What Not to Do in First Year (or at any point during your degree)

Joanna Manchur
Sep 9, 2019 · 7 min read

You’re here. You made it to the U of A. Now’s the time to make it count! Here are 7 things not to do.

1. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

So you enrolled as a BA student with a major in Political Science. Or maybe it was Sociology, or French, or Art & Design. You are not locked into the path you started down on day one.

In fact, some of your best learning experiences may come from a course you take on a whim, or from a subject area that you love but you (or your parents) don’t think it’ll lead to a career.

Or you might end up changing majors (or even your entire degree) because you participated in a study abroad, Arts Work Experience or Community Service Learning.

You don’t get any gold star stickers on your parchment for finishing the same degree or major that you had on day one. So the more open you are to exploring your options the better!

2. Don’t stick to what you know.

This goes for your studies but also what you choose to do in your co-curricular life too.

Profs are going to introduce topics and ideas that you’ve never heard of before. Relish this chance to stretch your understanding of the world — of yourself. Will it be challenging? Yep, sure will! But it’s also going to be super rewarding.

Study in Cortona, Italy in any year of year degree (there’s a new program for 1st and 2nd year students)!

As for the opportunities outside of classes — join the clubs, audition for a choir, stop and talk to someone at one of the booths (there are a TON of “booth fairs” all over campus throughout the year). If there’s something that interests you even in the slightest, explore it. Convince a friend to try it out with you, or be really brave and just go for it solo. You might just make a new best friend!

3. Don’t expect others to advocate for you.

Chances are you’ve had someone in your corner for the past 18+ years looking out for you. Maybe that was your parents, or a big sister, or an amazing teacher you had all through high school. Now that you’re at the U of A, there are still so many people on campus that want to see you excel — from profs and TAs, to admin staff, to your classmates and friends. But they’re not going to seek you out to remind you to check your deadlines or to encourage you to apply for an award or nudge you to get involved in some undergrad research. And if there are problems… well, no one can help you if you don’t speak up. This is your experience and you’ve got to be the one to initiate!

University is going to give you opportunities to practice asking for help and advocating for yourself. I’ll admit it can certainly be overwhelming to figure out which of the numerous resources on campus you can (and should!) access, but you’ll be happy you did!

Arts USS located at 1–17 Humanities Centre

Want help getting started? Come to the Arts Undergraduate Student Services office or go online to book a private, one-on-one appointment with an advisor. We’ll be able to help you directly, or get you connected to places like Accessibility Resources or Financial Services to get you some emergency funding or resources to support your mental wellness like Counselling & Clinical Services or ACCESS Open Minds.

4. Don’t make excuses.

If you skip a few classes, fall behind in your reading, barely skim the first paragraph of the course syllabus, and totally forget about your midterm paper… own up.

Realizing that you do in fact have control of how you prioritize what’s going on in your life is going to help you succeed — here in university, and in life.

Life is full of compromise. Sometimes that’s going mean not going out for Wednesday night Trivia and cheap drinks. And sometimes you will ditch class to make your own long weekend. There will still be stuff that happens around you, or to you, that is out of your control (like a fire alarm in res at 3 am when you have a 9 am midterm). But when you make some bad choices, admit it — you’ll learn how to better handle similar situations in the future.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help when you make mistakes (cause that is still totally gonna happen). Profs, advisors, counsellors… we all want to see you succeed. And you’ll earn our respect when you own up to how you contributed to your situation.

5. Don’t ignore free money.

Free pizza = full tummy and lunch money to use for something else! There’s plenty of free pizza to be had. Yes, it’s usually at some kind of info session or ‘Lunch & Learn’, but... if you’re prepared to follow the advice from points 1 and 2, sign up for the AWE Info Session on September 18 and get some free 🍕 while learning about an experience you should for sure know about. (That’s just one example of free food on campus!)

There’s a lot of free money out there in the form of scholarships, awards and bursaries. Want to get really strategic? Scope out all these awards now — read the eligibility criteria, and consider doing something would make you more likely to get the award. Here’s what I mean. If tweaking your options (ie. take an option course in a particular subject area), volunteering on campus, or joining a student or community group would make you eligible for the award, then take that class or join that group! It might also be just the motivation you need to get your GPA to a certain point. (Side bonus, that thing you did to make you eligible might turn into a new hobby or passion.)

Think grants and funding are just for professors? Nope! There are university-wide grants — like the Green and Gold Student Leadership and Professional Development Grant. But, there’s also a fund just for Arts students — the Student Life and Learning Enrichment Fund.

From L-R, Arts students Madisen Gee (English), Idara Effiom (Psychology), Jenny Huang (Human Geography) and Peiv Mohammed (Political Science). Madisen received funding to attend this summit through both the Green and Gold Grant, and the SLLEF fund.

Madisen Gee travelled to Thailand in Nov. 2018 with the support of these grants and funds. Read in Madisen’s own words what this experience taught her.

You could attend a cool conference in another city or country, or bring in an amazing keynote speaker for that student group you joined. Apply for funding! These funds exist to support students. Why shouldn’t you benefit?!

6. Don’t wait until you have more experience or knowledge.

I know, volunteering to be treasurer (or secretary, or events manager, or whatever role) for a student group in your first year seems really daunting. So too is auditioning for one of the many Drama student festivals and productions when you’ve always wanted to try acting but haven’t taken a Drama class...

But guess what — you just showing up and trying your best is all that anyone wants. I guarantee the scariest and hardest part is just putting yourself out there. I can also guarantee you’ve got way more insight, great ideas and ability than you think you do. Plus, the only way to really get experience is to get experience!

OASIS is your official student association for the Faculty of Arts. Soon they’ll be calling for Arts students to volunteer to sit on the numerous committees that the Faculty of Arts has. These committees MUST have student reps to be able to function. Volunteering for these committees is super easy, and is one of the best ways to get an understanding of the inner workings and behind-the-scenes action of your Faculty (and it’ll definitely help demonstrate being involved on campus for those leadership awards you’re going to be applying for — wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

7. Don’t do things that only benefit you.

University gives you the chance to figure out you. Discover (or confirm) your passions. And along the way, you’ve got the opportunity to make the world a better place. Because as Henry Marshall Tory, the University of Alberta’s founding president, said

“…knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

Not sure where to start? One way to make a difference is through Community Service-Learning. There are specific CSL courses, but there are also optional CSL components that are tacked on Arts courses you might already be planning to take!

CSL’s High School Bridging Day: Youth from different high schools participate in a community-service activity to discover more about their wider community, reflect on what makes an engaged community and how they can contribute.

CSL is designed to foster connections between your education and issues faced by your fellow Edmontonians. Getting involved in CSL gives you the chance to contribute in real and meaningful ways to a community organization, while gaining experience that bolsters your resume and augments your formal education. It really is a win-win. (And here’s another little insider tip — CSL has its own internship positions too — so you can make pretty good money AND help people too!).


There you have it… You’re now armed and ready to take on the year ahead!

UAlberta Arts Insider

Stories from UAlberta Arts undergrad students, alumni, and staff.

Joanna Manchur

Written by

Student Engagement & Communications Specialist for UAlberta Faculty of Arts. Proud Arts grad — ’02 BA Hons.

UAlberta Arts Insider

Stories from UAlberta Arts undergrad students, alumni, and staff.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade