I recently completed my undergraduate degree and people aren’t joking when they say that achieving milestones makes you weirdly sentimental. Since summer semester ended, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my past four years at SFU. When all you have to do in a day is sleep and eat, there is a lot of time to reflect.
I’ve come up with a list of things that I wish I had known when I began my academic career at SFU. My hope is that these tips will help first-year students ease into what will be a challenging, yet rewarding undergraduate experience.
1. Don’t be intimidated by the “university is really hard” mantra you hear in your first week
University is challenging, but it is by no means impossible to succeed. This classic prof-led rant is directed at students who think they won’t have to work to see results. If you work steadily and efficiently, you’ll be fine!
2. It’s not weird to be friendly
Don’t worry about getting pegged as “the weirdo.” One of the great things about university is that you’re way more likely to find like-minded people now than you ever could have in high school. Turn to the person sitting beside you on the first day of class and introduce yourself! Making friends in your classes is also advantageous from an academic perspective. Personally, I was a lot more motivated to study with other people than by myself.
3. Make an effort to go to class
Trust me, just go. The price of a coffee to get you there is worth not having to pay to retake the class next semester.
4. If you have no idea what’s going on, chances are other people are experiencing the same confusion
One of the easiest ways to make friends is to bond over collective cluelessness! It’s also worth emailing your TA/prof with your questions or posting discussions on Canvas.
5. Get on the good side of your TAs and go to their office hours
TAs are graduate students who may have just finished their undergraduate degrees, or are only a year or two out of undergrad. With their own undergraduate experience freshly in their minds, they know what you’re going through, so know that they are by no means “out to get you.” If you don’t agree with a grade you’ve received, don’t be afraid to address this in office hours. While your grade will most likely remain unchanged, you will become more familiar with your TA’s grading scheme, which will pay major dividends for future assignments! At the very least, going to office hours shows your profs and TAs that you care. Believe it or not, if you are on the cusp of a higher letter grade, this effort might factor into your prof’s decision when determining your final grade. It also gives you the opportunity to personally introduce yourself to your prof or TA!
6. Don’t freak out if you fail a midterm
Failing a midterm is not the end of the world — it does not mean your chances of doing well in the course are over. Go see your prof, go over what you did wrong, pray to the almighty curve gods, and then move on.
7. Use breadth requirements as an opportunity to explore subjects that interest you
I started at SFU as a kinesiology student, but will be graduating with a history and French degree. Anything is possible.
8. Use your department advisor
You’ll soon come to realize that drop-in hours with your department advisor are a godsend. Some advisors are very sticky about students bringing the appropriate paperwork to an advising appointment (i.e. your advising transcript, accessible on your goSFU account), so come prepared! Advisors are employed to answer questions about degree requirements and it’s a lot easier to go to them rather than attempting to figure out the ins and outs solo.
9. Don’t buy your textbooks right away, or at all
Books are expensive. So why drop $800 if you don’t have to? Before you step foot in the bookstore, ask your prof if the latest addition is required and then do some research. Compare bookstore prices with prices on Amazon and Better World Books. On the other hand, if you don’t want to buy books or can’t afford to buy a textbook at all, ask your prof to put the textbook(s) on reserve at the library. You can check out reserves for a set period, and can renew a reserve online up to three times.
10. Use the resources available at the library
At the beginning of each semester, the library (at least on Burnaby campus) holds information sessions for students regarding techniques for adjusting to the academic demands of university. You’ll receive an email about these sessions, and I encourage you to attend at least one of them. The Student Learning Commons is also a great resource that is available to students throughout the entirety of the semester and is worth checking out!
11. Opt out of health and dental early if you’re already covered!
Why insure your teeth twice?
12. If you are going to drink coffee, drink responsibly
A lot of places on campus will give discounts if you bring your own mug! Save a little by going reusable.
13. Cheer on SFU Varsity Athletics
As the only NCAA school outside of the US, SFU has many sports teams that compete in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) against American institutions. Heading to a sporting event is a great way to hang out with friends while showing support for your university. Student athletes train tirelessly in order to represent SFU to the best of their abilities, so your attendance at their games acknowledges that their efforts are appreciated! See the SFU Varsity Athletics website for information on team schedules and more.
14. Get involved
Getting involved is a great way to make the most of your experience at SFU. Whether you decide to join a club, take up student politics, become a member of your department student union, or write for this newspaper, undergrad is not only about finishing with a high GPA — the most memorable parts of your time as an undergraduate student will come from the opportunities you decide to pursue and the relationships you are able to build. While university facilitates academic development, involvement in non-academic endeavours allows students to grow on a personal level as well. So take advantage of the incredible opportunities available to you and get ready for one of the best experiences of your life!