Dear First-Year Me,
So you’ve just finished your first semester at U of T. Congrats! One down, seven more to go! Now while you may think you’ve got it all under control, and I’ll admit that you’re not doing such a bad job, there are some things that we should talk about.
First, don’t be surprised when you get back your grades from your first semester and you didn’t get all A’s. For one, you’re not in high school anymore and let’s face it — you really didn’t do your best. But that’s okay! Your first semester is not going to define your entire undergraduate career. And plus, you’re on your own for the first time in your life, at one of the toughest schools in North America, it’ll take a bit for you to adapt.
So, instead of hanging your head in defeat, reflect on the semester by doing more than just saying that you’ll do better next time. Take a moment to figure out and to understand what you were lacking this semester. Identifying a cause for your poor performance and reacting to it is just as important as committing to do better in the future. It may not even be that you’re not working hard enough. It may just be that you’re setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, or even that the program you’re in isn’t the right one for you (hint, hint).
What I’m trying to say is that you should be proactive. Once you get back your grades, go pay your registrar a visit and see what they think. Vocalize your concerns and get advice. Have a chat with someone at the Academic Success Centre during their drop in hours, or check out one of their workshops to see if there’s anything you can add to your toolset. Trust me, there are lots!
Secondly, I know that you’re leaving for Trinidad in a few days, and you’re excited to see your high school friends and to party the next three weeks away. And that’s all great, you should be having fun during the holidays, but don’t forget, you’re an adult now. You should be using your time — even your time away from school — to try to experience things that will help you to evolve and grow, not just get sloshed on the beach. Now I obviously don’t expect you to study day and night for the entire vacation, but start looking at your down time as an opportunity to get a leg up, and I don’t mean up on the sofa.
See if you can get a part time job or volunteer position and gain some experience in a field that you think you might be interested in. Read a book that may or may not be on your syllabus, but one that’s at least somewhat related to a course for next semester. Take advantage of the time and do things that you wouldn’t be able to during the school year. Future you will thank you; trust me, I would know!
Lastly, start thinking about what you’re going to do next summer, now! I know it seems like eons away, but once second semester starts — and let me warn you, it’s a whole different beast compared to your first — you won’t have the time to think about it again, and before you know it, May is upon you and you have nothing planned.
Think about taking summer courses, they’ll ease up your workload next year. Have a look to see what internships are available, or check out the Externship Program run by the Career Centre for a chance to shadow a professional for a week during the summer. A lot of the deadlines for applying are in January and early February so there’s not a moment to spare.
And if you’re really feeling adventurous, apply for the Summer Abroad Program. If it’s one thing I can’t ask you to do more of, it’s to travel. It’s possibly the most overlooked and underrated aspect of your education, and you will learn as much from traveling as you will from going to class.
The last thing I’ll say is not to be afraid of new things. I know you’re not always the most outgoing or confident person in the world, but so far I haven’t regretted anything that I’ve done, only opportunities that I’ve passed up. Yeah, you’ll have a few mornings where you’ll wake up feeling you could have done things a bit differently, but eventually they’ll become stories you laugh about with your friends. You’re only really going to miss, the things that you missed. Other than that, you’re going to be just fine.
See you in four years!
Your friend, Chad
P.S. Please buy some new clothes, you’re not thirteen anymore. 😉