I just finished my first year of university and I sure have learned A LOT. I mean, the whole point of going to post secondary is to continue your education, but I didn’t expect to do so much introspective learning too.
I didn’t take a gap year. I went straight from high school into university. I also had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do with my life. I went in blind. I started a degree based on what other people told me they thought I would want. I still don’t really know what I want to do with my life, but now I know a bit more what I don’t want to do.
You learn a lot about yourself very quickly when you enter university. Sure, there’s all that academic learning you do, but a whole lot of learning happens outside the classroom and that is just as important as what you learn in your lectures.
You may not like the degree you pick, and that’s okay.
It’s true! Especially if you go straight from high school to post secondary! Some people know exactly what they want to do with their life, and that’s great! But a lot of people have absolutely no clue, and go in blind. A lot of people, like me, pick something to study under the influence of expectations. Expectations from teachers, friends, and families.
When you don’t know yourself and what your interests are, the easy answer is to go with what people around you tell you. There’s nothing wrong with that! Just don’t freak out if you don’t like your degree.
Of course, there is such a thing as first year jitters. Taking on a degree is a big commitment, and it’s not uncommon to question if this is really right for you. If those feelings linger though, don’t ignore them. They’re very real and totally valid.
Being good at something is not the same as liking it.
THIS was a hard lesson for me to learn. In high school I excelled in every subject, but I was a real star in math and science. Of course, since I got a lot of praise for being good in math, chemistry, and physics, I thought I liked those subjects the most.
However, after a year of engineering I can tell you that being good at something doesn’t mean that it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t want to make a living out of math and science. It’s a struggle just for me to make myself do mandatory assignments, let alone all the extra work it would take to really be successful in the engineering field.
Take a variety of classes.
This is a pretty basic lesson. EVERYONE says it. But it’s true. Taking a variety of classes makes such a big difference.
The thing with engineering is that first year especially is so rigid that you don’t really get to try anything else. Your whole life is just engineering. Every class is geared towards engineering. So first semester I was full of denial that I didn’t really like it, because it was all I knew.
Second semester, though, I was lucky enough to take an option. I took AP in high school so I didn’t have to take chemistry, and I replaced that class with a history class instead.
There was such a difference.
I actually wanted to do the work for my history class. I actually wanted to go above and beyond. I loved it. And that’s when I realized I needed a change. That maybe engineering wasn’t for me. Because my engineering classes felt like a chore, but my history class was so much fun and I actually wanted to do the readings and the studying.
Make your schedule work for YOU.
Okay. Okay. I get it. You want to take classes with your friends. You want to know someone in every class. But this is your education. Yours. Maybe take one or two classes with your friends, but don’t build your whole schedule around what they’re doing. If you know you won’t make it to that 8 am then DON’T TAKE IT! If you would rather take all morning classes and be home by noon, but your friends want to sleep in, still take the morning classes! You’re the one that has to attend those lectures. Besides, as awesome as it is to take classes with your friends, you will probably pay more attention if you don’t have them in your lecture.
Also, if you can avoid it, try not to take lectures back to back. Two lectures back to back isn’t the worst, but don’t take three in a row. By the time you get to that third lecture you will NOT be paying attention. You will be clocked out and not absorb a single word that professor says. Even a short break between lectures makes a huge difference.
Make time for your friends.
In high school I saw my friends every day. I didn’t have to put that much effort in. But in university it takes so much more effort to make plans. Everyone has different schedules and you have to plan days or weeks in advance.
It’s totally worth the effort though.
It’s easy to get lost in your studies and become a hermit. Making time to see your friends for something unrelated to school at least once a week is so helpful to your mental health, though. Humans are social creatures and keeping up with relationships is important. Besides, this gives you both time to unwind and relax, and that’s important too.
Some of these things I heard in passing as I got ready for my first year of university, but I didn’t really take them to heart. I wish I had. By the end of the second semester I started to figure them out, and it made my life a lot easier.