First year student tips

How to survive your first year of university

July 30, 2019
Author: Jenn McGarrigle

Student shares lessons learned from her first year

Kassandra Sime Duchesne arrived at Vancouver Island University excited to meet new people, try new things and live away from her family for the first time. The Recreation and Tourism student, who is from Fort Nelson, BC, was looking forward to spreading her wings and experiencing a different part of the world.

She has achieved her goal of making new friends, expanding her horizons and finding an educational program that’s a good fit for her. But there were a few lessons Kassandra learned the hard way after she arrived. Here are her tips to help others have a relatively bump-free first year.


Tour the campus

One easy way to get a bit more comfortable is to make sure you know where your classes are, says Kassandra. VIU’s Student Ambassador program offers tours year-round and in August every year, new students can participate in Summer Warm Up sessions – interactive tours that set students up with key items like their student ID, bus pass, student login to computers, parking pass and where to get textbooks.

“We will show you where all your classes will be, share our insights into VIU, answer any questions you have and point out some services you can take advantage of, like the Writing Centre,” she says.


Develop a budget

In her first year, Kassandra spent too much money on clothes and extra-curricular activities and was low on cash by exam time.

“It really sucked that last month when I had to live off Kraft dinner and Mr. Noodles,” she says. “For a lot of first-years, university is an adjustment. You’re going from being at home, where you don’t really have to budget, to buying food and paying rent for the first time.”

To get you started, check out the worksheet on the Financial Aid & Awards office’s Budgeting Tips and Resources page.


Start preparing before your first class

Kassandra recommends reading course outlines thoroughly before classes start – sometimes profs ask that you have read some of the material before the first class – and checking out the Learning Matters site for tips on essay writing, conducting research, taking effective notes and much more.


Get more involved on campus

In Kassandra’s first year, she didn’t explore the many clubs and extra-curricular opportunities VIU has to offer, yet those are the things that have since helped her settle in and truly enjoy her university experience.

“If you’re new to the area and don’t have any friends yet, it helps you start to form a support group,” she says. “There’s lots of clubs attached to different programs, where you can meet other students in your program, get a sense of what your profs are looking for and trade textbooks.”


Take breaks when you need to

In Kassandra’s first year, things got busy and she stopped doing anything non-school-related.

“I stopped doing things that make me happy like going for a walk or baking – activities that help me de-stress,” she remembers. “The result was I had a mental breakdown and did poorly in my classes. I know a lot of students come into university and sacrifice most of their leisure time in their eagerness to do well. But you need to stay active, it can really help clear your head and make you a better student.”


Your first year of university is an exciting time, full of new adventures, new people and new experiences. Kassandra says the most important thing to remember is to reach out if you’re not sure about something.

“Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. It can be really intimidating – you’re new and you don’t know anyone – but no one is going to get mad at you for asking something. People are generally really helpful here.”




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