You’re all probably familiar with the age-old proverb: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
For young adults like ourselves, there are few bigger journeys than attending university. You embark on a four year (minimum) odyssey of learning both inside and outside of the classroom. For some people, this journey ends as quickly as it can, and they’re waving goodbye to their undergrad after just four years. For others, the path is a bit more winding.
And for me, the path has been really, really circuitous.
I’m about the start the sixth year of my undergraduate degree, and while I don’t have exact statistics, I’m fairly certain I’m part of a pretty rare breed on the University of Alberta campus. I’ve been through my fair share of both highs and lows, but through it all I’ve managed to learn so much, not just academically, but outside the classroom as well. And now I feel it’s my duty to share these student life lessons with you, so here are some of the most important pieces of wisdom that I’ve taken to heart over the years.
You don’t have to go in with a plan
If you’ve got your major and minor figured out right from the start, feel free to run with it, but not having a plan isn’t the end of the world either. You’re allowed to start your first year as “undeclared” in order to take a variety of classes and really figure out what you want to do. There’s also no shame in changing your major if something else excites you more. There’s also no limit on the amount of time you can change your major, so don’t be scared to try something else if your current area of study isn’t inspiring you.
Discipline is key
If high school was the kiddie pool, university is definitely the deep end. No professor is going to chase you down in the basement of Tory to ask why you haven’t been to the last three classes. They’ll more than likely let you show up as often or little as you like, but you’ll be the one dealing with the consequences, and you won’t find much sympathy from them if you get poor marks on your midterms because of lacklustre class attendance.
Certain students can get away with less than average attendance, and if you’re like that, more power to you. But if you can’t teach yourself the material it’s probably best to try to motivate yourself to attend class as much as possible. Plus, you might have enrolled in one of those rare classes where attendance is part of your grade.
Start packing a lunch
If you’re not the best at preparing food, like myself, the idea of eating on campus several times a week can seem extremely appealing. Why try to fix yourself a BLT when you can just as easily watch someone do it for you at Subway?
The answer: Because that can get very expensive, very quickly.
$10 for a 12-inch sub twice a week doesn’t seem like much at the time, until you start doing to long-term math. With an eight-month school year and at least four weeks in each month, if you keep up that pace twice a week pace for the entire year you’re dropping at least $640 just at Subway. That’s not even including all the times you went to RATT or Dewey’s when you should’ve been studying.
Moral of the story: feel free to indulge yourself from time to time, but the costs of eating (and drinking) on campus can really start to add up if you don’t budget properly. Prepare a lunch at home from time to time, and maybe reconsider hanging out with that one friend who knows all the bouncers in RATT on a first name basis.
Making mistakes is part of the process:
I realize I have a whole section above this basically dedicated to making sure you don’t skip class, but honestly, don’t take my word for it, figure it out yourself.
University is a pretty amazing time when you think about it. We enter when we’re self-aware enough to understand a good portion of the world around us, yet we’re not expected to be fully functional adults. It’s the perfect time to mess up a whole bunch and learn from the mistakes you make.
So go ahead, find yourself three pitchers deep at Devaney’s the night before a midterm. You’ll end up finding out first hand that it’s not the most productive use of your time, but let the pounding headache you’re nursing while trying to remember the significance of the Haitian revolution serve as reminder to leave the heavy drinking to an off-night. At least you’ll have a good story to tell your friends.
First-hand experience is the best way to learn what does and doesn’t work for you, and it’ll allow you to grow as a person throughout your university experience. Did you skip half your Psych 104 classes and end up with a D+? Well, now you know not to make the same mistake with Psych 105. Sometimes learning the hard way is the best way to make a lesson truly stick with someone.
And finally: Just enjoy the ride, seriously
That hackneyed and overused quote about life being about the journey and not the destination actually fits perfectly here. Don’t view university as exclusively a means to an end, take some time to appreciate the full experience both inside and outside of the classroom.
If you’re exclusively thinking about that piece of paper the university gives you when you complete your degree, you’re going to miss so many of the moments that make university a truly special experience. Take some time to hit up RATT or Dewey’s during an afternoon off, venture outside the Harry Potter room to study in Quad with some friends on a September afternoon, get involved with some clubs on campus, and make sure to take advantage of the beer gardens/WOW village at the start of every school year. Whatever you end up doing, don’t just focus on the end, because then you’ll miss all the awesome stuff that happens during the journey. I’ll be graduating this April with both a piece of paper AND some of the best memories of my life. Make sure you don’t just have the paper by the end of your degree.
Zach is a sixth-year Sociology major with a creative writing minor. Scared of being a real adult and being awake before noon. He can be found either eating, sleeping, meandering in the river valley, or watching a Toronto Blue Jays game. He misses having long hair because now none of his hats fit properly.