I regret to inform you that there’s no train ride and no comforting trolley full of snacks to carry you into university. The rumours you may have heard aren’t understating anything — University of Waterloo brings heat. Transitioning from high school to university can be terrifying, and despite the fun, there are a few things that simply aren’t covered during the late night campfires of O-week.
First year is like a game of teeter-totter; you learn that prioritizing helps but it’s not nearly as easy as our agendas make it out to be. An hour of Skyping your parents can go by in the blink of an eye, but a page of reading can feel like it takes days. A night out will slip right past you, while the hangover will last the entire weekend. The best tools at your disposal are preparation and a good backup plan.
For those of you living on campus, getting homesick once in a while is practically inevitable. Even if you went through four years of the cliché rebellious high school phase, after only one week away, even the toughest Warriors will miss home. But even before missing your home and people who raised you, you will miss the food. The steamy, sultry smells that drove you from beneath your bedroom covers and into the dining room each night for dinner — food will be the greatest change. Be prepared, there’s no shame in trucking over some of your parent’s family secret gumbo.
UW is big. It’s important to remember you aren’t alone. By the time we graduate high school, we become familiar with its people and its hallways. It might take a bit of time to feel that same familiarity in such a large space, making this the ideal time to join clubs, find outlets, and get up to some (moderately) no-good shenanigans.
Just in case, as you’re packing up the gumbo, feel free to grab a little something to soothe your sweet tooth. While having an extra batch of grandma’s chocolate chip cookies may make for an excellent snack, it serves an even higher purpose in the new halls of your residence — food is the quickest way of making new friends. While armed with chocolate chips, you are sure to at least meet one lifelong friend.
Unfortunately, there is still the nasty business of school.
Each class will feature a syllabus, providing you with a detailed account of the material you’ll need to read each week and the topics you’re going to cover. Looking at it the first day can feel overwhelming; it essentially confirms every workload rumour you’ve heard coming into university. There is a lot to learn and a lot to read, but keeping up with those readings will be your saving grace. Although, fair warning, that is a heavy undertaking.
There is a significant increase in homework from high school to post-secondary. In retrospect, what felt impossible in high school will feel like the easiest exercises. Soon you will discover your superpowers include quick reading and functioning excellently with virtually two hours of sleep.
Once you’ve come to terms with the greater workload there is still the matter of the actual classroom. With the exception of a few courses and a few programs, most first-year classes will feature classrooms with dozens of students. Your professor will likely never learn your name, and TAs will become your best friends. However, professors are not scary; most will be more than accommodating if you need extra time, so long as you double check at least a week before the deadline.
In high school, the option to procrastinate and write essays the night before is a possibility. Usually multiple assignments won’t be due on the same day, however that isn’t the case in post-secondary. Deadlines arrive far quicker than we anticipate and it is impossible to pull together a proper 10-page report in one night.
In the great and wise words of Albus Dumbledore, “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Alright, perhaps comparing University of Waterloo to Voldemort is a bit harsh — but really, you don’t need to fear university. Still, your teachers weren’t exaggerating when they told you that it was going to be a totally different ballpark, so be prepared, bring your A-game, and try to make the most of it while you’re here.