A Letter to my First Year Self: Four Valuable Lessons I learned from University

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I’m graduating in June, and although convocation is still a few months away, today I’m feeling retrospective. University was exciting and utterly terrifying in my first year. I didn’t know what to major in, I knew hardly anyone in my classes, and everyone around me seemed so grown-up and mature (okay, well not everyone). Then there was little ol’ me sitting in the back row, hiding from the laser-vision glasses of the professor. Fast forward to fourth year and I was a somewhat active participant in class, enjoyed meeting with my profs during office hours, and wasn’t so twitchy when it came to exams.

You know what I learned? University helped me grow as a person. It’s actually quite fun if you’re doing something you love. Amidst the groaning over research essays, the pulling of late night papers and the cram study sessions for exams, university was worth it because it gave me a chance to discover what I loved, in the midst of what I disliked. Here are four valuable lessons I learned from my four years at University:

1. A BAD MARK ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD.

I had a hard time grappling with this concept in my first year. I entered University as an A-student fresh from high school with high marks, high hopes, and high expectations that were inevitably smashed to smithereens.  When I got my first low mark in a Humanities essay assignment, I was devastated. I had been mopey and ‘woe-is-me’ when I saw the grade printed in blood-red ink. Lecture rolled around and I sat gloomily in my seat thinking how am I gonna pass this course? The majority of the class was in the same boat, so the professor devoted the lecture to dismantling the “hamburger” essay structure we were taught in high school, and re-taught us how to write properly. As the class progressed, it was amazing to see how my critical writing skills improved. I ended up doing better than I expected (90%) – my eyes must’ve been as big as those loony-toons eyes when I saw the grade. See, sometimes, a bad grade is just the kick you need to improve.

2. WHEN YOUR BRAIN IS FRIED, TAKE A BREAK

Have you ever felt like you can’t possibly churn out another assignment in what little time you have? TAKE A BREAK. HAVE A NAP. GO OUT WITH FRIENDS. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE! Only then will you come back to the assignment with a smile on your face and a determined attitude to finish the darned thing. If you lock yourself up and try to force something into completion, it won’t turn out as good as if you were to approach it with a positive attitude. Maybe it’s common sense, but breaks are healthy, and naps are a welcome bliss. Just make sure your nap doesn’t last for eight hours! …Yes, I am guilty of this.

3. CLUBS CAN ACTUALLY HELP YOU LAND JOBS

No, I don’t mean clubbing! Most people think that work experience can only be had through jobs. Well, not quite. If you’re an undergrad who’s never had a job before, why not take the initiative and be part of an exec team in a university club you’re passionate about? Sure, you won’t get paid, but you’ll learn valuable things you won’t learn in the classroom. I had the privilege of being the creative director and graphic/web designer during my university career all through executive club work. From these experiences I met so many amazing, life-long friends who’ve provided me with invaluable help during my undergrad. These experiences played a huge role in my resume, and have helped me land exciting new jobs!

4. YOU’RE NOT JUST IN UNIVERSITY TO GET A DEGREE

I will never forget what one of my professor asked us in our first year:

“If you had the option of grabbing your degree right now without having to go through a gruelling four years of university, would you take it and go?”

The class was silent. A few timid hands went up. In my mind, I was all for it. It would save me the time, energy and money if I could just grab that degree and walk out the door. But my professor told us that if we stayed, we’d learn that there was more to University than getting a degree. It was about ~finding yourself~ (as corny as that sounds). We were there to experience life’s highs and lows so that in the future, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, we’d know we had the ability to overcome. After all, if you can survive University, you can survive anything. Friends, peers, profs, and family are there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re in school to meet strangers who’ll unexpectedly turn into life-long friends. Through my experiences in university, both good and bad, I realized my passion was in web design, and I couldn’t have made the decision to go into post-grad school had it not been for what I’ve experienced in these past four years.

Hope this was insightful. Feel free to share your thoughts!
Abby

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