U of T news

21 pieces of advice for first-year students

Grads and current students offer words of wisdom

U of T students and grads offered advice over social media (photo by Johnny Guatto)

It was a little back-to-school question that resulted in a huge response.

As U of T News planned different ways to tell a few of the many stories inspired by the start of a new year at the University of Toronto, we reached out to some of our oustanding recent grads as profiled in our 2013 Convocation feature, "Where the grads go," and asked "What advice do you wish you'd received in first year?" 

After those grads were so eager to offer words of wisdom, we thought we should open the conversation to the University of Toronto Facebook group. The outcome was an avalanche of advice for new students, posted in one of U of T's most-commented-on Facebook threads of all time.

What follows are the best, most interesting, and most useful pieces of advice for first-year students.

1. GET INVOLVED

"Welcome to U of T! You made it!" said Oloruntobi Ogunbiyi, a recent Computer Science graduate now working for Toronto startup, Divnotes. "Feeling excited and overwhelmed is inevitable as there are so many students with lots to do. Settling in shouldn't take too long," he said, so long as students take the initiative to get plugged-in to the university community through volunteering and clubs, and make an effort to introduce themselves to professors and teaching assistants.

2. MAKE USE OF OFFICE HOURS

"Profs hold office hours for a reason, so use them!" echoed Emma Cancelliere, an alumna from the Biological Anthropology program who convocated last June. "All of the best answers, advice, and opportunities that I got at U of T, I got during office hours."

"I know it can be insanely intimidating to go to office hours at first, but it's worth it. Once I actually started crying after leaving my prof's office, feeling completely shaken and disheartened by the critique my assignment had needed. I kept going back every week, though, and my grade skyrocketed as I listened to the suggestions and advice being offered. That same prof became somewhat of a mentor to me, and even wound up being one of my references when I applied to grad school," she said.

"Office hours are also a great chance to dive into meaningful, one-on-one conversations with experts in your field. My professors were all so passionate about what they did, and I learned the most brilliant, interesting things about their work by talking to them during office hours, since there's never time in lecture!"

3, DON'T STRESS ABOUT GRADES

"In terms of marks, try your best to find a balance and to not fall prey to over-confidence and/or fear," says Chesarahmia DojoSoeandy, an award-winning alumna who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from U of T last June.

4. JOIN A CLUB

"Also, trying out new things definitely adds to a positive experience at U of T," she suggests. "U of T has a variety of different clubs and activities. Maybe you have always wanted to try martial arts or learn to make origami or photography or dance-- U of T probably has a club for whatever you have in mind. If not, start one!" 

The remaining pieces of advice were all gathered via the following Facebook thread:

                            U of T Facebook status post: Looking back, what advice would you give to first year you?

5. MANAGE TIME WISELY

U of T Facebook post: i would tell them to study hard, prioritize your time, balance everything, as its a big transition from high school to university so just study and dont skip any classes  all the best for the first year and yes if u have any questions, dont hesitate to ask ur friends, profs and TAs and yes make new friends

6. ACTIVELY SEEK OUT NEW FRIENDS

U of T Facebook post: Make a new friend everywhere you go, don't be anti-social

7. DON'T GIVE IN TO PROCRASTINATION

U of T Facebook post: Don't procrastinate. So easy to say, so hard to do.

8. KEEP FOCUSED ON YOUR END GOAL

U of T Facebook post: Look, U of T is going to be tough but at the end of the day, a degree from here is worth the hard work and stress. So study hard, go to your classes and don't slack off, I mean it! DO NOT.

9. GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY

U of T Facebook post: Do volunteer as much as you can and have fun!

10. GET STARTED ON READINGS RIGHT AWAY

U of T Facebook post: Talk to profs and start reading the first week.

11. LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR STRESS

U of T Facebook post: Learn to understand and deal with your own stress. Ask TA's for extensions if you need them, time management will come, and TA's understand more than you think about the importance of mental health coming before your grades!! There is a lot to juggle in you're first year, and I wish I knew that TA's are empathetic about this.

12. KNOW THAT YOU'RE NOT ALONE

U of T Facebook post: And one of the points of university is not just to help get you a job, which is of course important, it's to help make you a thinking, questioning, better citizen. U of T's a great school. Take what interests you, avoid as much as you can of what doesn't, try hard to do your best, don't overload yourself and get freaked out, and allow yourself to have fun. And if you feel alone, remember that there are plenty of people who feel the same, and a lot of them are in lectures and tutorials with you, so you have a natural reason to talk to them. I know that because I formed close and lasting friendships exactly that way.

13. UNDERSTAND THAT EDUCATION IS MORE THAN A DEGREE

U of T Facebook post: Dear first year me: Plant a garden and take good care of it, for you will receive two important things in return: 1. a much deserved break from school every time you put your hands in the dirt, and 2. an understanding of how to grow your own food for when you graduate and realize that getting a fancy degree doesn't teach you anything about the most basic things in life.

14. KNOW THAT STRESSING OUT IS HARMFUL, NOT HELPFUL

U of T Facebook post: The same advice a lovely fourth-year gave me while I was freaking out over courses and in line for academic advising, "Don't stress so much, you'll never make it through like that."  Her words rang strong and true whenever I started to freak out. And they really did help me make it through

15.  VOLUNTEER

U of T Facebook post: Get as much work experience and volunteering work related to your feel as you can. just a degree in the real world will not be much help. And follow ur passion. If u fail one two times don't give up.

16. ALWAYS TRY YOUR BEST

Be bold, follow your heart in your choice of program of study, and work even harder when you think you're doing just fine.

17. STAY AFTER CLASS

U of T Facebook post: Don't go home right after class. Talk to Profs more.

18. TAKE QUALITY STUDY NOTES

U of T Facebook post: Keep up with the readings, aim to have assignments done a week before so you can have them reviewed by the prof/TA/writing centre for advice, go to class and don't depend on powerpoint slides for study notes. I don't look at the slides when the prof is talking, I just take notes....this way when I study I have notes in my own words and the power point slides ... Good luck, stay at U of T....has an amazing reputation that employers are looking for!

19. PLAN YOUR SNACKS

U of T Facebook post: resist those chinese food trucks in front of Robarts... are they still around? and don't take too many naps in Robarts!  UofT.

20. JOIN A SPORTS TEAM

U of T Facebook post: Get involved in a club, sport or activity in the University. Especially if you are not from TO or not in residence. It's a big city and the hussle bustle in and around the University can seem somewhat impersonal/cold.

21. REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN

U of T Facebook post: Don't be afraid to talk to people, socialize a bit more, not everything is studying and grades.