My first year at UNB was a fairly typical experience– a near equal mix of excitement and stress. It was ultimately a positive period in my life, but hindsight is 20/20: there are several things I wish I would have grasped back then that would have enabled me to get the most out of that year. Until someone in Head Hall makes a working time machine to send me back to my first year, the best I can do is share what I’ve learned in the hope that you can avoid some of my mistakes. So, in no particular order:
1) First year is the best time to get involved
For someone who entered university with big plans to get involved in everything I could, I did absolutely nothing with my spare time during my first year. Because I thought first year was meant to be the most enjoyable year of university, I didn’t want to commit to anything that may encroach on my social life. However, now I see why this was a ridiculous excuse to not get involved. Simply put, joining even one of the many clubs, societies and groups on campus is the easiest way to meet like-minded people who host social events of their own. The earlier you get involved, the more people you will meet and the more opportunities you will gain from it. This ties into to my second point…
2) Grades are important, but not the most important part of university
Above all, university is a networking opportunity. Yes, your grades are important – especially if you are trying to land scholarships or are working towards more than a bachelor’s degree. But the most valuable thing you will gain for your career is your connection to a network of smart and successful people. Like it or not, who you know plays a massive role in deciding whether you land a job. Most positions are never even advertised because companies either hire from within or offer the position to people they already know. So, while you should still strive for good grades, make sure you are also doing your best to connect with as many people as possible. Chat with the people sitting around you in class, take part in social events that interest you and join clubs and find jobs on campus when possible (shameless plug: The Brunswickan is always looking for volunteers!)
3) Education should never come at the expense of health
Although I just explained why grades may not be the most important aspect of university, we all still stress about exams or assignments from time to time. It’s important to recognize and address when this stress is having a negative effect on your mental or physical health. Nerves before an exam are normal and to be expected, but not sleeping the night before because you were too anxious or studying all night is not. There are endless ways students risk their well-being for the sake of their education, including skipping meals to save time or relying on substances to help them fall asleep or stay awake. These habits are not only unhealthy; they are also predominantly ineffective. Odds are the exam you take after pulling an all-nighter will not go any better than if you went into it underprepared but well rested. Instead, you can avoid these situations through effective planning and time management while making your health your top priority.
4) Professors want you to do well
Even with the best laid plans and most efficient time management skills, things will still happen that are out of your control and affect your ability to succeed. However, such circumstances should not cause undue stress or jeopardize your health. Keep in mind it is in professors’ best interests that their students succeed. If you encounter any issues that you think may hurt your grades or impact an assignment, talk to your professors about it. I have never had a professor refuse to grant an extension on an assignment if I had a justifiable reason; sometimes they are even willing to do more than that. Once, a professor allowed me to reschedule an exam for a later date! You just have to be willing to ask for help and be honest about your circumstances. As long as you are putting in the effort and aren’t abusing their generosity, the vast majority of professors will do what they can to help you.
5) There are resources on campus to help with nearly any problem
Perhaps the most helpful thing I’ve learned about university is just how many resources are available to students - if you know where to find them. Support for students goes far beyond the great medical and counselling services offered on campus. Having money problems? Financial Aid offers job placement programs for students in financial need and can help with tricky things like applying for student loans. The Student Accessibility Centre offers numerous types of supports and services for students with disabilities, medical conditions, or mental health issues. The UNB Student Union also offers many resources to students, from peer support initiatives to dog therapy rooms. Another underrated resource offered on campus is the Writing Centre, where you can have an experienced writer go over your written assignments with you before you hand them in; this is practically guaranteed to help you catch simple mistakes and boost your grade.
The services I have mentioned are only a small portion of what is offered to all full-time students. You have already paid (a lot) for these services in your student fees, so do not hesitate to seek them out and take advantage of them whenever possible.