A group of students socializing together while sitting in the grass
May 11, 2023
6 mins read

11 pro tips for your first year

Coming to UBC, you might find that there’s a lot to navigate.

We’re like your Queer Eye duo, but instead of a fabulous makeover (which you don’t need anyway, kween), we’re here to help make sure you have the fullest first-year life you can—with these 11 tips!

1. See uni as a fresh start

Your first year of university is a fresh start, and an amazing opportunity to become the person you want to be. It can be hard to leave high school behind—your friends, the familiarity, all the highs (and maybe even the lows)—but you have a lot more autonomy and opportunities in university, so take advantage of them to explore every part of yourself. 

Additionally, remember that success in university isn’t calculated in the same way as in high school. Your grades may not be as high, and it may take some time to figure it all out. Release the metrics you've used to measure yourself by, and open yourself up to new experiences and kinds of success. 

2. Get familiar with (and make good use of) UBC’s resources and perks

Explore the services and resources available to you as a new student, so you’ll know which to use if you ever need to in the future. Make sure to search up your questions before reaching out to support staff (like your Enrolment Services Advisor and Academic Advisors), because sometimes you can find your answers through a quick few minutes of Google-sleuthing—it's worth it to do your research first!

Also, be sure to follow UBC Life on Instagram to stay up to date on events, opportunities, resources, and other insider tips—from students, for students. (Plus, you can win freebies from time to time!)

3. Journal/document your time at uni

Mind-clearing journaling can help you decompress and show your future self how much you’ve grown! Keep track of the events and emotions you experience from day to day. Want to share your thoughts? Create personal WordPress-powered blogs for free with your UBC CWL!

As a bonus, take videos and photos of all the different experiences you have in your first year. Reliving all these memories in the future can help you reflect on who you are and have become as a person. 

4. Always read everything carefully

We mean everything. Look, there's a lot of reading in university—instructions, course readings, texts, e-mails, signs—and skimming won’t exactly cut it. 

Make sure you fully understand your course requirements, your syllabi, your exam instructions, and so forth—and ask questions when you don't! Trust us, you don’t want to put in loads of work only to realize you skipped Step 8 out of 10 and have to start over (or worse, not fulfill the requirements to get into your desired major!).

Try reading your work out loud to catch any weird phrasing or mistakes, whether that’s a paper or a job application. A neat idea is to treat all your written work with the care you take when drafting text messages to your (secret) crush.

5. Start and submit things early, and back up your files

Sure, procrastinating is known to kindle creative output...but leaving your assignments to the last minute for sudden epiphanies isn’t exactly a smart move. Whenever you get an assignment, start it right away—even if you only do something small like creating an outline or diving into some research.

Plus, madly finishing up your work and submitting it at the last minute is super draining and stressful. Always give yourself a solid buffer time to submit your assignment/exam; this will save you from madly contacting your instructors with “HElp! I handed it in 2.2 seconds after the deadline, is that ok???”

And of course, make sure you’re always backing up your work—like sticking with Google docs—in case your laptop or Internet decides to go on a crash vacay. 

6. Study strategically

Studying in a university learning environment means adapting and testing out new strategies to more efficiently navigate and retain materials. And this means avoiding studying at the last minute, in a distracting location, or highlighting every page of the textbook (among other common study mistakes).

If you’d like, try forming a study group you can count on and teaching each other course materials—a strategy that’s helped improve our grades much more than simply studying alone and doing practice exams!

7. Say “Yes” smartly

Trust us, we know how easy it is to want to do everything that comes our way in university. Although you should try as many opportunities as you can, your time is limited. Overworking and overcommitting yourself can exhaust you and prevent you from doing your best. 

We like prioritizing things as: Personal health/wellbeing > Academics > Everything else. If you ever feel like things are really piling up or your health is being affected, it’s okay to stick solely to your top priorities. You might feel like you’re letting someone down (and we get that that's a tough feeling to navigate), but remember that your needs matter, too. Fulfilling others’ expectations at the expense of prioritizing what you need isn't sustainable in the long run.

8. Take time for self-care 

When your schedule is packed full, self-care can fall to the wayside. We’ve been there—it usually sinks in around the time when you realize you haven’t done laundry in 3 weeks and you’ve fallen asleep in the library (again).

Your mental health and physical health are the most important things, and you should attend to them as much as you do your studies.

Make sure to always ask yourself how you’re feeling! Trust us with this one—neglecting your mental health can lead to pent-up moodiness and can impact you long term. Identify which self-care strategies work best for you, so you can always fall back on them when you have to. 

A couple of strategies that have worked out super well for us are:

9. Try to build a strong support system—early

It may feel like you’re suddenly surrounded by people but have no one to talk to. After all we’ve been through, it’s more important than ever to take the initiative in meeting new people!

Reach out to your classmates and fellow club members, and get to know one another outside of class or club projects. Attend residence events if you’re living on campus, or apply to one of UBC’s Collegia if you’re a commuter student. It may seem a little daunting, but remember that everyone is probably just as eager as you to make friends! 

It’s worth investing in these friendships—these could be the people you make it through university with.

10. Embrace feedback and mistakes

Getting feedback, like comments on a paper or a job performance review, can sometimes feel like catching a hedgehog with bare hands. However, learning to take and implement feedback is one of the most important skills we acquire in university. If the feedback is about your work, don’t take it personally—use it as an opportunity to improve!

We aren’t talking about harmful feedback here! If someone’s critiques seem suspiciously/blatantly personal, they probably don’t have your best interests in mind. Listen to feedback from people you trust and respect—not from those who aren't in the 'arena' with you, as researcher Brené Brown so wisely reminds us

And remember that everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Try to forgive yourself when you stumble, and move on—you’ve got this.

11. Develop an idea of where you want to go, but prepare for change

Take this time to really explore your interests, whether it’s through electives or clubs. Seek information about majors you might be interested in by:

  • Reaching out to friends and connections who are currently in these majors and asking them questions, or
  • Connecting with students over Reddit with flairs of majors that you’re considering, if you’re comfortable doing so.

Try to reach out as early as you can, because you might have to complete certain pre-requisite courses or a minimum number of credits to apply to a program of interest—and the advice you get can help you better navigate your plans.

Also know that you can always make new decisions, and that you don’t have to set your plans in stone. As you grow, you may realize your interests are evolving as well, so don’t be afraid of adjusting course.

No matter what new experiences you encounter this year, we want to assure you that things will be okay and that you’ll grow in more ways than you might expect. 11 cheers for a fab first year!