As a 17- or 18-year-old, the idea of going to university can bring forth a rush of emotions. It can make us feel excited by the prospect of partying with new friends, eager to see who we’ll meet in a new city, nervous about the increased workloads (that all of our high school teachers warned us about), or it may also make us feel anxious about leaving home to live on our own for the first time. All of these opposing emotions are normal, and are what I like to call the “pre-season jitters”. A new situation like college or university can cause us to face scenarios that we have no prior experience in dealing with. It is like heading into the first game of a season with a new team. You feel nervous because you haven’t played in a while, and now you are expected to go out on your own and play to perfection in a new environment that is surrounded by a new group of people. No wonder your emotions are all over the place, this is a completely new experience to you!
I want to identify this nerve-wracking time in your lives, because we are approaching the time of year when prospective college and university students will begin to accept their offers to schools for September. In the next few months you will be setting out on your first postsecondary experience by finalizing what school you will be attending and hearing the input of friends on where they will be pursuing further education.
These interactions will all be new, unfamiliar and possibly quite scary. Wherever you go, your new school is going to be the starting point for a new chapter in your life. As you join the approximate 450,000 new students across Canada who are beginning their postsecondary educations, you will see how this environment will change you. It is during this time in your life when you will begin to develop your true identity. As a current fourth year student, I can guarantee that the person you are at the beginning of your postsecondary academic career will not be the person you are when you leave. Your perceptions will change as you begin to explore a world beyond the backyard of your hometown. You will develop different opinions on careers, social issues, and politics; while things as simple as the style of clothes you wear, your hairstyle, and the types of foods you eat will also change.
Don’t believe me? Write down a list of your favourite things in first year and put it away until you graduate. You will be astounded by the transformation just four or five years can make!
So what atmosphere will allow you the best opportunity to finding your individual identity? You may feel as though this is the biggest decision you have made thus far in your life, but know that it can always be changed. Take comfort in accepting that wherever you end up, and whichever university, college, or career you choose, you will be at an institution that will provide you with positive experiences.
Based on my own experience in choosing a university, my tips are to consider:
1. Size of the School
Do you like the feeling of a community where teachers/advisors know you by name? You may be more comfortable at a smaller school.
Do you like knowing there is always a chance to meet new people? A bigger school may give you the environment to explore more.
2. Location of the School
Do you have a tight-knit family life? Consider staying closer to home.
Do you feel more independent? Anywhere is good!
3. Academics/Professional Opportunities
Do you know what career you want to pursue? If so, check out the program that you are applying to. Do the alumni have careers in the field you are interested in? Who are the professors? Does the program offer co-op and different professional development opportunities?
Do you have no idea what direction you will go? It is still worth considering the academic and professional opportunities offered at the school – particularly those that allow you to explore a variety of professional avenues.
As I come to the conclusion of my undergraduate career I would like to advise those who are just starting out to see value in themselves as individuals. A numerical grade or a GPA cannot always define your contributions to society or your value as a person. There is no need to stress over the things you cannot change – you can only do your personal best.
I suggest to you all to take advantage of the opportunities university brings. Be motivated to study and get ahead in school to alleviate stresses, but also seek a balanced lifestyle and pursue your interests, whether this is in extra-curricular sports, activities, or volunteer work. Seek out hobbies or activities that will provide you with fulfillment and happiness. Pursue friendships with new people that come your way and networking opportunities with mentors who want to see you succeed.
Although there may be times during your studies when you’ll feel like you’re underwater, I encourage you to ask for help from those surrounding you. Support can come from your family, your peers or even your professors. The majority of campuses, if not all, have introduced on-campus mental health support offices to help students face these new hurdles in their lives. Simply put, you have to find the courage to reach out to others and be open to accepting the support they wish to provide. Where one individual may find comfort and support could be different for someone else and that is okay. It is all about being open to exploring the various resources available to you and finding out what works best for you.
The takeaway message I wish to portray, after having lost someone to a battle against mental health, is that you are not alone. You have a support system that surrounds you wherever you go and in whatever adventures you wish to venture on. You do not need to be afraid to ask for help.