My motto when it comes to university is to try and get ahead before you can get behind. I’m a big planning person, agendas and calendars and timelines help loads. Hopefully they can help you too! Here is a non-exhaustive list of things to look out for within the next year.
->Administrative: sign up for residence/get housing if applicable, get your student card, sign up for courses.
->Buy items for housing/moving out, buy school supplies (look into laptops and iPads, although I am a firm believer in paper note taking).
->Join class group chats! This was how I met many of my friends and classmates before the year even started.
->Look into MAC 101 which also provides resources to prepare for university
->Check out summer programs if applicable (EMBER for engineering students, summer writing course, those were some I took before I started).
->End of August: check Avenue/Microsoft Teams for course outlines, never hurts to look them over before classes start
->Get course materials (textbooks, lab PPE, etc.) Typically, information for these course materials is available in course outlines. Some things I’d recommend getting right away (software/hardware, PPE), but things like textbooks and lab books I’d recommend waiting until the first week of class to gauge how useful they’d be for your learning experience. If they’re emphasized as mandatory by professors or have grades/participation points attached for them, then definitely buy them! The libraries have a course reserves system that provides readings for courses. They don’t typically have textbooks, but may have excerpts of readings depending on classes, copyright, etc. If you’re in engineering, the McMaster Engineering Society has a textbook library as well that you could check out.
->Go to Welcome Week! This is where you’ll find a lot of information about courses and extracurriculars, as well as meet new people and get advice from upper year representatives! This is where I met some of my current friends (meeting up in the residence common rooms), and where I got some really great advice and tips from reps to help calm me down from the nerves of starting university. I’m very excited to be able to give back to incoming students as an engineering rep!
->Classes start, try to find a routine that works, try to get ahead before you fall behind.
->Figure out extracurriculars/volunteer opportunities. Lots of clubs and services recruit first years in September-October. Look into mentorship programs as well! I joined a lot of them in my first year since I was hoping to get lots of advice. These programs pair first years with upper years and host events to get to know people in your program. The Women in Engineering program also had weekly questions that could sign you up for a raffle, which was fun! I still contact some of my mentors today for recommendations on classes and course loads. And typically they’re not very intense in terms of time commitment, so they’re good ways to ease into clubs/societies in first year.
->Note: go to professor/TA office hours as soon as possible! They may seem intimidating, but the earlier you start, the earlier you can get comfortable with them. It took me until the end of second year to finally start going, and it’s been a tremendous help.
->First Reading Week! I’d say use this time to catch up on any classes you might’ve fallen behind on.
->Midterm reflection: A lot of big tests and assignments occur around this time, and they can be difficult to manage! Consider research consultations at the library to help with these assignments. This time can be a stressful one, so pay attention to what works and what doesn’t for you.
End of First Semester
->Evaluate/reflect on what works and what doesn’t during the semester. While I don’t have a specific system, what I tend to do is think in a panic that I should’ve started studying for tests earlier. Usually I consider what worked for me in terms of note-taking, scheduling classes/study sessions, and whether I felt comfortable with my work-life balance. I learned that I definitely prefer written notes over typed, and determined that there were some classes where office hours are a must. I also go through my organization systems (agendas/calendars/Notion page) and determine if I liked my setup. It usually changes every semester to adapt to different classes.
->Prepare for exams well in advance, as they can be killer. I realized that I could have a solid standing in a class for the entire semester, but burnout and exam scheduling led to me flopping in the exam. Sometimes that kind of thing is inevitable, and it’s not the end of the world, but being able to prepare yourself for whatever outcome is incredibly helpful. The Student Success Centre provides a lot of exam prep, from tips on the website to online/in-person workshops.
->Start looking for next year’s housing if applicable. The housing market is competitive, so it’s better to look earlier in the year. Find a group of people you’re compatible with in terms of living habits. The McMaster Off-Housing page does offer some listings, but there are other sites you can use such as Facebook. Be wary of scams, and always go to a house viewing before signing any leases.
->Once again, focus on building habits based on last semester and the classes this semester. Routines will change and that’s okay! It’s perfectly valid to adapt as you go.
->Consider stream options if applicable, go to info nights and research future opportunities. This will determine the next few years of your university life and possibly your career! No pressure. But the future is not set in stone, just make sure your current decisions are made with knowledge and understanding.
->Consider applying for co-ops/internships for the summer (May-August). This can also get quite competitive and opportunities arise pretty early in the year! Not only could you get work experience in the summer, but it’s also a great way to get experience in resume/cover letter writing and interviews! Check out your department’s career office for resources that can help you with this.
->Consider extracurriculars for next year (many executive applications for clubs/teams/services open from March-July).
->Consider taking courses in the spring/summer term to free up space for next year’s schedule.
Note: I’d advise against doing all of these at once! It can be stressful managing a job, classes, and extracurriculars during midterms/exam season. Take it easy when it comes to non-course related items.
After First Year
->Moving into your new house (if applicable). Some people consider subletting over the summer term if they’re not around town, I would definitely recommend this.
->Summer internship/co-op/part-time (if applicable). It’s a great opportunity to build skills and your resume.
->Summer courses: Definitely be wary of the timing of spring/summer classes, the timing may be quicker, but on the other hand, you won’t have as many or any other classes so you’ll have more time to focus on one course.
->Rest!!! The four month break should be used for that, a break! It’s important to not overload if you’re able to so you’re prepared and refreshed for the upcoming year.
->If you’re living off campus, check out books by mail! You can get books from the library delivered to your door.
Of course, this timeline is a rough sketch based on my personal experiences. Although it’s always good to have a sketch or a plan for things, it’s also important to be able to adapt as you go. Some of these points may not apply, or they may change throughout the year, and that’s perfectly okay too! I hope this post is able to at least give a rough guide for what to expect during your first year in university. Good luck!