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What I wish I knew in first year

by Allissa Hibbs

In my last semester at Ryerson, I’m thinking about how I might have done things differently

a pen is on a paper with words on it with purple lillies on the left handside
(Debby Hudson Via Unsplash)

As university acceptance season slowly comes around for high school students, it takes me back to that stage of my life and reminds me of the excitement, fear and cluelessness I had about what was to come. 

I remember random, trivial details of my orientation week. I walked onto campus for the first time to participate in the activities that were laid out for us. We sat in a computer lab as our student affairs co-ordinator told us to pick our classes. I had no idea what I was doing, or had any inclination as to how my actions then would affect my life now.

As a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University, I now have to navigate what life will be like after school is finished and contemplate what I want to do for the rest of my life. Though a degree in journalism can come with a lot of pathways, I am still not sure exactly which one I want to go down — and my lack of knowledge about how university worked during my first year may have been the first sign of this confusion manifesting itself.

I am a first-generation student, meaning that I am the first in my family to go to university, which in and of itself comes with a whirlwind of struggles. I have never had someone to speak to about university or to tell me about how it works. I was 17-years-old when my parents dropped me off at Pitman Hall. I was living in downtown Toronto all by myself, with no one from my high school going to Ryerson. I was alone, trying to figure out all the things that eventually brought me to the rest of my life. 

There are many things that I wish I knew then, but if there’s anything I can do today to address my mistakes in the past, it would be to pay it forward and help first-year students not make the same mistakes I did. Here are a few things I wish I knew in my first year of university. 

Think about the choices you are making

High schools claim to educate the younger generations about university and how it works, but that’s not always the case. When orientation came along, I sat down and started picking random classes. Classes that I only read the description of and thought to myself, “Hmm, this sounds interesting.”  

Though that mentality might work for some, it can affect your choices in upper year. I recently submitted my application to graduate. My friends asked me if I declared a minor — though I really wanted to minor in law, I did not have enough space on my timetable. Instead of taking some random courses in first and even second year, I wish I had taken these law courses instead so I didn’t miss out on this opportunity. 

It’s important to look into upper year programs and really think ahead about where your interests lie. That way you can open more doors for your future. 

Take risks

I took the easy way out of school. Frankly, in lower year courses I told myself, “You have lots of time to work — you will be working for the rest of your life, so why do it now?” To this day, this is still a thought process that affects my life. 

What am I going to do once school is over? 

As I started applying for jobs, I realized that they seek published work, which is something I didn’t have until recently. This is not only the case for the world of journalism. It is important to have something to show for yourself. 

So, take risks in the first year. Though the thought of it may be daunting, it can only benefit you in the long run. 

“Dynamic risk is risking something certain to obtain something that is uncertain,” according to a study that explores academic risk-taking in higher education. 

Helena Artates, a Faculty of Communication and Design mentor leader through the Ryerson Tri-Mentoring program, said she remembered what her friends told her in first year: “You pay to be there.” Artates said that this is a reminder to take control of your education.

“Don’t be afraid of asking for certain things, challenging things (and) ideas that you don’t agree with and making use of what is available to you. Being a first-year doesn’t mean anything else except that you’re in your first year of university. You don’t have to ‘work your way up’ to make this university experience the best you can make it,” said Artates.  

Explore your options

Though university seems like a concrete structural plan to follow in the career path you’re enrolled in, that’s not always the case. Don’t settle if you’re simply not interested in what you’re studying. 

Now is the time to explore career paths and truly do something you want to do. University is expensive and results in a debt that many live with for the rest of their lives. If you’re going to rack up that debt, it should be for something you’re passionate about pursuing. 

About 30 per cent of those enrolled in an undergraduate program change their major within three years of enrolment, according to a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics. The study found that at least one in 10 students will change their majors more than once. 

Take advantage of the support programs offered 

Though university for many may be confusing, it’s important to ask those questions and learn as much as you can before it’s too late. Ryerson University offers a program called Spanning the Gaps, which helps to educate high school students about the workings of university. Ryerson also offers a Tri-Mentoring program that supports first-year student successes and helps them understand university better. 

Universities across Ontario offer similar programs and it is important to take advantage of one of them if you have the opportunity. 

“All upper years remember what it was like to be a first-year student,” said Artates. “Entering a brand new environment is daunting and having someone who can support you through that transition is something that I found to be invaluable. Getting advice on which classes to take, which professors taught them best, which TA was the most engaging — these were all insights that I couldn’t get from my peers.” 

Even though I can’t go back in time to fix the mistakes I made, those future students entering university or going through their first or second year, can learn from them. 

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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