Looking Back at First Year U of T: An Experience

My first year of university was gone in a blink of an eye and wow, what a roller-coaster! I think that is the case for many first-year students like myself did not expect to end our first year with online classes and online exams. For grade 12 students like my sister probably did not expect to continue their classes through online means, nor expected the fate of their prom and their graduation. I remember my grade 12 year at Chaminade vividly and the last months of secondary school are supposed to be the most memorable time with classmates, awaiting their Graduation Ceremonies.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down for many first world countries like Canada, and even Catholicism. Being at home for Holy Week and “attending” Mass online was not the same and felt in a sense…”weird”.

Now, that university exams are done, I am not taking summer courses but devoting this time to personal reading and learning personal skills, including cooking. Those are things that U of T cannot teach you and so in a sense, I see my university education continuing during this time. While there will be no University credit for the cooking or the reading I do, it will help me become a better-rounded person for my family and society.

All that aside, in the midst of all this, I have to say, I had very positive experiences from my first-year at the University of Toronto (U of T). Today, I want to compile five things I learned during my time of U of T, including some tips I would give incoming first-year students.

  1. Time management is vital – University is much more self-directed than high school and you may become tempted to slack off in the first days. In a sense, there is more “free-time” as in you have less in-class time which may be tempting for you to do other things. You might find that during the first week or so of University. However, as the weeks progress, you will find yourself using that time to read and get assignments done. Therefore, time management is very important because work may pile up before you know it. There is not room for procrastination because the truth is, procrastination leads to more stress. I like to have a game plan in my mind every day. Most often, I would divide my time into slots, and make sure within a certain amount of time allotted, I would get the work done. On “down” days, I would strive to get a bit of the work done, and sometimes, it ends up being the whole thing done with a couple extra days to spare for other work.
  2. Get to know at least someone or two in every course – As a commuter, I did not make a lot of friends compared to those who lived on residence. Besides the aspect of mental support, I found it incredibly helpful to get to know at least someone that you would talk to throughout the duration of the course. Not only will you not feel lonely, but knowing someone makes it easier to ask for assistance when needed. There were at least three instances where I missed lecture (thanks to TTC delays), but knowing that there was someone who I could depend on to get notes or sometimes a recording relieves some stress in an already stressful days. Vice-versa, you can help them find the support they need if they are ever late for lecture. Find one or two people and exchange numbers and email addresses with them at the beginning of the course and it will save you much stress, especially when public transit might not be co-operating!
  3. Don’t delay! – So I previously talked about not procrastinating with school work – now I would say so with extra-curriculars you plan to do. I honestly lacked extra-curriculars this past year. The main reason was my lack of knowledge of how university was going to be in the first few months. Then second-semester rolled around and I felt a little better about navigating university life. I am grateful to the people of the Newman Centre on St. George Campus for your warm welcome every time I passed through the doors… I always felt welcomed and “at-home” at the Newman Centre. I had plans to take part in more of their activities, as well as some Christianity and Culture weekly meet-ups. It seems that I plan to do this and that and say, “I will do them in late March or April.” Bang – the pandemic comes, and everything is postponed or cancelled, students are confined to their homes. Therefore, lesson learned – if you have planned to do something, if you can, do it before it is too late!
  4. Do not be afraid of professors and TAs – I took some First-Year Foundation Seminar courses, and the experiences were positive. One of the things I got out of those seminars are the interactions with professors. I particularly have a deep respect and appreciation for the professors I had a St. Michael’s College – their knowledge and love for Catholicism is tremendous and I have had great conversations with them. Also, if you need any form of assistance with school work, or need some clarification, approach your professor (in a seminar) or TA (if you have one). During their office hours, they will gladly answer any questions or concerns you have and certainly engage in interesting conversations (if there is no one else waiting after you).
  5. Take courses and enroll in programs of interest – I loved most of my courses I took. In the humanities, you will be expected to do a lot of reading and why read something you do not enjoy? I never expected good marks this semester (up to you to interpret by what I mean by ‘good’) but what allowed me to get through first year were the actual interests of the subjects. There were perhaps some courses where I did not have a keen interest in the subject, but I found to be very helpful. I really want to note the courses I took at St. Michael’s College, particularly Beauty Human and Divine taught by Professor Tardif, and The Sistine Chapel: Its History, Usage and Imagery taught by Professor Michael O’Connor – both First-Year Foundation Seminar courses but I loved every minute of those two courses. Worth noting was also Introduction to Historical Philosophy taught by Professor Peter King. Courses outside of realm such as a political socience course, Social Justice and the City taught by Professor Theresa Enright broadened my perspectives on the city and the many injustices that are right in our backyard. Don’t take me wrong – I am not saying that the content of the courses I am interested in are easy – not at all. Have I had 60s and 70s on papers? Yes, I am not afraid to admit that. However, when you have interest in a particular subject, you strive to put your best in and even when mistakes arise, you will care why you got something wrong and learn from them. When you have no interest in the course you take, everything is going to seem dry and you will start to not care about your intake in that course. If you do not like a course, drop it early on and enroll in another course – you don’t want to be a month behind everyone else!

There you go, my five tips recounting my experiences in university. I want to end on some notes, especially for incoming university students (these are based on answers I give from questions I get from time to time):

  • Marks are not everything! I know how much parents expect of their children and that comes from a good place. However, at the end of the day, you may have the mark but what do you do with it? Are you able to apply your learning to everyday life? That is something I learned from my time at Chaminade – transferable skills and that is what I hopefully got out of my post-secondary education so far. Yes, GPAs are important, but more importantly I think is the fruit you get out of your education. How does your education help you become better people in society? …just something to ponder about.
  • Treasure your high school friendships and make positive use of each moment you have in high school. While I do have friends at U of T and some classmates I can call friends, university is such a populated place and honestly, the friendships I have made so far do not seem to be as tight knit as the ones I made Chaminade. I still keep in contact with many “Gryphons” from Chaminade to check in and see how they’re doing even after graduation. I still proudly say I am an alumni from Chaminade College School when asked and while I am proud to be part of the great U of T Community, I am still part of the “men of green and gold” and I vow to support my gryphon brothers as much as possible.
  • On more practical terms: buy used textbooks on Facebook and Kijiji and save!

With that, I wish all high school graduates, Class of 2020 the best of luck in their future endeavours (my younger sister included). Keep your head high and end off strong :).


About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
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1 Response to Looking Back at First Year U of T: An Experience

  1. Pingback: Some thoughts and reflections for the Class of 2020 | Vincent Pham

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