First Year Survival Guide

By Lindsay Vandewater, 6th year, SMU
Hey, First Year. If you’ve

just started at your new university and are feeling a million different emotions at this point. I get it. This is a new experience for you, you know it’s going to be a great time, but maybe you’re feeling a bit intimidated. Well, after years of being in university, I’ve learned A LOT of life skills through my school that helped me get to the point where I can balance all of these things. And now I have a ton of information I want to share with you to make your life a little easier.
Whether it be academic or career help, finding your way through the new social scene you’ll be in, or even things like mental health support, your school has everything you need! There’s also a very wide range of internet resources that will come in very handy for you. Let me tell you about some of these resources that will be useful in your first year and those to come.


Getting to know your professors is something that could really help you in the long run. You’re going to have dozens of professors over the upcoming years, and each professor will not only give you an opportunity to learn something new, but they can also give you the opportunity to further your academic career if you choose to pursue it. You may even make a good friend along the way.

Office hours

Many of your professors will make themselves available outside of class time, so students can sit down with them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned at university, it’s that you want to take advantage of these office hours. Whether it be questions about class work or just conversations about your academic interests, professors are always happy to sit down with you. In fact, professors really enjoy getting to know their students.
Why should you go to office hours, you ask? I think a common misperception of professors is that they’re there to make your life difficult in university. That is the furthest from true! Professors want to help you succeed as best they can, and that’s why they make themselves available to sit down with students.
There’s going to come a time where you might need to pick an academic supervisor, or you need to get an academic reference. The added bonus of getting to know your professors early in your schooling is that when the time comes, you’ll easily be able to find a professor that can help you out. The best advice I can give on this: take the time to get to know some professors, it’ll come in handy in the future!

Writing Resources

One of the biggest adjustments you’ll have to make is getting used to writing at the university level. Chances are, you’re going to have to write formal paper or two in some of your classes and there are a few things that can make writing a breeze. In most cases, professors will tell you exactly what they want to see in terms of word count, topics, and formatting. A lot of times, they will even give you a list of example topics so you know what direction to take your paper in. The formatting can be a little tricky at times, but it’s actually really easy to get help with formatting, and once you find a topic that you’re really into, you’ll be surprised at how many pages you’ll be able to write!

Purdue OWL

In case you’ve never heard of it before, let me tell you about this awesome website called Purdue Online Writing Lab ( This website comes from Purdue University in the States, and is LOADED with everything you need to know about formatting your academic papers. Having used it for almost every paper I’ve written, I highly recommend taking a look at the information they have to give. Although it doesn’t have information on all formatting styles, it is very handy if you’re using one of the most common formatting styles like APA or MLA. This website is awesome because it will tell you exactly what to do in your paper and where to do it. Once you’ve used this website a few times, you will even get the hang of it and won’t need to refer to it as often!

Library Resources and Writing Centres

Some great places on campus for you to look for writing help are your school’s library and writing centre. These are places that will have all the resources you could ever dream of when it comes to writing your papers. Not only will they have citation guides for you to read (kind of like what Purdue OWL gives you), but in most writing centres, you’re able to book appointments or drop by at specific times to get one-on-one help. They’ll even proof-read your work to make sure everything looks good before you turn it in!
Many universities have citation guides on their library’s website. This means you don’t even have to go to the library to get the help you need! The best part? Each school’s citation guide will have exactly what your professors are asking for, and it’s always free for you to use. Also, if you have the chance, take a look at what different schools have for their citation guides. The more help you can get, the better!

A Quick Note on Plagiarism

There will be a lot of talk about plagiarism while you’re in school, but I guarantee you, if you use the writing resources I’ve told you about, you’ll be A OK. Although I’ve personally never come across any issues with plagiarism (thanks to all those great citation guides and Purdue OWL), I’ve had some friends almost get dinged for having made citation errors before. Your school is going to take plagiarism very seriously, and it will put a lot of emphasis on how to avoid it. Citing your work properly is something you don’t want to slack on!

Looking for a job?

Are you wondering where you can look for resources to help you find a job? Look no further than your school, of course! With a wide range of things like local (and easily accessible) career fairs, to Career Centres and resume workshops, you’ll have everything you need on campus to help you land a job. You can also keep an eye out for jobs on campus that you can apply to and check out bulletin boards around campus for job postings too!
Your Career Centre will be your one-stop-shop for all the help you may need. The staff there are trained to help you update your resume and cover letter, help you out with practice interviews, and even just give you job searching and interview tips. This is another one of those resources you don’t want to miss out on; it will really help take some stress off of you when you start looking for a job!


Something you’ll want to consider during your university life is getting into some volunteering. Volunteer experience looks great on your resume and will often do you some favours when you’re applying to grad school or for jobs after you graduate. It’s also a really great way to get to know yourself and make some friends. Volunteering may even help you figure out what you want to do when you finish your undergrad (if you don’t already know). Don’t stress if you don’t feel like you can fit it into your busy first year schedule, that’s okay. You’ve got plenty of time to squeeze some volunteering in. Keep a look out on campus for volunteer opportunities that pop up!

Mental Health

With so much emphasis on mental health in the world right now, and with university being a very stressful few years, I can almost guarantee your school will be set up with some kind of counselling centre. Whether you just need to sit down and talk to someone, or you need more information about an issue that may be bothering you, these counselling centres are set up to help you in any way.
Don’t hesitate to use these kinds of resources if you feel you need them! It is completely okay if you feel overwhelmed or stressed or nervous about your life. The great thing about these resources is that you don’t have to have a school-related issue in order for you to use them. If you need help in any way at all, take the time to check out your counselling resources on campus.
Now that I’ve set you up here with a bunch of information on how to navigate through your new school life, it’s your time to shine, First Year. Take this information into consideration while you’re getting settled into the university lifestyle. I know it’s a lot, but you are going to have some of the best years of your life at your new school!
If you need more information about your school, need help finding some resources, or have any questions about your school, your science advising centre is always willing to help you.

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