Advice to A First Year

You learn a lot in hindsight. These are the lessons I learned from 6 years at my alma mater, the University of Guelph - hopefully these lessons help you on your journey.

Almost a year ago I graduated from University. 5 years of a Political Science degree (that really should’ve taken 4 years, but i’m lazy and wasn’t in a rush). During those 5 years I did pretty much everything: I volunteered for everything I could, worked jobs from Weightroom Supervisor at our campus gym to helping plan, structure, and oversee our Orientation Week, participated in student politics, stayed out till 3 am with friends, failed assignments, embarrassed myself, and had countless unforgettable experiences (and a few I wish I could forget).

After I graduated I accepted a year long job in our recruitment department (where I worked for a few years part-time as a student), which has me constantly interacting with prospective students trying to figure out which university they’ll commit the next several years (or possibly more) of their life to. This, coupled with leading a student staff media team and mentoring my own younger friends, has made me reflect a lot on my time during undergrad and what made my university experience what it was. It’s informed by my own successes and failures, my own “great moments” and “what ifs” and the stories of some of the greatest people I’ve had the privilege to call friends.

I took all the random thoughts and insights I could gather and put them into a list for you. Some are detailed, some are vague; the point is for you to make sense of them in your own life.

I hope this sporadic list of 30ish (yes, 30ish) lessons helps you make a better life for yourself in your 3, 4, 5, or 9 years of University. Or college. Or flight school. Whatever you pick.

  1. Be more intentional with your electives. Decide if you want to declare an interesting minor, an area of concentration, get a certificate (if your school offers them) or just take courses that expand your horizons and stand out to you. Just make sure they don’t pull down your average.
  2. Choose a hobby that keeps you active. Intramurals, varsity sports, daily walks, the gym, fitness classes, etc.
  3. Find a creative outlet. Writing, claymaking, policy writing, etc. Some way to get your thoughts and soul out into the world.
  4. Learn how you learn. Whether it’s studying in silence at the library, study groups with your classmates, using a whiteboard at home… However you learn best, do that and pretty much only that.
  5. Get involved in something unrelated to your major.
  6. The best adventures aren’t planned.
  7. Do something great that you probably won’t get recognized for. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to a worthy cause, send a classmate notes, pay for the person behind you’s coffee.
  8. Educate yourself. Don’t assume your major or classes will teach you what you need to know.
  9. Spend more time on campus than you think you need to.
  10. Become a regular somewhere (campus pub, coffee shop, gym, etc). It’ll be your home away from home.
  11. Work part-time on campus. If that’s not possible, work as close to your campus as you can. Some place other students/staff/faculty visit.
  12. Go to the career advising department if you have one. Get your resume critiqued, and learn how to interview. One meeting is all you need if you pay enough attention.
  13. Look out for each other. As students, you’re in this game together. Help each other study, answer questions, send notes when needed. Just don’t do people’s homework for them.
  14. Participate in student politics/governance/decision-making. It’s a fun and unique way to contribute something to your campus. And you’ll learn about people. Sometimes not good things. But necessary things.
  15. Breathe. Most things aren’t that big of a deal.
  16. Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
  17. Learn about the topic before forming an opinion. In your classes, personal time, and more. Don’t let someone else’s thoughts (even from the professor or your family) decide what you believe. Question everything. Even yourself.
  18. Find a mentor. Whether an upper year student, a professor, or a staff member. Find someone who you can learn from. Remember they aren’t infallible, but they can offer insight. If you can’t find someone, learn from as many sources as possible.
  19. Ask questions. Lots of them. The important one being “why”. The next important one being “how”.
  20. Be a participant. When you have the opportunity, join the fun.
  21. Be an attendee. Go watch sports games, or plays, or karaoke nights.
  22. Say yes. Then figure out the rest later.
  23. Leave something behind on campus. It gives you something to look back on. In my 2nd year, I painted our campus cannon and put my painted handprint on the wall of our library. Coming up on 5 years later, it’s still there. Faded, but still there.
  24. Leave something behind for someone else. In my final year, my friend (and current roommate) made a plaque with my name on it to be hung in our campus pub (to commemorate the countless hours we spent there). It still hangs there to this day.
  25. Listen more than you talk. It’s university, where people from all over the world are together for a short period of time. Hear people’s stories. Don’t worry, you’ll get to share yours too.
  26. Visit other universities just to see what life is like there. It makes you see the amazing things your campus has. And shows you what else can improve.
  27. Contribute to something greater than you.
  28. If possible, do a semester abroad/exchange.
  29. Take tons of photos. Document your journey. And when you get the photo that captures the essence of your experience, put your phone down and enjoy that experience.
  30. Try to spend more time talking to people (face-to-face or over the phone) than you do texting them.
  31. Don’t be the same person when you start and when you graduate.
  32. Always have your core group and best friends who understand you, but hangout with different people periodically.
  33. Let go of your preconceived notions of who you are. Live like you don’t know, and you’re now discovering it all. After all, university is the start of YOUR story.

So those are my 33 pieces of wisdom (if you want to call them that) from my time at University. In every experience I had, I tried my best to take something away from it all. Each day, each role, each task, was an opportunity for me to grow and mature. And while I’ve got a long way to go still, I do believe I’ve learned a lot. It’s my hope that these lessons, whether you take them all in or just take one, help shape your university experience into what it’s supposed to be; a lifechanging experience.

And who knows. Maybe when you graduate, you’ll leave behind something like this for someone else. I hope you do.

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