5 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started My Undergraduate Degree

Throughout my two years at the University of British Columbia as a pharmacology student and a summer research assistant at the National Core for Neuroethics, I have been fortunate to meet many people who have given me great advice on how to achieve my personal and professional goals. However, I wish I had had guidance regarding university life, just as I was entering university. My transition from high school to university was not a smooth one. Many of my mistakes could have been prevented. For all the graduating high school students entering university in the fall, here is a list of five things I wish someone had told me:

1. Get involved.

Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you and get involved! By participating in extra-curricular activities, you will make new friends and develop life skills not taught in lecture. These ‘soft’ skills include: communication, leadership and cooperation. When you apply for jobs, employers want to see qualities such as leadership just as much as they want to see a high GPA. Some great ways to get involved include:

  • Intramural leagues/ Fitness class: Try out a new sport, or learn a new skill. Not only will you stay physically healthy but you will also make some friends in the process.
  • Clubs/ Student groups: Most campuses often have a “clubs day” in which all the clubs on campus recruit new members. Attend the “clubs day”! Join a club with a cause or topic that interests you and you will meet people who share your interest.

2. Set priorities.

University requires you to constantly juggle important commitments such as coursework, family/friends and extra-curricular activities. Maintaining this balance between studying and extra-curricular is more difficult than it was in high school sverige-ed.com/. Since university provides you with more freedom compared to in high school, it can be easier to procrastinate and put off commitments. To avoid this trap, consider using some of these strategies that I have found helpful:

  1. Determine daily and weekly priorities for tasks that you want to accomplish. This keeps you focused and prevents you from falling behind on your responsibilities.
  2. Plan to have one or two days a week where you set aside your school work. Use this time to de-stress and spend time with your friends and family.

3. Meet as many people as you can.

Regardless of whether you are going to your local university or moving across the country, you will make many new friends during your first year of university. For me, meeting people in university is MUCH easier than it was in high school. Don’t be afraid to join mentoring programs where you get an opportunity to meet senior students or industry professionals. Initially, it may seem daunting to strike up a conversation with a stranger but it gets easier with practice.  Here are some common approaches/topics I have used:

  • During lectures, professors often take breaks to allow for a quick two minute discussion on a question related to the course material. This is a great opportunity to ask the person sitting next to you what they think the answer is. From there, you can segue-way into a brief conversation about the class, the midterm, etc.
  • “What’s your major/program?” This is a very common topic at club/social events. It’s a great way to break the ice because you can then discuss the program’s job opportunities and course load. Who knows, you may even discover a program you’ve never heard of but are really interested in!

4. Save money on textbooks.

For those of you who don’t already know: avoid purchasing books from the university bookstore AT ALL costs! In my first year, I bought every single required and optional textbook, brand new from the bookstore for all of my classes. I realized I made an expensive mistake after finals- one of my textbooks was still in its plastic wrapping. My advice for buying textbooks is the following:

  • Wait until after your first lecture before buying books. Professors often say whether textbooks will be absolutely necessary.
  • Try to buy used books used. Most schools have a Facebook group where you can check who is selling.  From my experience, used books are still in good condition.

5. Create a budget for yourself.

Following up on the previous point, many students over-spend during their first year of university. Whether you earn money from your part time job, receive money from your parents or have student loans, most students feel as if they have a certain degree of financial freedom coming into university. However, that financial freedom is precarious and can evaporate with reckless spending. Therefore, budgeting is a valuable tool. Here are some tips I have used to set a reasonable budget:

  • Save before you spend. Instead of saving whatever money you have left at the end of the month, try allotting a set amount of money to your savings account at the start of each month. Then, discipline yourself! You have to make do with the remaining amount of money.
  • Save eating out as a social occasion. Eating at restaurants everyday can get pricey! Try making your own meals the night before, or keep some groceries in your dorm (depending on the appliances available to you). Try thinking of eating out as a social event to partake in with friends.

For those of you starting university in the fall, I wish you the best of luck with this exciting transition. Make the most of your undergrad- it’s a time of exploration, learning and personal development. Your undergrad will be an unforgettable experience, with a plethora of opportunities to seize!


photo credit: Michael Matti via photopin cc

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