Your Ultimate U of T Survival Guide
Photo: Kate Dockeray.
20 things we wish we knew (or had someone tell us by way of an article like this) in first year
Josh Scott – EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Raphael Padolina – USMC COMMUTER DON
1) Orientation doesn’t last forever.
As much as it sucks to hear, Orientation is only one week out of an eight-month school year. Yeah, the cheers (can I get a Hoikity Choik on C?!?) and painting are the most fun you’ve probably had in a while, but that’s the thing — that’ll be the most fun you’ll have for a while. School is not all cheers and paint unless you’re at Ryerson, so you need to recognize right away that the rest of the year will be quite different from Orientation. – Raph
2) Locate your classrooms in advance.
Keep in mind that I’m saying this as an Arts student. My classes are, frustratingly, spread across all corners of our massive downtown campus. You may be lucky enough to find yourself in a program that has all classes in one area: earth sciences, for example. If not, you’ll probably be sprinting between Alumni Hall and Sid Smith within the 10-minute between-classes break. It’s a good idea to know exactly where you’re sprinting to. – Josh
3) RateMyProfessors.com is your BFF.
More often than not, it’s not the content that makes your course: it’s the prof. The most interesting content in the world can sound long-winded if a bad prof is in charge of stimulating your sleep-deprived, overly caffeinated brain cells. RateMyProfessors.com is a great resource for discovering which profs are engaging and invested in their course material, and which ones are not. – Raph
4) In lecture, sit close to the front.
I like to get to all of my lectures 15–20 minutes early and sit in the front row for three reasons: 1) I have terrible eyesight; 2) I tend to fall asleep easily, so I find that the more exposed I am to the potential of extreme shame and guilt, the less likely I am to do this; and 3) the fewer people there are in front of me, the lower my chances of getting distracted by students who choose to browse cakes on Pinterest or read Buzzfeed listicles (come to think of it, not unlike this one) during class. – Josh
5) Budget your time (especially in terms of coursework).
The change in schedule between high school and university is huge, especially for Arts students. You’ll have huge pockets of free time, and a zillion things you want to do with it. Here’s the thing: those books won’t read themselves. The oodles of time you think you have to chillax should be earmarked for schoolwork and other productive activities, like clubs on campus. There’s nothing wrong with catching up on your favourite TV shows from time to time, but you don’t want them to take over your life. – Raph
6) Befriend at least one person in each course you take.
Exchange contact info as early as possible! Why? For a super straightforward reason, of course: in case you ever need notes, you dingus. This can be a real lifesaver because chances are, you’ll end up having to miss a class at some point, and knowing your luck, it’ll be a super important one. There are even some instructors (old, tenured profs in particular) that adamantly refuse to post anything to Portal/Blackboard. Plus, there’s always the chance that one of the people you approach will end up becoming one of your good friends. – Josh
7) Sign up for events with free food.
You’ll figure this out really quickly, but free food is the key to university success. Free food is a similar species to food, but with a catch — you don’t have to pay for it! Commuters benefit from free food especially because it means we don’t have to lug those bulky Tupperwares or squishy sandwiches around in our bags for the entire day. – Raph
8) Self-care must always come first.
There are times each year, generally around midterms or exams, when it’s easy to feel like you’re Chewbacca: un-showered, incoherent, and stuck inside that trash compactor in Episode IV — and that’s totally normal. The rest of your life doesn’t just stop for school, as much as it may seem that way sometimes. It’s important to remember that school can always wait, and that, moreover, you don’t have to be here. If you or someone you love is suffering, that must take precedent. Just do your best to communicate honestly with your profs and TAs (who are, in my experience, super understanding) as well as with Accessibility Services (whom, I have it on good knowledge, can be a godsend in terms of accommodating your personal needs) or any of the other wide array of services available to you as a U of T and USMC student. – Josh
9) Need some shuteye? Fall asleep in the library.
There’s a reason you’re in the library in the first place: you’re a hard-working student dedicated to your education (frequent Netflix breaks notwithstanding). Doing school work can make anybody sleepy, and with comfy chairs at libraries like Kelly, falling asleep while studying is inevitable. Embrace spontaneous slumber! And, hey, as long as you’re not a snorer, you won’t bother anyone with a quick power nap! When you wake up, you’re in the perfect position to resume studying. Just remember: when in doubt, rack out. (Disclaimer: The Mike doesn’t actually endorse sleeping away your problems.) – Raph
10) Course selection, Portal, UTOR webmail (and now, seemingly, U of T wifi) suck.
Everyone knows they’re unreliable, and this fact is more than a little ironic given how strong U of T’s Computer Science program is and the sheer amount of money U of T spends on administration. Plan accordingly around their semi-regular planned outages, turn off your wifi and then turn it back on if it isn’t working, and don’t be afraid to ask someone if you’re having trouble finding something on Portal/Blackboard. Also, if you like having internet, don’t pirate your favourite shows. I know a few people who found that out the hard way. – Josh
11) Commuter Dons are a thing (I know, right?).
The Commuter Dons are here to make your world better! Seriously, we plan various events throughout the year for commuter students to feel at home at St. Mike’s. We have weekly office hours in Brennan Hall, room 168, where you can tell us about your highs, lows, trials, tribulations, or inability to find that perfect coffee spot on campus. Please come visit us whenever you’re at St. Mike’s. Our door is (almost) always open! – Raph
12) Humanities students: do your breadth req.’s early, and consider CR/NCR-ing them.
When I was in first year, I asked a fourth-year I happened to sit next to in lecture what the deal was with breadth requirements. He told me that they weren’t anything I should worry about until fourth year, and for some reason, that advice has stuck with me ever since. It ended up forcing me to contend with PHY100: The Magic of Physics and AST101: The Sun and Its Neighbours alongside a full course load that consisted mostly of fourth-year seminars. The moral of the story? Try to get your breadth courses out of the way during second or third year, and better yet, when you do, consider using the credit/no-credit option for them — it keeps the marks you get from counting against your GPA or showing up on your transcript. – Josh
13) If you’re a commuter, befriend someone who lives in res so you can use guest passes in the Canada Room.
This is a St. Mike’s-specific example of free food. The Canada Room is an all-you-can-eat affair — if you’ve got a meal plan, that is. Lucky for you, residents have guest passes they can give to people without meal plans, so get out there and meet some residents! – Raph
14) Participating in medical trials is a great way to turn a quick buck.
I kid, I kid. This is satire folks! Free speech! Free speech! (Please don’t sue me.) – Josh
15) Use your dental plan.
Dental work is expensive, but needed. You’ll need regular visits to cope with increased teeth gnashing and coffee staining of those pearly whites. Thankfully, the UTSU has you covered with your very own student dental plan, so make sure to utilize it before you find yourself in an unnecessary financial hole! – Raph
16) Get involved outside the classroom.
Eh? Ehhh? Get involved with, say, a campus newspaper. Like your favourite, the one and only: The Mike! Not the worst idea, right? Definitely tops that wacky medical experiments one. Now, imagine Jeff Goldblum said the above. Even better, no?! No?!?! (Personal biases aside though, I couldn’t recommend this one more. It’s an incredible opportunity, and a great way to make friends and establish a strong sense of community — especially if you’re a commuter.) – Josh
17) Triple-check your exam schedule.
The U of T exam schedule is pretty large (not to mention, intimidating) and therefore, a little difficult to navigate. At least, that’s what I tell myself since I missed my exam for ENG150: The Literary Tradition by a few hours. As it turned out, “Hi Professor, I accidentally misread the exam schedule,” was not a sufficient excuse — and so, I was left with a big, screaming 0% on 35% of the course. Luckily, between the essays, assignments, and tutorials, I did well enough to end up passing with 50% overall, though not before suffering through a few weeks of hair-pulling while I waited for the final marks to get uploaded. Do as I say, not as I did... – Josh
18) Don’t be afraid to talk to your profs and TAs.
At the end of the day, the scary profs and TAs that hold your GPA in their hands are normal people with lives (I think) — just like you. Office Hours visits do not have to revolve religiously around course material — you can ask your profs about how they got started in their respective fields, tips for surviving university in general, or, if you can actually detect a soul in there, debate how good the Leafs will be this year. In short, don’t be intimidated by your profs and TAs, and don’t let course content act as your only excuse to speak to them! – Raph
19) It’s totally normal to get mediocre marks in first year.
Without a doubt, first year is tough. Between adjusting to a new school, schedule, housing arrangement, commute, city, (or country, even!), it’s unrealistic to expect to immediately excel in university. Some do, sure, but for most of us, including the vast majority of the people I know — as well as myself — you’ve just got to tough it out. As long as you set realistic goals, try your best, remain open to new things, and take proper care of yourself, it doesn’t matter how well you do in first year. – Josh
20) Read this article.
Hey, look at you — you’re already on your way! Tell your friends, and then read it again. And again. And again. And again, until you’ve memorized it. Abandon all other texts. This is... (from the top now).
Josh Scott is a fifth-year commuter who studies English, Philosophy, and Writing & Rhetoric, wears a lot of hats (though not all at once), and is known to LARP with friends on occasion.
Raphael Padolina is a fourth-year commuter who studies Political Science, Psychology, and Ethics, Society and Law, watches a lot of sports (sometimes all at once), and is known to study from time to time.