Three Lessons I Learned in First Year University

by Pablo Mhanna-Sandoval

I’m certain that university has been hyped up to you enough already. Whether it be your parents or other adults telling you about the “greatest time” of their lives, or your own expectations for the next few years, chances are you’re excited to jump into it. I know I was last year, when I started my first year of PAPM. But things didn’t completely turn out as planned. Here are just three of the many things I learned as a first-year student.

  1. Put Yourself Out There
    This doesn’t come as easily to some than to others. Not everyone is an extrovert, and they have a social battery that’s bound to run out. But your social circle is an essential part of your university life for more than one reason. Of course, as social creatures,we benefit with a solid, supportive group of friends around us. Beyond this mental health benefit, though, are more practical reasons for putting yourself out there.
    Regardless of whether or not you agree with Karl Marx’s conclusion about capitalism, he got more than a couple of things right. Particularly, his conception of capital as power hits the nail on the head. While Marx’s conception of it is more economic, capital comes in different forms. More relevant to the university experience is social capital. Whether it be acquaintances you made in clubs or friends from in and out of PAPM, this social capital and network are always valuable to have in your back pocket.
    With that being said, it’s important to distinguish between building social capital and, frankly speaking, being a snake. Your social relations shouldn’t be defined as a quest to accumulate social capital. Be genuine, be reasonable, and always be humble. Don’t be that person, and you’ll do great.

    Check out:

    • AKCESS Club Directory: PAPM’s direct student government has graciously compiled a directory of clubs and societies on campus by category. Check it out!

    • CUSA Hub: This is your general student government’s master platform for all clubs and societies currently registered with them. 

  2. Stay Fit
    This one doesn’t need too much explaining. It’s been reiterated in so many different ways, including in the saying about having a “healthy mind in a healthy body.” Never underestimate the value of a weekly jog, an organized sport, or a trek in nature with some friends. Even a daily walk is sure to better your mental health, reduce anxiety levels, and improve your focus on school work.
    The reason I feel the need to mention this is because physical exercise tended to take a back seat in my first year. Between school work, hang-outs, and familial obligations, time always seemed to escape me when it came to staying physically active. Today, while I still have work to do time management-wise, I make sure to include physical exercise in my weekly routine as a stabilizing and essential part of my life. Your body will thank you and so will your grades, your friends, and your mind.

    Check out: 

    • Carleton Athletics: Try out the gym, the pool, or specific classes for new and challenging ways to stay active throughout the school year.

    • Ottawa Arboretum: Don’t miss this hidden gem of Ottawa minutes away from campus! Several acres of greenery straddling the canal and Dow’s Lake make for an accessible and healing walk with friends.

  3. Academics Come First
    Among your responsibilities as a student, your academics should be a priority. Yes, university is a place to meet new people and to enjoy the years of our lives that adults consistently tell us were the best of their lives. It is above all, however, a place for learning and ideas. This wouldn’t need mentioning if it weren’t for the ease with which one can spend four years on campus and come out of it with little to show for it.
    It is absolutely possible to skip on most of your readings and lectures and still get a passing grade. You could even get into the 70s and 80s! But when it comes down to demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about—to really dig into your mind and apply concepts in academic and professional settings—you’ll fall short. For some, that’ll be enough. But if you’re seeking more than a bachelor’s degree in your time here, you’ll want to prioritize your studies. In brief, I learned last year that no one will do my readings and course work for me. Even if you manage to get your hands on school notes, you likely won’t know the course material as well as the person that made them. If you’re seeking excellence, either to keep a scholarship, to attend graduate school, or to just know your stuff: put in the work.

    Check out:

    • CSAS: The Centre for Student Academic Support regularly hosts several useful workshops on academic success strategies. These include time management, lecture note taking, essay writing, etc. Some first-year courses even give extra credit for completing a certain number of these workshops. Easiest 5% ever!

    • Google Calendar: This app (or whichever online calendar you choose) saves lives. Google Calendar’s advantage is based on its syncing with Google Tasks, which is another useful app to try out.

Nearing the end of this piece, I remember myself reading similar ones in the weeks preceding and following my first day of classes at Carleton. I was also told to keep fit, to go to class, and to do the readings. It wasn’t enough for me to learn; I had to make mistakes to really internalize the lessons once and for all. For some of you, that’s what it’s going to take as well. I wish you luck, and hopefully more foresight than I had! But above all, I hope you have fun, and that you prove the adults in your life right by having the best time of your life in PAPM and at Carleton.