20 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting University

I’m sure many of you are gearing up to hit your first year of University, and are scared out of your minds.

I don’t blame you: I sure was, about this time last year. As the eldest child, I was the first in my family to go away to school, and I didn’t get much pertinent info from my older university-grad cousins. So I was pretty stressed. It’s not as if high school really prepares you all that well for the real deal, what with your teachers waxing poetic about what school was like ‘back in their day’ and emphasizing their own personal note-taking methods (not realizing, of course, that your style of note-taking comes with lots and lots of trial and error). So you suddenly end up in the summer before the rest of your life, your head full of mumbo jumbo and feeling pretty freggin’ nervous.

Of course, you could be one of those ‘fearless’ types. Or you could be, like friends of mine, absolutely dying to get away from high school and their families. Either way, I hope that these lessons I learned in my first year are helpful to you.

What I Wish I’d Known

School pride!

1. It’s impossible to not make friends. Honestly. It is. As soon as you get there, you’ll be bombarded with people and events, all set up for you to meet new people. You’ll be running around introducing yourself, asking where people are from and what they’re studying. And that’s just the first couple days! Then comes frosh (aka nonstop socializing), then classes, then labs/conferences. You’ll start to bond with your floor, start to go out with certain people and have different experiences.  You’ll start to make great friendships. You’ll gravitate towards certain people, spend more time with others, and sooner or later you’ll end up with people you refer to as friends! Easy peasy. So don’t worry, you’ll definitely make friends. But you won’t immediately find close friendships. That’s hard to accept, especially for people like me who had a great support system in high school. But close friendships take time! Take it slow, trust your instincts, and eventually lots of great friendships will start to blossom.

You'll make awesome friends..:)

2. You’re already interesting. Don’t worry so much about whether or not you’ll be perceived as ‘cool’. Don’t try to change yourself before university! What makes us different makes us interesting. Be yourself, as hard as that can sometimes be, and people will love you for who you are. Honest.

3. You’ll probably cry a lot. Sorry. It’s kinda true. The reasons are different for everyone: maybe (like me) you’ll burst into tears over your calculus textbook practically every time you try to study, or maybe you’ll suffer a bad long-distance relationship breakup, or maybe you’ll be sad you’re not making close friends faster, or maybe you’ll be homesick, or maybe any number of things. Don’t think that you’re the only one crying. YOU AREN’T. When I became close to a few girls on my floor after a few months, they told me that they’d thought I’d had it all figured out during those first few months (when actually I was falling apart) and that they’d been crying a lot too (even though I thought they’d been fine!). Point is: you’re not alone. Everyone feels sad, everyone wants to be reached out to. So if you knock on a door every once and a while, you might find some great friends way faster! :)

4. The school part is just another step up. You know how Grade 12 was harder than Grade 11 (hello! calculus?) and Grade 11 was harder than Grade 10? Well guess what. Grade First Year University is harder than Grade 12. It’s another step up. But no, it’s not impossible. The trickiest part about first year is learning how to learn at a university level (your note-taking method, time-management) while balancing a social life, it’s not the material itself. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s easy! Learning how to learn is very tricky, the workload can seem overwhelming, sometimes the teaching methods make you want to cry (see #3!) but, it’s manageable. As long as you figure out how to balance school and fun, and put your mind to it, you’ll succeed. The ones who fail are the ones who can’t balance, and tip the scales towards fun. The scales have to be even!

My study space..

5. You should indulge your personality type. Try to think about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert – look at the definitions here to figure it out for yourself. In my opinion, it’s important to be conscious of the distinction, because when you hit university, you’re in an extrovert’s world. Constant socializing, all day and all night, during meals, classes, partying, etc. Especially in a dorm! For introverts (or people who are half and half!) it’s important to find ways to take time for yourself before you become drained. You see, extroverts get lots of energy from social interactions, whereas introverts harvest energy in alone time. So if you’re an introvert (as I partially am), it’s okay to get away from it all and spend time by yourself. Find a quiet place if you don’t have a single room, go for a walk, go explore on your own, write in a journal. Make sure you replenish that energy so that you still have the motivation to socialize some of the time.

I love walking up the mountain to get away

6. Going home is not the answer. I know that sometimes you might be hurting. You want your mama. Not a big deal, we’re all there sometimes. But in your first year, it’s crucial that you don’t go home every weekend. You might be terrified to put yourself out there and socialize, but people want to be friends with you. They’ll embrace you with open arms! I promise. But if you don’t make any effort and go home at every occasion, you’ll be missing out on an important chance to find friends, and find yourself. You can’t be your own person if you never let go of home and the security it provides. University is the time to forge out forward and discover yourself and others. *However, if what you’re feeling is more than social fear, and you feel extremely depressed (lack of appetite, insomnia, or thoughts of suicide {a better analysis here} then it may be a great idea to reach out to your family, and take a short break from school or seek therapy.* Just this year, a boy on one of my friend’s dorm floors committed suicide while at school. It was a tragedy. The pressures of university are great, try not to be afraid to reach out to a floor fellow, family member or friend for help or someone to talk to.

7. You may dislike a few people. Or more than a few. You’ll run into several types of people at university, from all walks of life and backgrounds. It’s safe to assume you won’t get along with many of them. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just gravitate towards people who make you feel happy and everything will work out. Sometimes, jerks will ingratiate themselves into your life, as my friend (whose roommate was dating an asshole) found out. In those instances, the most you can do is try to ignore them, set boundaries with the roommate, and grit your teeth until they go away. Don’t indulge them. Try not to spend time with them.

8. A single bed fits two. Trust me and my friends.

9. You’ll probably want a quiet place. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll need some time alone every once in a while. Whether to make private phone calls, cry, reflect, or study, you should have somewhere to yourself. This is not easy to find. I was lucky to have a single room, but the walls are thin, so I found solace outside, in libraries, and in my closet. Ha! Try and find somewhere to yourself, it’s hard to be around people when you want to be alone.

10. If alcohol is God, then drinking is the bible, but you can choose how religious you want to be. Make no mistake, a ton of drinking occurs at university. Any university. Mostly, it is good times, it’s fun! But everyone’s different. Not everyone reads the bible every single day: most read from it once or twice a week. Likewise, some people go out/drink more than others. At university, if you wanted to, you could find people going out to a bar any night of the week (Mondays are definitely not off limits, the weekend starts on Thursday). The question is, do you want to? It’s up to you to decide. Remember that without balance, you will fail in all aspects of your life.

My friend Morgan

11. “Routine is despair’s sly assassin.” What a fantastic quote, right? And it’s true. Whether it be a sleep schedule, a weekly timeslot for the gym, specific times of days for meals: routines are so important. Your health when at school is of the utmost importance: how will you study, party and socialize if you’re exhausted or sick? You won’t. Trust me, you don’t wanna be sick at school. Routines are also good for stress relief. For example, if you have a plan or schedule for exam studying, the whole ordeal will be less overwhelming. Routine kills despair. Remember this, young grasshoppers!

12. Expanding your comfort zone is hard, but necessary. Nobody said it would be easy! Or maybe they did, but they lied. Going away to school is probably one of the worst, hardest, and best experiences you will ever have. Sure, it’s the best years of your life, but it’s some of the hardest too. You’re busy trying to get good grades, learn how to live on your own, make great friends, figure out who you are, etc, etc, and all the while, your comfort zone that you lived happily inside all through high school is rapidly spreading, maybe faster than you want it to. But it’s important to push yourself, be scared, do new things. It’ll be terrifying and hard, but you won’t regret it – or you will, but it will be a life lesson.

At the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

13. Not everyone has lost their virginity! So for goodness sake don’t go rush out this summer and lose it just so that you won’t be the only one left. Trust me, you won’t be the only one left. I’ve met tons of people this year, some were virgins, some weren’t. The point is, the question only ever comes up when you’re already becoming very close friends, and at that point they won’t suddenly drop you if you’re a virgin. Yeesh, look what television and movies will do to people these days!

14. University students are constantly comparing themselves to each other. You do it, I do it. Everyone does it. You always want to know where you stand, whether it be in classes, how much you exercise, how much you party, etc. It’s important to remember that this is a natural thing, this is how people figure out where they fit in to things. Sometimes it can be annoying, especially if people are aggressive about it (in some of my classes, people would constantly ask about grades because they were desperate to be on top) but I always love to remember this quote from The Sunscreen Song: “Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

15. Don’t try and find a roommate for next year within your first month. Honestly, you have time, I swear. Besides, your friend group may change drastically between October and March. Your living situation is a complicated affair, and it will probably have many changes, additions or substitutions before being finalized. So for goodness sake don’t get yourself caught up in a plan for next year in late September: chances are you’ll meet someone else you want to room with! In your first few months, try not to get all stressed about living sitches, focus on school and friends. The rest will fall into place. I promise!

16. Calling your Mom is quite acceptable. People will not mock you for it. Everyone’s doing it. Some people less than others, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. But you probably already knew that. Here I was, thinking that when I got to school, I’d be tormented for calling my mom so much. What can I say? We’re friends.

17. People will respect your choices. People will accept you whether or not you drink, whether or not you smoke, whether or not you do drugs, whether or not you party. They probably won’t accept you (or not too many of them at least) if you never socialize, but any other lifestyle choice will be fine. Honestly! I had friends who didn’t drink, I had friends who were borderline alcoholics (kidding), people who had various study habits, various partying habits.. In the end, the people you’ll end up being friends with will accept your lifestyle choices. Basically, your attitude is everything. If you’re having a great time and being friendly, people won’t care what you’re doing! Here’s a great article from College Fashion about not drinking at school, if you want more information.

18. There is so much exploring to do! You’re living/studying in a brand new city, full of people, events, restaurants, sights, shopping, etc. Don’t miss out on it! Don’t be afraid to escape the University Bubble a couple times during your first year. It makes it so much more fun! Visit a friend at their school, go out for dinner off campus, visit a museum or local attraction, play outside. There is tons to do, tons to explore. Try to get away from the studying, stress, and clubs every once in a while and get to know your city!

Save a horse, ride a bull

19. Get to know your school. Try and get the most out of your fine establishment! Learn as much as you can about the school itself. My campus, for example, has a sex store, a bar, several tunnels (very handy for Montreal winters), an all night hotline (call for any information you could ever want, from jokes to pickup lines to how late the pizza place is open), tons of awesome libraries (yep, I’m a giant nerd), and lots of amazing theatre throughout the year. My friends have similar perks at their schools, or different ones. Explore, ask around, find out all the goodies your school has to offer.

I love my triceratops

20. Don’t worry so much. Everything will work out just fine. It really will. You’ll survive first year, whether or not you worry, so try not to! It’ll be a topsy turvy, crazy ride, with lots of surprises and new experiences. Try and make the most of each of them, and don’t stress so much. I know personally that this is easier said than done, but I’m trying to worry less and live more!

My birthday party!


Going away to university can be the scariest and most fun experience in your whole life. I know that. You know that. I hope that you can get something out of these lessons I learned during my first year, but if you don’t – you’ll learn them yourself your first year! Good luck my loves.

Oh hey: you first year survivers, anything to add? What did you learn this year? Let me know and I’ll add it into this post.

xoxo, S.

22 thoughts on “20 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting University”

  1. As someone who has already been through uni and all the student stuff, the only thing I’d like to add is that it’s all going to end at some point and you’ll have some great memories and people to remember those years by. And yeah, you’ll probably be happy that the student period of your life has ended (when it does) but those are your golden years!! ENJOY!!

    This post made me want to be a student again.. Hmm :)

    1. Exactly! Don’t stress too much about any of the small stuff, it’ll all be good memories in the end. Thanks for the comment :)

  2. Hey S:
    This is such a well thought-out post! I think it is all really good advice. I had a rare first year experience:
    -I only made 1 new friend
    -I hated my roommate and everyone on my floor, and they hated me (all they wanted to do was party and hook up, and I didn’t want to do either, therefore I was shunned)
    -I ate alone every single day
    -I went home every single weekend
    -my long-distance boyfriend and I…stayed together! (gasp!)

    I think any experience is what you make of it. I learned that I’m my own person, and just because everyone else insists that you have to bond with your floormates, you have to go out and party, and you have to dump your old boyfriend by Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean that’s what I have to do. The 1 friend I made is worth all the floormates x 100, and my boyfriend was there for me in a way my roommate could never have been. Now, I’ve made more friends, but I’m still very close with family, and my high school friends. As fun as it is to learn and grow in university, you have to do it under your own accord and by your definition; don’t let the ‘typical’ university experience sour the time you’re having.

    Just my thoughts! Good post though :)

    1. I’m so glad you were able to stay true to yourself (or figure out who that was!) without having to bend to the social norms. You’re right when you say that everyone’s experience is different, and there’s no one ‘right’ way to do things. Thanks for the comment!! :)

  3. You are so wonderful. I will point my daughter to these posts with much pride. :) This and the Study Tips post are words I wish I had read while I was fumbling through school. (Eleventy billion years ago!)

    Your blog is in my “Daily Reads” Google Reader folder; we in the Internet universe are so lucky to have you !


    1. Claudia! :D Thank you, you’re too kind. And a lot of the study pointers were actually from my mom (shh!) so blame her, not me haha. And your blog is in my daily reads but you don’t post often enough for my liking!! Haha, xoxo

  4. Nice article! I found that almost everything you said. Some things I learned:

    1. Be a little kid again! Dance in the rain, go sledding, play on the local playground. When you’re being pressured to grow up, it can be soooo de-stressing to be five again.

    2. Get to know your professors. This can be invaluable. I have a professor who will go through my papers for other classes because we’ve developed a great relationship. I have also been to another professor’s house–she invited some of her favorite students over for dinner!

    3. Its OK to bring your childhood teddy bear, softest stuffed animal, or baby blanket. Lots of people bring them! Just don’t bring *all* of them.

    4. Remember you are there to learn. One guy I know who is in my program had one semester left before he graduated but he couldn’t finish because he could not get a loan–because his grades weren’t good enough. Loans are a bank’s investment in your education. If you can’t prove that you’re a good investment, you won’t get a loan. Who would you rather loan your money to–the kid with the 3.5 GPA or the one with the 1.6 GPA? Another girl I know had to leave because her parents wouldn’t “pay for her to party” anymore and she couldn’t get a loan without her parents co-signing. Its great to have adventures and go to parties, but at the end of the day, you are at college/university to LEARN.

    1. Ooh! I love all of those, I wish I’d thought of them when I was writing this post! I totally brought my stuffed elephant to university. Thanks for the input!

  5. Pingback: What to Bring to Your Dorm Room! « In Limbo

  6. Hei effie…I’m an Indonesian student who takes double degree programme in my bachelor degree, so I spent 3 years in Indonesia and now am spending final year in Netherlands, it’s very difficult to deal with though it is not my first year in university experience, coz I must overcome the cultural shock experiences n meet new people from definitely vast backgrounds of culture/ethnicity/way of life, etc. But after reading ur post, I am totally inspired to work my best afterwards…I know i can face this ^_^ Thank u my sister^_^ Bedankt, tot ziens!

  7. Pingback: Celebrity Feetwin » What to Bring to Your Dorm Room!

  8. hmmm number 12 LOL…..
    but number 1 is maybe for me is the the 1st thing to know then….coz i have my own experience with that, when my early days in university, almost half a year a hadn’t got a very closes friend and thats why my early year at university was worst and i even do not remember at that time but just sad and lonely and bored indeed…..

    nice then,,,nice to you..im new blog world…..u mind pay a visit to my blog then….

  9. So true! All of this! I think all new college/university students need to read this because I think it would really help them out with a lot of things. College is not all fun and games, like people think it is. I thought it was, and I got kicked out for a semester, and ended up taking a year off before going back.

    Also, and I think this is an important one – It’s okay to not know what you want to do during the first year, or so, of school! If anyone gives you shit for it, it’s okay, let them! It just means that you’re wanting to take time and get to know and understand other subjects better before wasting 3 years and $20,000 of your money doing something you don’t want to do! I learn this the hard way! Took me that long and that much money before I decided that what I was doing was not for me and changed from Business to Web Design. Do I regret taking business? Yes and no, but it gave me good insight into things.

  10. Don’t you guys get scared that when you have grown attachment to your university and suddenly you have to leave, go to another country, find a new job etc etc, you will have an emotional breakdown because you miss the old times? Memories can be a blessing AND a curse.

  11. Pingback: What I wish I had Known in My First Year « Inundated

  12. Pingback: Quora

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top