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Student Voices - Perspectives on Academic Success

University life is not easy and I can attest this is particularly true for freshmen. Facing challenges is something students cannot evade but at the same time overcoming obstacles is a big part of growing up. Oftentimes, especially around midterms and exams, we seem to be stuck in a negative template of pessimistic thoughts and defeatist attitudes. I asked a few awesome students who are in advanced years for a few pieces of advice to help us chart our course. Their input is very helpful for first year students but also for grade twelves who are right now finding themselves in the process of applying to university.

Looking back, what do you wish you had known before starting university and what would you have done differently?

Alexandru German (University of Toronto, MD program, 3rd year): Looking back, I wish I had realized how many resources you have access to as a university student. From library resources to academic support, gym access, subsidized health insurance, clubs, employment services, and even cheaper food on campus, there is so much you can make use of that I wasn’t aware of for far too long. If I had another go at it, I would remember to do what I’ve done before and use academic support extensively, but I’d have also joined some of my friends in the gym early on, which would have been surprisingly fun!

Alex Gherghel (York University, Computer Science, 4th year): I wish I would have known about the amount of off-topic and non major courses I needed to take to get my degree. Something I would have done differently is put a little more time in researching about the program and courses required to be taken.

Christian Patroiu (University of Waterloo, Chemical Engineering, 3rd year): Looking back, I wish I had known to prioritize balancing my academic and social life. Throughout my first couple years of university, I had the tendency to focus so much on my academics that I would burn out and lose motivation to keep studying. If I were to go back and start again, I would focus on organizing my time so as to balance my academic studies with more time to spend with family and friends, and I believe this change would have helped to perform better in my academics as well as avoid unnecessary stress.

Alex Donciu (York University, IT, 2nd year): I wish I had known more about how to be efficient with my time. Managing your time properly is crucial to succeeding and being able to find a balance between schoolwork and personal interests means you won’t be feeling as stressed out and overwhelmed. Also, prioritizing tasks related to schoolwork will help you be more efficient. Doing readings and studying over the span of a few days rather than cramming everything right before a test keeps stress low.

Christine Marian (University of Toronto, Engineering Science, 3rd year) University presents challenges that foster growth. My first hurdle was learning how to learn, especially initially daunting material. Crucial lessons I've gained are prioritizing learning over grades, adapting study methods to energy levels, and using failures to develop. A challenge I continue to face is Imposter Syndrome, the wisdom gained is to remember that everyone has unique strengths and to give myself the credit I deserve. In addition, an important challenge is utilizing the myriad of opportunities available to discover interest and goals. By embracing new experiences and surrounding yourself with people of diverse interest, you will unconsciously find growth.

In your experience, what are the most common challenges faced in university and what wisdom can you pass on that will help new and future students?

Alexandru German: Common challenges I’ve seen have been scheduling, keeping track of course assignments/exams/projects, and making time for oneself as a student. Each of these have the potential to make your life much easier or harder, and doing them well is in my opinion the path to a smooth semester. If you’ve ever seen laminated calendars showing four months in your bookstore, they are worth filling out with your whole semester’s worth of assignments and tests. Conversely, remembering to take even a few minutes to enjoy a small treat or some fresh air is important even on your busiest days!

Alex Gherghel: A common challenge faced in university is saying you need help. Use the university resources at your needs, don’t go through your course being too scared to ever ask any questions. Your understanding of something is important, especially with the subject of your degree. Check with students or online for textbooks before purchasing actual material. Wisdom - some courses will be better than others, don’t get demotivated, just keep going. One bad grade or more is not the end of the world.

Christian Patroiu: Some wisdom I would pass on to new and future students is to get involved in the university community. Join clubs and sports teams and try to connect with many different students from all around your university, as another tendency I see people have is sticking in their own faculty environments. Joining clubs and teams is a great way to meet new people and form both personal and professional connections that will help you throughout the rest of your life. University is probably the last time most people will be placed in an environment where they are allowed to devote all their time to learning and developing themselves and is one of the best places before starting your career to meet new people. Joining clubs and sports teams has been a great way for me to destress and meet new people and will probably consist of a lot of my most cherished memories looking back on my time in university when I am done.

Alex Donciu: The most common challenge I faced was time management, which I solved by creating schedules to follow. These helped me greatly to stay on track and not fall behind on course material. Like I said in the first question, making a schedule helps me spread my workload out and makes me feel like I haven't wasted any time. Another piece of wisdom that I would tell to newcomers is to socialize with others. If there is anything that you ever struggle with, there are others in the same position as you who can be helpful. Working together on assignments or studying is something I like to do, as it’s harder to be distracted, and teaching others is a great way to improve your own understanding of the course material.

Christine Marian: In first year I found myself having to navigate a lot of new experiences. I wish I had identified tools beforehand to ease my transition into university. Such as utilizing the rich resources offered by the university. This includes upperclassman, TAs, professors, learning strategist, and professional development opportunities. Additionally, I should have searched for methods to balance academics, extracurriculars, and well-being. For me, a balance became possible once I started identifying when each should be a priority and then time-blocking my day accordingly.

To sum up, managing time wisely, prioritizing self-care, seeking help when needed, cherishing friendships, engaging in extracurriculars, and staying strong will nudge us closer to being able to overcome a lot of hurdles. I would add my own piece of advice after just finishing my first semester of university: use office hours wisely and connect with your professors - it will make a world of a difference. With these insights, let’s arm ourselves with determination and do our best to become knowledgeable, resilient, and successful students! This is truly a transformative journey. Thank you all for your invaluable input!

Jasmine Gherman, Toronto

Jasmine Gherman, Toronto    1/2/2024


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