A student is studying and taking notes alone in a study space
September 17, 2020
4 mins read

What you may feel in first year—and how to prep

Even virtually, entering university can feel like being whisked away to a world that you have only heard about...but have yet to explore yourself.

I found my experience of coming to UBC 2 years ago rather similar to the start of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, specifically the point when Lucy’s siblings at last wind up in Narnia (after only hearing Lucy’s avid, somewhat flustered narration). There was the excitement of venturing into someplace new...the wonder!

However, just like the Pevensies’ travels through the eternally wintry land, my journey through life as a first year had its own flurry of bumps and unexpected feelings...from uncertainty to insecurity.

And yours might, too. So, here are 7 (totally normal) emotions that you may encounter in your first year at UBC, and some advice and resources that can help:

1. Feeling like you’re at maximum capacity all the time

Now that so many things in our lives have moved online, it’s easy to think that we can take on more commitments: Yes, clubs! Yes, student society! Yes, athletics! Yes, more work or volunteer hours! However, these commitments can amass like all those Turkish Delights in Edmund Pevensie’s stomach...and leave you feeling less than awesome.

Remember this:

Know that your primary role at this time is a student

Not a club member. 

Not a part-time employee. 

You’re at university to study—so make that your top priority. Designate regular study hours during which you will do nothing other than studying. Turn off notifications. Set your priorities, and draw clear boundaries for your capacity. 

2. Feeling a little disoriented in navigating what you’re learning

I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve attended where I understood less than 25% of the total material covered—and how enchanting the thought, “Just figure it out later,” can be. (Beware: The desire to follow up can exponentially decay with each new lecture!) 

Remember this:

Feeling lost is normal—but do your best to stay caught up, attend your lectures, and reach out to your profs to clarify your questions as soon as possible. The content will quickly pile up, especially in a digital context. Don’t be the person watching a term’s worth of lectures at 5x speed (after downloading a video-accelerating browser extension) the night before the exam.

Do the readings, ask for extensions if you need them, and take advantage of all the resources available (such as virtual office hours, AMS tutoring, and academic advising).

3. 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.

Remember this:

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. 

But take it as a learning experience. Ask for help from your profs, plan things out, and see what you can tweak—from your study habits, to your time management skills, to your study area. Everyone’s study methods are different, so figure out what works for you. 

And, of course, find a good buddy you can confide in; that person can help you stay grounded, no matter your feelings.

A student is looking out the window

4. Feeling inadequate when comparing yourself to others academically

I often find myself clicking on the “Score Details” button on the Grades page on Canvas, and comparing my grade to the mean. You might find yourself doing the same and, depending on what you see, you may feel a bit disappointed—especially around midterm season.

Remember this:

It’s easy to compare yourself to your peers, but everyone has strengths and weaknesses—no one is the best in everything. Be humble, show up, work hard, and reach out for support (e.g. from friends, family, profs, TAs, and the many campus services available to you) when you need it. 

You don’t have to always give 100%—sometimes, just 80% is good enough.

5. Feeling like you don’t belong in the field of study you chose

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 even 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 Aslan-level existential brooding.

Remember this:

You were selected to be at UBC, from your academic performance and personal profile—you belong here, and you’re more capable than you may feel at times. 

It’s okay to change your mind throughout your undergrad. This could involve taking a year off—if you can—to clarify your goals, switching majors later on, or even transferring to another faculty (really!).

6. Feeling like dynamics are changing in your relationships

As you develop new ways of communicating your identity, your values, and the topics you are sensitive about, you may notice the relationship dynamics you share with family members and friends shifting.

Remember this:

Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries with your friends, your SO and your family members can help you stay assertive, independent, and mentally well. And be sure to communicate once you’ve detected an issue—it’ll prevent unhealthy brooding and unexpected conflict in the long term, trust me.

7. Feeling like your physical and mental health aren’t where you want them

Life can get busy, and health may not always be top of mind—whether that’s physical, like giving your eyes the rest they need, or mental, like setting sufficient time for self-care

Remember this:

Take breaks, stay active, and place your health above everything else (including academics). Pulling all-nighters or neglecting to eat meals can have repercussions on your health, mood, and academic performance. 

The emotional strain of being there for others can also impact your own mental health—so, if you are ever helping a friend who is not doing well, get support and find someone you can talk to. 

Your first year can—and will—be as good as you make it! Just keep an eye out for these potential feelings you may experience, and remember that, no matter how they may manifest, you are as magnificent as King Peter, as valiant as Queen Lucy. Cheers!