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How to get the most out of your university experience

Post-secondary education can be a thrilling experience full of new challenges, a chance to meet lots of new people, and it can foster great memories. 

Whether young or old, first time going or returning—post secondary comes with a lot of excitement but also a lot of stress. 

It’s important to start on the right foot to get the help you need before you start. Here are five things that I wish I had realized and acted upon:

Resources and supports available
It can feel overwhelming entering a new school, or residence. Whether it’s accessibility concerns, mental health needs, or other supports like social and financial, resources can feel out of reach and the way to ask for help somewhat confusing. Most schools now have a “resources” webpage that outlines the different supports offered with contact info. It is also worth checking to see if your school has an “advisor” or “peer mentor” that you can arrange to meet for advice. Even if you think you may not need these supports, it’s worthwhile to have them on standby so that you can easily access them in the future if the going gets tough. 

Here are some common resources—keep in mind they might have slightly different names and programs/supports depending on the school: Student advisement (can help with academic questions), Accessible Learning (facilitates equal access for eligible students with disabilities), Student Rights & Responsibilities (handles behavioural issues with students that are non-academic), Counselling & Health Services (to help with mental health and medical needs), Athletics, Tutoring, Career Services, Clubs, Leadership Programs, and more.

Set Realistic Boundaries. Focusing on classes, grades, assignments, clubs, social life, and planning for life after college can be an all-consuming battle for your time and energy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so it’s important to set realistic boundaries about what you can handle. This can look like making a schedule, carving out time to relax, spending time with friends and family or investing in hobbies to help relieve any stress. If you feel like you’re becoming burnt out take a step back and reevaluate your wellbeing, adjust your timelines and overall goals. 

Have Good Support Systems. Lean on your outside support systems – your friends, mentors and family. Whether it’s help spell checking a paper, or having a night out to relax, those who know you well can be a help during stressful times. Attending a peer support group or mental health sessions from local organizations can be beneficial too.

Know Program Coordinators and Professors. Your program coordinator, and your professors are there to help you when you’re struggling with assignments or course concepts or disability/health-related issues. Your program coordinator knows the ins and outs of your program, and can you help you manage your class load, give tips for pacing yourself and transfer credits if possible.

Living on Your Own & Living in Residence. Whether living in an apartment or student housing, living with a roommate or in residence can feel like a major step. Most buildings have basic accessibility features, but that doesn’t always mean a space is completely accessible to everyone. Prior to moving in, ask to look around, or book a tour. Look up transit options beforehand, make a schedule and plan for getting groceries, doing laundry, and make connections around you. And above all make sure you budget for rent and living expenses.

Be kind to yourself, and to take it one day at a time. It won’t always be a walk in the park, but you’re not alone. There are supports from both the school, and in your life that can help you through the rough patches as you work towards building your future career. 

Parker White is an Intern for Canadian Abilities Foundation. They are studying Creative Writing and Publishing at Sheridan College.

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