Surviving University

Published on the York University Blog on Feb 6 2009

During my first year at York I was a completely different person. I had long straight hair with bangs and I wore plaid pants and fake converse most of the time. I remember the drive up to the campus in my mom’s car and the nervous knots in my stomach. The university’s buildings loomed before me and I doubted if I could make the big leap. I jokingly asked my mom if we could turn around and she gave me a stern look. I knew that this was a leap I was going to have to make.

The university experience can be quite overwhelming. You are forced to find a new group of friends if your high school mates are dispersed across the province at various universities (You’ll have to eat alone sometimes). You may be moving out of your comfy childhood home for the first time.(No more free food). Or you might be dealing with past family instability as you work to develop an independent identity. Some students revel in the freedom that comes from attending university while others may still be forced to follow family rules while they commute to school.

Polly McFarlane of the university’s Counselling and Development Centre discussed a few first year(and for any year for that matter) university survival tips with me.

* Check out the Counselling and Development website to become familiar with the academic skills seminars that are available to you. Also look at the York site to discover potential avenues for help(because you will need can’t do it alone).

* Make a contact in each class who might become a potential study partner. This person may have skills that you lack and together you may take more away from your course.

* Reduce transition anxiety by getting involved on campus which will make the move to the big campus less overwhelming (Don’t hide away at home).

* Be conscious of your time management skills. You will have to become uber disciplined to get through university. Consider time schedules where you break up your work into small manageable pieces so you don’t freak out. But don’t forget that your rests are just as important as your work times.

* Talk out your anxieties and academic issues. Approach a friend, a counselor or an advisor in the beginning stages of your confusion or anxiety. Don’t wait until you are failing or overanxious. You may be in a program that doesn’t suit you or you may need some help dealing with learning or emotional issues. Remember that the staff is here because of you.

* Don’t be incredibly hard on yourself. The pressure of university can be scary and you may judge yourself for not studying enough or getting a poor grade. There is a learning curve to adapt to the criteria of university work and you may experience some less than successful papers. Use the experience to build upon your skills and to figure out what you need to improve. Don’t take it personally.

* Routines and healthy eating are important. You may begin staying up late to finish papers and you should be aware of the need for down time.

* You may have to drop a course. Be aware of drop and fee refund deadlines. Courses can turn out to be completely different to what you’d anticipated. You also may have to figure out which department suits you the best. Don’t be afraid to experiment with courses.

* Don’t worry if you feel like you want to take a lighter course load. Many students take longer to finish their degree than the suggested 3 or 4 years.

* Discover what you enjoy to study rather than what your parents tell you to do or what society dictates. Do keep in mind though which path will be the best for your future.

* If you discover that your anxiety or emotions are interfering in your daily activities contact a counselor. Some people may need extra help to figure out life issues. Do not feel bad about this. This does not denote weakness or an inability to be a good student.

Just a few tips to wrap your mind around the complex university experience. Don’t take things too seriously as Bjork says, “I’m only into this to enjoy.” So enjoy the learning and as my mom says, “You can only ever do your best.” A little hokey but completely true.


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