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A Commuter's Advice: Preparing for University

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For the past 4 years or so, you’ve struggled, studied and, hopefully, enjoyed growing up in a high school setting and, finally, you’ve graduated high school. You’ve applied to universities, received your admissions decisions, and have selected the school most appropriate for your situation. Congrats! But, before your first year of university begins, you have two whole months of summer vacation waiting for you. Many of you are wondering how to utilize those months to prepare yourself for university. That’s where I come in. The following are suggestions that this college student wishes she could have told herself after she had graduated and a few things that she actually did right. Surprisingly, none of them involve "reading an entire textbook and memorizing dozens of definitions" - as fun as it may sound.

1) Do not go too overboard when shopping for school supplies.

If you’re anything like me, then you most likely become infatuated with various school supplies when you’re out shopping – multicolored pens, lead pencils, highlighters, sharpeners, erasers, calculators, a dozen notebooks – and the list goes on. But, let’s be realistic, how many of you actually need all of this stuff? Surely, if you’re an English major, all you’ll need is a pen or pencil and a notebook. If you’re a math major, you’ll need the already-mentioned, plus a calculator. Only buy the essentials, the rest are unnecessary. Now that you’re in college, saving money, even a small amount, is an aspect you should start adapting to, if you haven’t already.

2) Get a laptop.

Mom’s PC was useful in high school for quickly typing up essays; however, having your own laptop is more convenient. Many students already have their own computers but, if you don’t, I highly suggest investing in one – you won’t regret it. Be sure to choose one that is light, affordable, and can easily meet your technical needs (i.e., an expensive gaming laptop is a waste of money if you’ll be using it to, mostly, type essays).

3) Work full-time, or at least part-time, during the summer.

Applied to OSAP or FAFSA? Great. Now, go look for a job. After all, you want to make full use of the next two months. You’ll be able to use the money for your tuition and gain valuable work experience, which will definitely come in handy later on when you’re looking for a job in your field. You should enjoy your last summer as a high school student as well but, let’s be honest, you can do that and work simultaneously.

4) Visit your school.

Book a tour, attend the orientation, go to Frosh Week; whatever you do, make sure you actually visit the university before classes begin. You can bring a friend with you if you’re nervous or simply make new friends while you’re there. I made a few of my closest friends from the campus orientation.

5) Buy your textbooks AFTER the first class.

You’re most likely already enduring the hectic frenzy of gathering your school supplies on time, so you can be prepared mentally and textbook-wise for the upcoming school year. But, your textbooks are one thing you DON’T want to be too hasty purchasing. While the textbook list may seemingly appear to be set in stone, believe me when I say that you may walk into your very first class only to realize that the professor marked the incorrect textbook on the class list. It happens. Unfortunately, most schools don’t offer full refunds for textbooks so you may end up purchasing a $100 book you have no use for anymore and will be reduced to selling it for half the price to your school’s bookstore or another student and, yes, I’m speaking from experience. Therefore, this college student’s advice is to wait until after the first class and, when the professor confirms the book list, purchase any required items then.

6) Do not buy new textbooks if you can avoid them – hit Amazon, discount bookstores or talk to older students.

Textbooks can be costly. Some even range from $200-500 each. In my first year, I was entirely unaware of discount bookstores and/or websites and simply bought the overpriced books from the university’s bookstore. However, there are places where they are more affordable: a) do a quick Google and Face book search, sometimes students start their own groups where they sell or trade books; b) check Amazon or Chapters, if you’re an English or Humanities major, the majority of your books can easily be found in the school library for free; c) talk to former or current students, if you know any personally, or during the orientation, and ask if there are any discount bookstores on or off-campus.

7) Apply for scholarships and bursaries.

Scholarships and bursaries are not just restricted to your university. If your average is high enough, you can win an entrance scholarship. Universities offer scholarships that are not automatic as well, so be sure to check out your school’s list. If not, there are many websites and resources out there that offer the chance at some decent cash. If you’re in Canada, check out: www.studentawards.com and www.scholarshipscanada.com. All that is required is to fill out a profile. Using the information you submit, they will match you up with potential scholarships/bursaries. Now, for the hard part; some of the scholarships will require an essay, some will require references, some may even request a personal interview. Do not be sloppy or careless during any submission, give it your all and hope for the best.

8) Take a deep breath.

As your first year draws nearer, you may undergo a variety of emotions – excitement, nerves – heck, I even had panic attacks. Just to clarify, this is normal. During your first few weeks or so, I can guarantee you’ll get lost on campus at least once, you’ll confuse a building with another, and, if you’re extremely giddy, you may even enter the wrong classroom. It happens. Sarcasm aside, you’re about to enter an important part of your life. It’s normal to be very nervous or excited. Plenty of freshmen have informed me about their college worries – they’re afraid the work is too hard, they’ll get lost on campus, they’ll be overwhelmed by the workload, and they won’t make any friends, and so on and so forth. Fact is, if you’re a good student and you did well in high school, you have the potential to do well in university. From my experience, most students tend to do badly when they prioritize partying over studying or begin slacking off until the last minute an assignment is due… but you’re not planning on doing that, right? (grin) As for the social aspect...

9) Be prepared to take initiative.

Making friends in university isn’t as hard as it appears, as long as you’re willing to take the initiative to reach out to people. I know, I know, some of you are too shy to start a conversation with the random student sitting next to you during a lecture. Honestly, I was shy as well throughout high school but I comprehended that unless I spoke to people, people would not speak to me. University is a place where everyone – shy or confident – can feel comfortable. If talking to others during a lecture is too big of a leap for you, join clubs and/or organizations you’re interested in. It’s very simple to meet other people in a small social setting. When you attend your orientation or campus tour, chat up some of the other students with you, if there are any. Keep in mind that you aren’t the only person who wants to make a friend. Students tend to be friendly, especially during first year. Be sure to make friends with the right people – the quiet student constantly studying in the library is a better friend than the person who is drunk every other weekend. There are many different type of people at college/university so "fitting in" is the last thing you have to worry about.

That basically sums it all up. Once again, congrats to everyone who graduated this year! And, good luck!




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