Youth Canada

If only I knew this during my first year of University!

5-11-2008 by Nadia Kasenda

If only I knew this during my first year of University!

I can still remember my first year of university. The days of being packed like sardines in undergraduate classes of two hundred are now but a distant recollection. The time wasted navigating through unfamiliar university territory to find that elusive English class is but a faded memory. The confusion about how to schedule classes, degree requirements and all those major, life impacting decisions have now fortunately come to an end. All in all, the naive and inexperienced girl I was back then is in stark contrast with the seasoned, knowledgeable graduate I am now. There are many things I learnt the hard way, and looking back, I wished there were some tips I knew that would allow me to maximize my academic, social and personal experience at Simon Fraser University. Fortunately for all you new high school grads, I’m going to share them with you now, and hope that it will prove useful and applicable for your first year in a Post Secondary Institution.

1)Plan Your Courses Carefully and in Advance

Some people may think this is common sense. However, many students end up taking courses they hate, or are irrelevant, or bring down their GPA for no good reason. I realize that some courses are mandatory, but you may have some flexibility as to when to take them. Do your research carefully, and save time, trouble and money.

a) Determine your academic priorities before choosing courses.
Do you want to expedite your graduation? Take a course because you’re interested in the subject? Challenge yourself with new material? Be in the same class with your friends? Figure out which program to major in? Naturally, we usually choose courses for a few of those reasons. However, there should be one priority that takes precedence over the rest. This will serve as the basis for planning your courses over the next few years. Basically, the point is to ensure planning is not a haphazard process, but a structured procedure with a clear direction and goal.

b) Know your Professors
Check out http://www.ratemyprofessors.com to find out who is teaching which course. Ask older students for professor recommendations. So many times your grade and understanding of the material is highly dependent on the language skill, teaching style and helpfulness of said professor. It could mean a difference between an A and B – I kid you not. Some particularly inspiring professors have also been known to influence students to pursue a degree in their field, just after one eye-opening lecture. It happens. Professors (not just the course topic) are important. Do your homework.

c)Book an appointment with your department’s career and undergraduate advisor.
No, it is never too early to see them, despite only being in your first year. Most students (me included) make the horrendous mistake of waiting till 3rd year or later to use these free, university-provided resource centers. A career advisor gives you guidance on which careers and jobs are best suited to your interests, skills and experience and whether, for example, a specific concentration or minor is recommended for this field of work. An undergraduate advisor provides academic instruction – he/she helps you develop a plan to ensure you get just enough credits to graduate with the degree you want, which will save you considerable time and money. They can also provide crucial scholarship and bursary information that you may be eligible for. See them both, and get a clearer idea of your academic and career goals for the future.

2)Get involved, but don’t spread yourself too thin

Many first year students get excited about the prospect of joining the many student clubs and other volunteer associations on campus. They usually end up signing up for almost everything, and then realize they over-committed themselves and spread themselves too thin. The other extreme, naturally, are those students that don’t feel the need to get involved at all. Both stances are obviously undesirable. Think carefully before you sign up for any club (since membership fees are usually involved) and choose the ones that you believe will best meet your goals (whether it be social, career related or academic). Do not feel pressured to join because ‘everyone is doing so’ and the club president behind the counter seems very sweet and persuasive. And once you do join, fully commit and work your way up to a leadership position. I can safely say I learnt more from volunteer leadership roles on campus than I did in the theoretical confines of the classroom.

3)Go out of your way to network and socialize

In some universities, it is harder to make friends than in others. Simon Fraser, for example, is not as conducive an environment as UBC, as most students do not live on campus and go home straight after class. Whichever institution you are attending, go out of your way to network and socialize. The more contacts you have, the easier it is to find friends when partnering up for study nights or when forced into those dreaded group projects. Also, university is the incubator where thousands of brilliant minds are gathered together. Learn from them and share your knowledge. What better way to find friends (and maybe future business partners, or co-workers) that last a lifetime?

4)Get a mentor

There is a steep learning curve for those entering university straight from high school. This is especially true for rather naïve, sheltered and shy individuals (like I was). It really helps if you find yourself an older student that you admire and respect, and ask them to be your mentor. Not only can they guide you through the struggles of first year university by being your confidante and friend, but they can help integrate you socially as well by introducing you to their network of friends. If they are in the same program as you, they may also be able to sell you their old textbooks that you will need next semester for cheap!

So there you go, four tips for first year students I wish someone had told me prior to entering SFU. They may seem like common sense, but sometimes we tend to forget or inadvertently ignore what is right in front of us. I really hope that you will find these tips helpful, and not make the mistakes I made as a consequence of not adhering to those general guidelines.

So here’s to your excellent university experience! Carpe Diem.




NADIA KASENDA is a SFU Bachelors of Business Administration Honors Candidate with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Communications. She will be (finally) graduating in Dec 08 and poking her nose out of the rabbit hole otherwise called SFU and sniffing the (hopefully) greener pastures of the real world. During her (sparse) free time she finds joy in volunteering with non profit student associations such as the Global Agents For Change and the Student Marketing Association.