The Mentorship Spot
University of Waterloo: Mechatronics Engineering
By Azhar Hamid
When I was a kid, I had this notion that university life was just partying, drinking and more partying. While I was definitely right, after a year of undergrad I have learned that it is so much more than that. The leap from high school to university can definitely be daunting at first, but there really are only a few subtle differences between the two. The three main differences in university are: the newfound freedom for how you spend time, the learning environment, and the kinds of people you meet. This post is mainly meant for when you arrive back on campus (hopefully sooner rather than later), but can still be applicable to online semesters.
For the most part, the life of a typical high school student is fairly structured. You wake up at about 7, attend school, eat lunch at 11, more classes, get home by 3, and do homework until your brain can’t take any more of it. And repeat. This has most likely been your routine for as long as you remember. Your schedule in university will almost certainly be much more flexible. Especially if you’re living on campus, those 24 hours in the day truly become your own. No one tells you when to wake up or go to sleep. No one tells you when to study or do your laundry. All of that is up to you.
If you have formed good time management habits throughout high school, then those good habits will very likely stay with you in university. Now that you have graduated high school and are living on your own, you will be treated as an adult. And of course, there are certain responsibilities that come with being an adult. You are going to have to do laundry, maybe even learn how to cook. Although this may seem scary at first, know that everyone around you is experiencing this new lifestyle right there with you.
The second major difference is that your learning environment will be very different from what you’ve experienced in high school. Depending on your program, you could have as many as 500 people in one lecture hall at a time. Also, no one will take attendance, so unlike high school, there is no real way for anyone to force you to attend a class. Of course, you should aim to attend all your classes (especially since you are paying for them!), but it does add a sense of comfort to know that your professor will probably not embarrass you in front of your peers for being 5 minutes late.
As an engineering student, a big adjustment was getting used to the examination process. Some of my courses were purely based on a midterm and final grade, with assignments counting for very little. In high school, you likely had several assignments which all contributed to your final mark, but university classes are generally the opposite: a few exams/assignments comprise the vast majority of your grade. My only advice for this would be to not procrastinate studying for a final. You may have been able to get away with an all-nighter in high school, but the sheer amount of content in a university course makes this approach near impossible. As exam season approaches, make sure you allot enough time to study for each class and you should be just fine.
It is also extremely important to make the effort in meeting new people. Unlike high school where the majority of your classmates were from your hometown, a university campus is filled with people all over the world. After befriending new people with new perspectives, do not be surprised if you feel like a whole new person by the end of the first semester.
A great way to meet new friends is by joining clubs. At Waterloo, there are a lot of cool design teams, but they only make up a small fraction of all the clubs and teams at the university. If you have a club you want to join in mind, chances are that the school already has it. And if not, it is really easy to form your own club. They are a great way to take a break from your studies and make friends in the process!
At the end of the day, university is what you make of it. How you decide to spend your time is completely up to you, and that’s what makes it such a memorable time in your life. As the saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. So make sure you make the most of the next four years of your life, it truly is an unforgettable time in your life.
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