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First year students chatting and working
September 5, 2019
4 mins read

6 things you may feel in first year & how to prep

My first year at UBC began early. I started university in Term 2 of the Summer Session—rather than Term 1 of the Winter Session, the usual “Go” square for incoming students.

In a way, I see expediting my first year by 2 months as a practice round. I could learn the ropes before I really started in September.

However, I experienced some bumps along the way—which you could meet as well. You may sometimes feel at once excited yet uncertain, discouraged yet hopeful. It’s okay to feel this way. You belong here and you’re usually never alone in whatever you might be experiencing.

So, here are 6 (totally normal) feelings that you may encounter in your first year, and some advice and resources to help you be prepared for what may lie ahead:

1. Feeling like there’s too much going on

A juggling of course-load, extracurriculars, social life. It can be difficult to keep up your new priorities, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.

In September of my first year, I began with 6 priorities: studying, work, Residence Life involvement, hangouts with friends, club meetings (UBC Quizbowl and CiTR), and novel-writing. I ended up scrapping the last two.

What to remember

You’re here to study, so know when to say “no.” It’s easy to fall behind in academics, especially in a new learning environment with material you may have never seen before.

This is normal—but catch up, attend class, do the pre-readings, ask for extensions if you need them, and maximize the resources available (e.g. academic advising, AMS tutoring, and office hours).

2. Feeling estranged from old friends

In A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle analogizes the brain to a “little empty attic” with finite capacity: “[T]here comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.”

Social connections can behave the same way: for every new friendship we make, another may fall by the wayside. Personally, I’ve found new friends, and lost touch with long-distance friends.

What to remember

You can try to keep it up, reach out, but sometimes things get busy and you do lose connections—and that’s okay. Big hug! Make the most out of the friendships you have at the present.

3. Feeling like you're deprioritizing physical health

I lived in residence in my first year, (temporarily) freed from parental supervision. No curfew, no strict lights-out rule, no reminders to eat or exercise. 

That was how I started going on nightly trips to get food, which left me drained and sluggish, especially before 8:00 am courses (Calculus for both terms, it was soooo fun).

What to remember

All-nighters and forgetting to eat meals can have repercussions on your health, mood, and academic performance. Take breaks, go for a jog, and place your health (like sleep, nutrition, and fitness) before everything else (including academics).

4. Feeling like you’re not as academically strong as you once were

Like many students, you may have entered UBC with competitive high school transcripts. But these grades can often beguile us with a false sense of security. That is why we may question our intellect when we don’t seem to do as well as we once did. 

For me, what hit me the hardest were my lower-than-expected exam grades in Calculus (here it is again!). Although initially caught off-guard and disappointed, I realized that I wasn’t as alienated as I thought—my classmates had the same feelings.

What to remember

Expectations of your performance may shift, and you may feel anxious about your grades. If you put in the effort, but didn’t get the expected results, it’s normal to feel discouraged. 

Take that as a learning experience, ask for help from profs, plan things out, and see what you can tweak—from study habits (This. Is. Key.), to time management skills (including time spent on social media) to productivity zones. Everyone’s study methods may vary, so figure out what works for you.

5. Feeling inadequate when comparing yourself to others academically

I wanted to get into a Combined Honours program (a yearly intake of 16 to 20 students), so I felt, for much of my first year, a pressure to measure my performance with my peers. Finding this too stifling, I ended up focusing less on others, and instead focused on myself and on what studying effectively meant to me.

What to remember

It’s easy to compare yourself to your peers, but everyone has personal strengths and weaknesses, and you won’t be No. 1 in everything. Be humble, try your best, work hard, and reach out for support (e.g. from profs, TAs, AMS support services, friends) when you need them.

6. Or, simply, feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing with your studies

You may question whether or not you really belong in your faculty. Or if you’re as interested in your prospective program as you thought you were. In some cases, you may wonder if you were made for university at all.

Everything can seem uncertain, receding into what Sylvia Plath called “cul-de-sacs of shadow”. I get that—I had my own share of existential crises and feeling like a misfit.

What to remember

You were selected to be at UBC, from your academic performance and personal profile. There are resources that can help, and it’s okay to change your mind throughout your undergrad, by taking a gap year, switching majors later on, or even entering another faculty.

Roads aren’t always even, paths aren’t always linear. Make the most out of your time here, reach out to others (you may share many things in common!), and take everything in stride. It’s the experience that counts.

I still feel uncertain, and that’s okay. I got into the program I wanted, and I have yet to see if I’m a good fit. But I can be prepared for any challenges up ahead—just as you can, too.