Photo: Parker Townes.
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When the Fulcrum editorial team sat down to put together a U of O survival guide, we wanted to keep it light and easy, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. Instead, we reflected on some of the major mistakes we made as first-year students and what we would do differently if we had the chance to go back. With a combined experience of over 25 years spent traversing through the post-secondary world, these are our essential tips, tricks, life hacks, and pieces of advice for not only surviving your university years, but thriving in them as well.

Academic life

  • Build a professional relationship with your professors! Don’t be afraid to email them and approach them in class. Professors like proactive students and down the line they will help you out when it comes to references and job opportunities!
  • Make an appointment with your career adviser once you start applying for serious jobs. They are really helpful in navigating the job market when it comes to your degree.
  • Don’t take notes on your laptop if you’re a borderline social media addict, or if you’re prone to check work emails or multitask. Ditching the laptop and taking notes the old fashioned way can leave you better off.
  • Connecting with other classmates can be a lifesaver. When you work as a team, you can cut down a significant amount of time and effort studying and learning course content.

Residence life

  • If you’re in residence, chances are at least a few of the people on your floor will become some of your closest friends throughout university. Try to be open to and spend some time getting to know others on your floor
  • Depending on how you treat them, your roommate(s) can either make your life exponentially better or a living Hell. Get to know them and find out what they expect from you and lay out what you expect from them
  • In the middle of winter, or when you’re suffering from a depressive episode, you might not want to take the walk to the dining hall. Keep microwave popcorn, granola bars and freezer meals (depending on freezer availability) on hand.  
  • If you weren’t able to snag a spot in res and you’re living off campus, make an active effort to be on campus more often. Whether that means making friends in res and crashing their parties, joining clubs, or just studying on campus more or talking to the people beside you in lectures, you’ll be able to compensate for not being surrounded by people in res.

Social life

  • Join an association/club. It broadens your social network and you get to meet a lot of like-minded people
  • Check out the variety of group sports and physical activities offered for free or at reduced cost by the U of O’s Sports Services.
  • Don’t sleep in through your frosh activities, even if you’re hungover from the night before! While you might think that drinking buddy you met at the bar is your soulmate, you’ll benefit from meeting people in a setting where you’ll remember their names and faces.
  • Form study groups in your classes or via Facebook! There’s no better bonding method than communal academic suffering.

Saving money

  • Both the Metro and Loblaws on Rideau Street offer 10 per cent off a totaled bill on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students — it doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but it really adds up over time
  • Textbooks are notoriously one of the most expensive parts of attending university — buying textbooks used or sharing textbooks with a classmate can save you a lot of money, as well as selling back a textbook after a class has come to an end.
  • Unless the prof tells you to get it in advance, wait until the first class to decide whether or not you really need the book. A lot of profs reveal in the first lecture that the test material will only be from lectures, and some even tell you straight up that the book isn’t necessary to ace the course.

Mental health

  • Even if your mental health feels good and stable, connect with an on or off-campus mental health professional in advance to set up a support system in case things do go downhill. At the very least, be well-versed on the resources available to you if things get rough over the year.
  • Remind yourself how incredibly common it is to struggle with mental health. When mental illness hits it’s easy to feel alone, or like a social outcast, but there are so many people (some who you already know) that will understand exactly what you’re going through, and be more than happy to help.
  • If you’re in crisis and need an immediate, confidential place to turn, Good2Talk is a helpline specifically available for post-secondary students. Call 1-866-925-5454 to be connected with a counsellor.

Physical health

  • Invest in Emergen-C, a supplement containing a large amount of Vitamin C; it’s a life-saver when you start to feel sick
  • If you are sexually active, try and get tested at least every time you sleep with a new partner
  • Don’t forget to Sleep! Studying and making friends might seem like top priorities—but, they’ll be way easier to work on if you’re well-rested. Plus, no one wants to be friends with someone who zones out for half of your conversations.
  • Join an intramural team! This is an absolute lifesaver if you’re too busy or unmotivated to hit the gym regularly, and is an awesome way to make friends in a fun atmosphere. The best part is that intramurals are super beginner friendly, so if you’ve always wanted to try a new sport, give it a go!
  • Take advantage of your gym membership while you’re at school, you have access to a swimming pool, squash court and so much more. Once you graduate you won’t have that luxury anymore!

First-years: your next few years spent at the U of O will go down as some of the best of your life. Make the most of them!