First vs. Final Year: What Graduating Students Wish They Knew In First Year

It may only be a few years, but the difference between being a first year student and an upper year student is huge! There are pressures experienced by both – everything is new to a first-year student, which can be difficult to adjust to, while graduating students are thinking about what comes next, which can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. In first year, you might have the pleasure of experiencing everything university has to offer, while having less responsibility than an upper-year student, but that doesn’t make first-year any less difficult. Especially if you move away from home – homesickness and a huge leap into your adult life is a big change, and it is normal to feel stressed about doing everything right, from classes and grades to friends and university teams or clubs. Hopefully, you also enjoy the excitement of coming to a new place; exploring, meeting new people, and making use of the school’s opportunities and resources to enrich your experience. While upper-year students might seem like they have it all together in terms of friend groups, clubs, teams, and classes, they too were once wide-eyed first-year students, and they likely have lots of advice to give to students getting through their first term of university.

Without further ado, here are what some (anonymous) upper-year students think first-year students should know:

“Your profs won’t think you’re bothering them if you want to ask questions. Ask questions when you need to; they are there to help you, and will be happy to know you are engaged in what they are teaching. Office hours are available for a reason.”

“If you are not enjoying your program, it’s not too late to change. Try taking different electives where you can and exploring other options. First year is a pretty open time class-wise, so it’s okay to consider changing.”

“The library is not dead. It is actually a great resource. Learn to use it. There are also so many school resources you can use: tutors and a writing centre literally free to you, so why wouldn’t you use it?”

“Try finding friends in your classes who are similarly driven (and good at taking notes) and become study buddies, especially if you are in a major where there are a lot of readings.”

“Don’t pull all nighters. Just don’t do it. Plan ahead.”

“First year does count toward your final GPA.”

“Make yourself familiar with your specific program requirements right away. Don’t let it stress you out especially in your first year, but it’s good to know what courses you are going to need over four years.”

“Getting involved is something students are always told, but don’t get so involved that you overextend yourself. Start smaller and then add to your plate if you feel able to.”

“Thinking about what you want to do after you graduate should be exciting, not stressful. It’s fine if you don’t have any idea what you want to do. In fact, it’s kind of fun; it means you have lots of options and get to think about all the things you could do.”

“Make sure you find out what routine works for you, and then stick to it. It will depend on when your classes and other commitments are, but having an established routine will make you the most productive. Besides class, set times for studying, assignments, and any other responsibilities throughout the week.”

“You might expect to have a set friend group right away, but the truth is for the most part all of your classes will be with different people, and you’ll probably go days without seeing people you know, even if they’re your close friends. It’s good to have a diverse group of friends and not just one set group.”

“Explore electives. There are tons to choose from, and you don’t have to take the expected option/classes that pertain to your degree. You might find something you really enjoy that you wouldn’t have guessed you would. I took German as an elective on a whim and it’s now my favourite class, and I’m considering doing a year abroad in Germany now.”

“Don’t just study as much as you can. University isn’t just about studying, it’s about the whole experience. Study and work smart, but enjoy other things too. It’s about work/social/self balance.”

“It’s normal to feel uncomfortable or in way over your head, not just in first year but at any time. It’s important to know everyone feels this from time to time, and you can handle it. It’s part of the university experience, and it will get better. Take a deep breath and surround yourself with supportive people. You deserve to be here as much as anyone else.”

“Make connections in Wolfville. You don’t have to stay confined to campus or to friends on campus. Wolfville is an awesome community and there are tons of people and groups to get to know outside of the university.”

“Enjoy ‘adulting.’ It’s fun to be away from home! Enjoy your new freedom and responsibility (responsibly). Take advantage that nobody is telling you what to do!”