a play. The options are endless.
4. Start Studying Early
Unfortunately, the attractions of dorm life, a fun social life, and engaging extracurricular activities can turn into an unhealthy distraction from your studies. Map out your assignment deadlines, midterms, and final exams as soon as you get your academic syllabi. Divide up the amount of work that you will need to do to perform well, and then ensure to create a weekly schedule that realistically balances your schoolwork and your other interests.
There is no need to pull an all-nighter the day before your final exam worth 50% of your final grade. Start early, and you will be a lot less stressed and learn a lot more.
5. Spend Wisely
University tuition is already expensive, so it is important to be realistic about your finances. While it is great to go out with your friends, make sure not to overdo it. There are usually a lot of discounts available for students, so find out what deals apply to you. Can you find your books at a second-hand store? Are drinks cheaper on Tuesday nights? Is membership at your university gym cheaper than a regular gym? Saving a bit here and there makes a huge difference in the long run.
6. Do Not Forget to Call Home
During my first year as an undergraduate, I miserably failed at calling home. But this was not a healthy choice – neither for me, nor for my parents. It is important to give updates on how you are doing, to remember that there are people who care for you, and to catch up with your loved ones. If your parents are helping you out financially, then remember to thank them every once in a while. If grandma sent you a box of baked cookies, then give her a call to let her know that you appreciate her. There are people who helped you get to where you are today, and they want to know that you remember them.
7. Do Not Be Afraid to Seek Help
Being away from home can be difficult. Researchers have found that the stress of a first failed midterm or a low grade on an assignment can lead to a vicious cycle of hopelessness, lack of motivation, and declining academic performance. Universities often experience a peek in the number of students coming to seek help during final exam season. At McGill University, for instance, their mental health clinic serves four times the number of students close to the end of the academic year.
If you are feeling stressed, lonely, discouraged, or anxious, do not be afraid to seek help. Your college has a variety of staff available to help you, including a team of mental health professionals. If you just need to talk to someone, there is always a listening ear available. Find out where your college’s counseling office is, and be encouraged that you are not the only one on campus who is finding your new life as a university student a bit of a challenge. Yes, you can make these the best years of your life.
 Hanlon, C. 2012. Addressing mental health issues on university campuses. State of Mind. [online] Available at: < http://www.aucc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/mental-health-state-of-mind-university-manager-article-summer-2012.pdf>
 Bradwhaw, J. and Wingrove, J. December 07, 2012. As student stress hits crisis levels, universities look to ease pressure. Globe and Mail. [online] Available at: < http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/as-student-stress-hits-crisis-levels-universities-look-to-ease-pressure/article5902668/>