Uni 101: Academic Life

Hi friends! My original plan was to publish a blog post a week for the month of August in preparation for back to school in September. Clearly, that didn’t work (August was so unimaginably busy I just simply couldn’t keep up with the blog), but I’m going to continue my series anyway.

I’m currently sitting in a dark classroom with no windows and only one set of lights on by myself because my tutorial was cancelled but no one told me. Regardless, I feel like with my hour of free time I now have because I’m not in class, I can write a bit about academic life.

As many people know from previous blog posts of mine, when I was in high school, I had an unhealthy perfectionist mindset and basically front loaded my life with my academics because I had the time to do it. Once I was in university though, that all changed. I recently saw a presentation at my university about how incoming students from high schools have a grade average of 90.1%, which is incredible! In fact, that was my exact high school average when I was leaving grade 12 to go to university. What’s shocking is that by the end of first year, that average drops to about 73%. That’s about 17%! When I first saw that statistic, I was gobsmacked.

There’s no way that’s going to be me, I thought to myself. I’m a smart kid who works hard. I can do this.

How naive that is! Now granted (and not to toot my own horn or anything) but my final grade average in first year was 84%. Was it easy? Was I happy with it? At first, no. I was anything but happy. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to understand the arbitrariness of grades, and I’m here to provide insight as to what these numbers mean, and how to find success regardless of what the numbers say.

1) Grades don’t mean the same thing they did in high school.

In high school, I was kept myself to a 90%+ average. I thought to myself, if grades are measuring how much of the course content I understand, I want to know 90%+ of the material. In high school, 90s are base line for knowing the material. Getting 70s, even 80s, is devastating to our self esteem. I know for myself, seeing anything below 90% caused me to burst into tears. But this idea is dangerous and far from the truth. The truth is, 70% means that we are meeting the requirements. We understand what’s happening, and we are learning. Anything 80% and above means that we’ve exceeded the expectation for what we’ve needed to learn, and demonstrated that we’re well beyond the learning outcomes of a course. And we don’t need to be like that in every course. One thing that was hard for me to accept, but is liberating is that getting 70s is okay. My choral conducting professor explained it well. 70% means you put in the effort and you’re meeting the expectations. 80% means you’ve shown that you’ve put in an exceeding amount of work that wasn’t necessarily required of you. 90% means that you’re an expert and could present to the experts in the field.

It’s okay to be a 70s student. Don’t break your neck trying to get 80s and 90s. If you are doing well and getting those high marks, that’s great. If you’re not, thats okay too. When you’re out of university and trying to get a job, no employer is going to ask you what mark you got in a first year psych class.

2) Studying is not something you can cram in the night before an exam.

I’m 100% guilty of doing this in high school. The day before my exams I’d be on the phone with friends as we quiz each other on our 3-4 page study sheets we made together, trying to cram in all the information that we could. It’s easy to do this when you’re in high school because honestly, there isn’t that much information to cover in one semester. Don’t get me wrong, high school is extremely difficult for some people. There were definitely moments in high school where I thought I was in over my head. But compared to university, the vast amount of knowledge you have to learn in a 4 month semester is absolutely insane. I’ve learned the hard way that it is thoroughly impossible to fit in everything from the semester in a couple of hours.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned when it comes to university academics is how to study. MAKE A SCHEDULE. I can’t stress this enough. I know it seems stupid and you don’t want to follow it, but trust me, it helps. I usually allocate myself a couple days to write study notes, which helps me refresh my brain on the material, but I also give myself days to study with friends and quiz each other. Did you know one of the best ways to learn information is to talk aloud? Having a study group of friends that just quiz each other and hearing and speaking the material out loud together is immensely helpful. I 100% recommend it.

3) Asking for help is okay. Even if you were the “smart kid” in high school.

When I first came to university, the idea that I could ask for help was all but literally forced down my throat. “Ask upper year students, talk to your profs, schedule meetings with your TAs, have a conversation with your academic counsellor…”, you name it, I heard it. And yet, my younger self thought that I couldn’t ask for help. Perhaps it was my pride, and believing that I could do everything myself, because heck, I was living on my own for the first time. I could do this.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s okay to ask for help. And when you do, it’s incredibly helpful. I took an English class in first year where we had to write 2 essays. I wrote the first one, thought it was pretty decent, and submitted it. If I were in high school, an essay like this probably would’ve gotten me anywhere from an 80 to 85. It’s no surprise that I was shocked to see a solid 72 in my grade book, and a copy of my essay literally mauled with red ink. My head started spinning at 100 mph. What did I do wrong? How could this happen? What do I do? Our next essay was coming up soon, and I definitely wanted to see an improvement from this essay, to our next essay, which was worth a LOT more.

So of course, I swallowed my pride and e-mailed my professor. I asked him to meet with me so I could discuss my next essay, and what exactly I could do to make it better. So I met with him, and within an hour, I felt enlightened. The standards in university are different than they are in high school, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I was focused on the wrong things, and needed someone to point me in the right direction so I could meet the requirements of what was needed AND exceed and succeed. It’s no surprise that my second essay got me a nice solid 80%.

4) Your academic life shouldn’t take over your whole life.

I’ll end with this point. You go to university to learn. There’s no doubt about that. BUT, university is also meant for so much more than that. This is something I really wish I knew when I first started. University is a time where you can learn so much beyond your course work. It’s your first time out in the world when people expect you to start figuring things out on your own. It’s learning to create social connections, it’s learning to find new experiences, to develop skills you can’t learn without trying. It’s the time to join clubs and meet people that share the same passions as you. It’s a time to find out who you are, what you like, and what you want to accomplish in life.

And you can’t do that if your head is down, reading books, and studying all the time. Your academics are important, yes. But they’re not everything. So get up, stretch your wings, and fly. Even if you fall, you can get back up, and learning from our mistakes is the way we grow.

– Carole

Advertisements

Uni 101: Residence Life

Hello all! As the summer wraps up, I wanted to start a series on my blog about entering university! I’ve had a lot of people ask me in the past for tips on what to expect when transitioning between high school and university, and as per usual on my blog, I’m here to share my personal experiences.

A lot of people I know are going into their first year of post-secondary (whether that be college, university, whatever you got going for you). If y’all are anything like me, it’s both incredibly exciting and terrifying! It’s exciting going off to do a new thing (especially if you’re moving away from home), but the unknowns can be daunting. This blog post is a list of tips and tricks from me, that I learned during first year, that hopefully can be helpful to you! In this first section, I’ll start with rez-life. It can be overwhelming to live on your own, but there are lots of people to help you, and little tips and tricks that will make your life a lot easier!

I lived in a “traditional-style” residence (basically, a floor with ~100 people, separated into 4 wings of ~35 people, with 3 common bathrooms [women, men, gender-neutral]) on a “living-learning community” wing made up of only music students.

Many of you will have very different experiences to mine, and by no means am I an expert, but hopefully some of the things I learned can help you out. Nothing I say is set in stone either, if something doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to use it, or you can modify it to suit your needs better!

Rez-life will be different for everyone. It all depends on who you are as a person, what kind of people you live with, what kind of building you live in, etc. Personally, I had a lot of fun in residence! I met my best friends from first year in residence, and we’ve had a blast.

I mentioned before that I lived in a traditional style residence, which for me meant that my dorm room was literally just a bedroom. The door opened right up to the common hallway. I had one roommate, and basically the room was split in half, where we both had 1 closet, 1 twin-size bed, and 1 desk with a chair. Like this:

Portable Network Graphics image-5ADEE37A2BA8-1.png

Here are some of things I found really helpful/useful.

1) Creating extra storage without taking up more space. You can kinda see in the picture above, but I had 3 plastic storage boxes under my bed. 2 were for clothes that I was able to fold (1 for tops, 1 for bottoms) and 1 was for snacks (non-perishables like microwavable popcorn, granola bars, etc.). I don’t have a picture of the closet in my room, but if you’re anything like me (and have millions of clothes), trust me when I say THEY WILL NOT ALL FIT. Having them stored under my bed made sure it didn’t take up any more space (you might as well use the space under your bed for something), but also let me have more of my clothes while I was away. I folded all the clothes up like they were in a dresser drawer, kinda like this:

portable-network-graphics-image-7739758fbb27-1.png

Pro tip: If you’re looking for a way to downsize your closet or fold clothes in a more compact, efficient way, I definitely recommend looking up the “KonMari” method!

The nice thing about having more of your clothes with you too means that you don’t have to do laundry as often (unless you run out of underwear or something LOL), which will save you lots of money, bringing me to my next point:

2) Laundry day.  For some of you, laundry will be something you’ve always done at home (like I did!) but for some of you, it’ll be your first time. It’s really useful to have some sort of laundry schedule to follow so you can make use of your resources and time most efficiently.

Pro tip: If your building uses high efficiency laundry machines (you can typically find out on rez tours or by calling the front desk) I recommend you buy liquid detergent instead of the Tide pods that some schools (like mine) recommend.

Mostly because:

  1. If the washing machine is HE, you don’t need to use as much liquid detergent as you think, meaning it will last you for a lot longer than you would think (I had 1 bottle of liquid detergent that lasted me all year).
  2. Some of my friends had experiences where the tide pods wouldn’t completely melt, and the plastic casing would get glued onto things, and they’d have to wash things again (wasting laundry credits and their time).

At my school, all residents got their first 29 credits for free (both the washing machine and dryer were 1 credit to use once) which can last you all year if you try really carefully. In total I added $10 to my laundry card, I believe, at the end of the year.

For me, I only did laundry every 2 weeks, and I only used about 3 credits at a time. I like to wash my light clothes separate from dark coloured clothes (to prevent colour bleeding), and I found it was helpful to wash both simultaneously (in 2 separate washing machines, beside each other), so that I could toss both loads in the dryer together, to save myself from using the dryer twice, when a lot of my clothes I had to hang up to dry anyway.

The best way to accomplish this is to do laundry on a weekday. Absolutely EVERYONE tries to do laundry on weekends, which can make it really difficult to do this when you live in a smaller building (my floor [which had about 100 people in total on it] only had 3 laundry machines and dryers). I liked to do my laundry on Thursday afternoons, since I finished class at 3:30.

Pro tip: The laundry machine should lock when your load is running, meaning you can leave to laundry room to go do other things instead of waiting in there. People can and will take your clothes out and dump them on the floor or on top of the machines if you don’t come back to get them though. Set a timer on your phone a few minutes before your laundry is finished so you remember to take it out and move it before that happens.

Another great way to conserve laundry credits (or not use too much money) is to take your laundry home as much as possible. This can become more difficult the farther from home you are, but if it’s possible, I would definitely recommend it. First semester has tons of holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) so typically, I would try to hold off from doing laundry until I was going home so I could do it at home for free. This won’t always work for everyone (my parents picked me up in their car so I could bring my laundry bin home, if you’re going home on a train/plane/bus, this won’t be incredibly ideal), but if you get the chance, definitely take it!

3) Living with a roommate. Sometime is you’re lucky, you’ll end up in a single room in residence. If that’s the case, you don’t have to share the space with anyone! But if you’re like me, you may end up sharing half of your room with someone else. Having a roommate was definitely a pleasant experience for me, though I know for many of my friends, it wasn’t. Here are some tips that I’ve compiled from living with my roommate and hearing stories from my peers.

  • Borrowing Things from Each Other: if you don’t want your roommate to use your things, let them know what is okay or not okay for them to use. My roommate let me know that I could use her mini-fridge to hold any food items that I needed, but I never borrowed any of her other things without asking right away.
  • Giving a Heads-up: there’s nothing worse than coming home to your residence  with a complete stranger in your room. You may be comfortable with having a friend, family member, or significant other hanging out in your room, but that doesn’t mean your roommate will. Always make sure to ask your roommate(s) if its okay if you have guests over, and respect their decision!
  • Respecting the Space: always remember that you share your room with someone, which means respecting the space in a way that makes your roommate feel comfortable. You may not be phased by leaving your underwear on the floor, but your roommate might.
  • Communicate Right Away: If your roommate does something to bother you, don’t let it simmer until you’re angry and bitter (trust me, it’s exhausting to be that mad all the time). Talk to your roommate calmly about what upset you, and hopefully you two can reach a compromise. This works vice versa as well. If your roommate approaches you with something, try not to be too defensive. Listen to what they have to say, so you can (hopefully!) reach a calm compromise. If that doesn’t work, your residence staff member can help by mediating a conversation between you two.

A lot of people may have grown up with their own bedroom that they didn’t have to share with anyone. Having roommates is a wonderful chance to learn what it’s like to live with someone else, and you may end up making a friend in the process! Remain calm, and keep a clear head. Your roommate is probably equally as scared to live with someone else as you are. No one is looking for trouble!

Pro tip: Most universities will ask you to fill out a short survey about your lifestyle, such as what time you sleep, if you are tidy/messy, etc. and match you up with a roommate accordingly. Trust the process no matter how scary it can be! People who are matched up by the system, rather than trying to find a roommate online find that they end up with a much better match.

4) Food and nutrition. While it may be exciting to move out for the very first time, make no mistakes. Mom and/or dad aren’t there to cook for you anymore. Many residences offer in building food in their cafeteria, and it’s great! For the first week that is. After a while, you can get tired of the food the cafeteria serves. I recommend you buy a mini fridge (or coordinate with your roommate) so that you can bring food from home too. Every time I went home my parents would bring  me food, whether that was homemade bread from my grandma, or cheese that my mom bought on sale.

Overall, residence is one of those once in a lifetime experiences that are very special. Make the most of it! Everyone’s needs are different, and these are only a guideline of what you can do, but hopefully they help!

Do you have any tips for people living in residence? Or do you have any questions about residence?

– Carole