20 things I should’ve known before starting university

When I started at McMaster, I thought “yes, I’m so grown up now, look at me.” Didn’t you? Maybe, like me, you were terrified. Thinking back to first year, there’s a lot I wish I had known. In addition to my “Dear First Year Me” post (inspired by MSU Spark), I hope you find these 20 things I should’ve known before starting university insightful as you either begin or finish your academic career at McMaster. #gomacgo

  1. Being in a long distance relationship is painful, both emotionally and physically (yes, physical heartache). Jeff and I weren’t even that far apart in the grand scheme of things. However, spending time apart gives you an opportunity to learn what you like about yourself. Some people say that being apart will actually make your relationship stronger, if you’re both trusting and faithful. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
  2. Life in your hometown will never be the same once you leave it. The place changes. Things come and go. People come and go. Most of the time they’re just gone. It’s so hard to keep something going if you’re the only one putting in the effort.
  3. You will make new friends, no matter how shy you think you are.
  4. Get out of your shell and try something new! Great things were never achieved in a comfort zone.
  5. Explore both your territory and new places. You never know what you might find.
  6. Living with roommates is an eye-opening experience. You learn what you can tolerate, what grinds your gears, and how to grind the gears of other people (whether purposely or not). You realize how much you value privacy, which possessions you really value, and how to sleep through a parade. Depending on who you live with, you may learn how to be a psychologist, herbologist, biologist, or sexologist.
  7. Don’t loan your things out if you don’t want to. It’s your stuff. And not everybody will treat your stuff like you do. Just assume it could get ruined or lost. How upset would you be?
  8. If you have young siblings, nieces or nephews, you should make time to go visit them. They will grow up without you in their lives otherwise.
  9. Make time for building relationships and networking. You never know how far your connections can take you.
  10. Take time for R & R. Look after your physical and mental well-being. Get a massage, a facial, wax your legs, go for walks, ride your bike rather than take the bus. If you think something is wrong, go to the local clinic. Looking things up on WebMD will just scare you; everything leads to cancer. It might just be a bladder infection.
  11. Eat healthy. You can, and will, get the freshman 15 (more like freshman 30) if you eat fries, bread and pasta for every meal. The salad bar won’t bite you. Give it a chance.
  12. When buying your own groceries, plan your meals by the weekly grocery flyer. That way everything you buy is on sale. You will actually save a lot of money this way.
  13. Actually cook your own food. You might enjoy it. Try some online recipes. Share your meals with friends for feedback. Just make sure you try it yourself first! I’ve made some pretty crumby meals.
  14. You don’t need to be dressed like a rockstar every day, but don’t go to class or the grocery store looking like you just rolled out of bed. It makes you look like a lazy slob. Sure, a lot of students come to class in plaid pj pants with a Welcome Week t-shirt on. But you’re better than that.
  15. Always be yourself. Always try to improve how you interact with other people. Look for non-verbal signs that you goofed. Listen for verbal signs that you’re socially-awkward.
  16. Don’t buy your textbooks until you need them to do an assignment, keep up in class, answer questions (like in a quiz), or participate in tutorials. A lot of textbooks can be bought electronically on Amazon (for Kindle readers or apps), or downloaded from somewhere else as a PDF. Also, the libraries should always have a textbook from the course on reserve (if you’re unsure, just ask the professor).
  17. Take photos during your time at university. When you’re done, you’ll be able to look back on fond memories every time you walk down the hall, rather than have them fade into the abyss.
  18. Please don’t be that annoying person who asks the professor a thousand questions during the lecture. That’s what their office hours are for.
  19. Actually visit your professor or the teaching assistant during office hours. It is a great way to get questions answered and network. Often the students visiting their office hours are there to complain. So it is refreshing to talk to a student who wants to learn.
  20. Work part-time if you can. It will set you up for success upon graduation. Most entry level jobs ask for a bit of experience. A co-op or an internship is a great way to get your foot in the door. If you’re lucky enough, you will get a co-op at your desired workplace. Use your work experience to narrow down your specialization, otherwise to expand your possibilities.

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