Hi, recent university graduate here. Yes, I’m ecstatic that I’m not going back to school this year. No, I’m not bored, but Yes - I am making back-to-school content. Throughout my five years at the University of Waterloo, I learned that there are just some things you can’t prepare for. There were also some things that I wish I knew earlier in my university career so that I could benefit from them throughout all of my studies. Now, some of these offerings may be University of Waterloo-specific, but generally the premise is the same: here are some not-as-well-known things I learned through university.
Don’t just make connections, make a variety of them.
If you just moved into your dorm this week and have like 25+ new best friends, that’s amazing! I will give you fair warning though, living in close quarters with people is very hard. I lived in a residence that only had about 200-300 people in it. This was about the same size as my high school graduating class. I chose this residence with the idea of loving the way it looked, but also the intimacy of not being just another number. But slowly I learned that there are benefits to reaching out.
In my first year of university, my friends mainly consisted of the people I lived in residence with. We would go on late-night Subway runs (because the cafe closed so damn early and we would be starving), play ping pong in the common room or hang out (usually in my bedroom) and play cards. Sounds pretty stereotypically-university, right? It totally was. I learned my limits of socializing during this time. Being with the same people all the time can be great, and I am grateful for the friends I had that year. However, I wish I branched out and made friends within my program of study (sociology). I found throughout the years, people would take classes together and grow in the program alongside each other. But since I didn’t make those connections from the get-go, I felt like I missed out on hanging out and finishing an assignment with someone who “get’s it”. Instead, I would have people in different programs not understanding why they needed to leave my room so I could get a 20+ page essay done in the next 24 hours.
It’s also beneficial to branch out from just one group of friends because of something we like to call March Madness. March Madness was a term used during my first year in residence to describe how everyone starts to hate each other by the time March rolls around. There’s a variety of reasons this can happen - such as it being midterm and exam season, also people have signed leases for next year and are amped to get the heck out of residence and cook their own meals in their own kitchen. But if you make friends outside of your living situation, you have a scapegoat to get away from all the crazy for a while. I know it’s hard to put yourself out there, but I promise there are so many other people in the same situation as you. Now is the time to branch out. You have this whole new life ahead of you with endless opportunities to connect and that’s exactly what you should do.
Opportunities are everywhere, no joke.
Within the same vein of meeting a variety of people comes the topic of opportunities. I had many people in university wonder how I had up to three jobs, was involved in clubs and also would take on personal endeavors like writing this blog. It’s all about the opportunity, baybeeee. My mentality at the time was “I don’t know if I’ll ever get another opportunity like this, so let me take it now.” Hence, stacking my work load. But if you’re looking to make genuine connections and seize these opportunities, there’s a few avenues you might want to pursue.
Volunteering was a main component of my university career. I felt like the opportunities made me a more well-rounded person and especially looked good on a resume. Some of the volunteering i took on was through the Women’s Centre as a coordinator, being Co-President of UW Animal Rights Society, tutoring and mentoring high school students through Carizon Family and Community Services and creating our own non-profit the Ontario Plant Based Student Association. From each of these opportunities I was able to make friends, connections and mainly grow my skills as an individual. I know it can seem hard to motivate yourself to hang out in club meetings that you’re not getting paid for, but see it as a way to diversify yourself and succeed going forward.
I will never shut up about co-op. I swear choosing a cooperative education program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I know it sounds dramatic, but I truly believe this. When I started my first “big-girl” gig a couple months ago, I felt way less nervous than I ever have. Of course, there are still many things I need to learn, but knowing how to operate in an office environment, understanding culture and being familiar with a similar space opened me up to being able to ask more questions and receive more clarification when training. I felt so much more prepared for the workforce because of co-op than my friends who chose to work part-time summer gigs instead. Both of these opportunities are valid and amazing, but if you can explore this option I highly recommend you do.
The final area of opportunity I took advantage of in school was through part-time jobs. Did you know I have a pet nutrition certification? Well, I can thank working at a pet store for that. Usually I took on these opportunities as a way to getting some extra cash - so you might want to too. One summer I also worked remotely for a marketing company for only a few hours a week. Even though my paycheck was only like $150, that’s 150 more dollars than I would have had! If you can find a part-time job that is flexible with hours, or group your job near class time and go straight there, you’ll be able to earn an income while also managing school. I also recognize that this is not always possible for everyone, so don’t stress if you can’t. Just look around you and try to seize all of the opportunities that become available to you.
Support comes in a variety of forms.
I know it’s almost a cliche to say that student’s don’t take advantage of the services that are offered, but seriously, we don’t. Many of the services that I grew to know, I actually found out through working at the University of Waterloo, not necessarily by being a student. Of course, not every student will need every single service, but knowing about them will seriously help you when you’re in a tough situation.
For instance, when I had housemate problems in my second year of university (while living in an apartment), he threatened to sue me and my other housemate for the rent that he owed because he decided to move out eight months early from his lease. Now, you’re probably like WTF I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THAT. Well, we didn’t either. So what did we do? We called our landlord and cried to him. Luckily he was an awesome guy and obviously wasn’t going to charge us for some lazy dude’s rent, but looking back I can think about how I really needed help. Fast forward a few months, where I had a co-op program in the Housing department at the University of Waterloo.
There I learned that they offer lease-review services (to ensure there’s nothing sketchy in your lease), provide resources for finding housing in the region and guidance for legal action students can take against landlords and other tenants. From that co-op I learned how I could have handled that situation - so before you go running and crying to your landlord, look into your university to see if they offer any guidance. Event if it’s not through your Housing department like mine, maybe it’s through legal services or guidance counselors. You pay this institution lots of money, use it to the fullest!
After this scenario, I was more likely to use services when faced with a tough situation. For instance, when I had trouble finding a co-op job, I went for a resume critique. When I lost my job, I tapped into student job opportunities through our portal, and when I wanted to make new friends I attended Clubs Day as a way to find like-minded people. If you don’t search it out, you won’t be able to find a solution. Don’t think that support is strictly mental-health or education focused. All of the resources that are pumped out of universities are chosen because there is a demonstrated need for them. There’s also always someone who is willing to help.
There’s even more to learn once you graduate.
If you’re reading this you’re probably not exactly thinking about graduation - but if you are I won’t hold it against you. I thought about it every day since my second year until it finally happened. But what you might not know if that there are benefits that you gain access to by being an Alumni at a university. Some off the top of my head include discounts on products like private insurance, loyalty programs, and access to exclusive events. Take advantage of these as well!!
I hope you learned a little bit more about what my experience was like in university and what I wish I had known sooner. As my undergrad gets farther and farther away, I think more about my time there. If you’re interested in reading more about what my time at the University of Waterloo was like, or just about student-living itself, leave a comment below on what you’d like to read more about. I love getting feedback from you!
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