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Navigating University Fresh out of High School

Navigating University Fresh out of High School

When I first entered university fresh out of high school I had a really difficult time navigating the system. I didn’t understand it and nobody was taking out the time to help me understand how to navigate it. I ended my first year on probation and it was shattering. I wasn’t a “bad” student in high school nor was I the brightest but I did well, and I was left wondering why. In hindsight, I had a hard time adjusting to the 500+ student classrooms, the expectation that you have to learn things on your own and the idea that there was no room for error. I wasn’t able to keep up with the readings, I didn’t know what courses I needed to be taking and the list goes on. Although I was able to work hard and bring up my marks to a point where I was no longer on probation I was still left feeling like a failure. During the first semester of my third year I decided that I was never meant to go to university and decided to drop out. Vowing to never return (as dramatic as that may sound). 

Around this time I was struggling not only in school but my personal life which resulted in my mental health really deteriorating. My self worth was at an all time low and I felt like my life had no meaning. Lucky enough I had some good support. Getting some sort of post secondary education was really important to me and I found a program at a local college to attend. 

Going back to school was really scary because I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. I ended up finishing the program with honours and it really brought my self confidence back up. As I finished the program I understood that I wanted to work in the mental health field as a professional (that being a counsellor of some sort). 

The feeling of dread overwhelmed me when I realised that for me to ever pursue this I had to go back to university. The one thing I never wanted to do. I felt like my dreams had shattered before I was even able to start them. 

With a lot of positive self talk I convinced myself that if this was something I had to do I’d find a safe space to do it in, which for me meant small class sizes and a friendly and warm faculty. I did research and found a really small university in Ontario and applied. Although the experience of going back to university wasn’t easy, the professors and the environment made it a positive experience nonetheless. I walked away with a degree and a lot more self confidence. 

2 years later I’m sitting here writing this post, reflecting back on my time in university with the thought that I was probably not the only one that had that experience. I’m also reflecting on youth starting this journey and so I wanted to end this blog with some advice that I wish someone would have told me as I started my journey. 

  • Book an appointment with the registrar during course selection to help set up your schedule. I know it’s scary and you’re probably thinking about why they can’t just automatically select the courses you need to take. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Take a deep breath and reach out. 

  • Ask for help if you don’t understand something. This might be your professor, the TA or going into your student success office. Most universities have a paid tutoring program that you can also reach out to. 

  • Check in with yourself, sometimes when we’re not doing well in school it might be because of other things happening in our lives. If your university offers counselling support or any other student support programs, reach out and take advantage of them. 

  • Advocate for yourself, sometimes we feel just because we are a student we don’t have a voice. You do, you have the right to ask all the questions and get the answers you need to feel successful. 

  • Show yourself some self compassion, this is a big change for you and it’s okay not to have all the answers and to make mistakes as you learn to navigate everything around you. 

To end I want to say that this journey is equally exciting and it is scary and that is okay. 

Do I wish I had the support I needed when I first entered? Yes. Am I regretful of how things turned out? Not so much anymore. For me, being able to share my experiences and be there for someone who might be struggling with something similar is enough.