Going Back To University… For The First Time

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

”So, you’re going back to university soon, aren’t you? Excited?” I’ve heard this question a few times over the past few weeks.

As elaborated on in a previous column, I had a fantastic summer and I’m ready to hit the books again.

Prior to last week, I wasn’t feeling as excited to return to university as I am now though. My fall semester at university last year turned out great, but because it was my first, I spent the majority of it getting to know my way around campus, adapting to my courses, and stressing out over exams rather than comfortably settling back into routine as I had in previous school years. Naturally, preparing for this fall semester, I was a bit apprehensive. The start of this school year was so similar to last year’s start that I had the impression that the fall semester of my second year of university, like my first year of university’s fall semester would be a hectic blur  of adaptation. Second year university courses are harder than first year courses, right? Second year exams are more prone to being scheduled at the oddest hours, right?  As a second year student, I will no longer be able to use my first year student status to call Université de Moncton’s team of student mentors. Instead, I’ll be expected to help out this year’s freshmen. I remember wondering last week how on earth I was supposed to do that when I still feel like a university newbie sometimes.

But then I stepped on campus for the first time since June on Thursday last week. I knew what to do and I knew where to go. In less than an hour, I dashed over to the student center to pick up my agenda, located the residence security office where lockers can be rented and promptly rented my locker from last year for another year, went to the library to ask the librarian to check the shelves for a book my student account was insisting I hadn’t returned (it was found on the shelves later naturally; my student account was just giving me trouble like usual), and then made a final stop at the bookstore, to pick up my course notes and to jot down the names of the books I need this semester so I could buy them used from a friend later. Last year, the same to-do list took me at least five hours to complete. Last year, having difficulty at course registration time threw me into a state of despair; this year, when my student account kept me from signing up to one of my courses, I knew exactly who to email (the secretary of the department the course was being offered by and the prof teaching the course) and what information to provide to unblock the course. What a beautiful thing experience is!

Something that contributed to my being able to find my way around Université de Moncton this year was Université de Moncton’s student mentorship program. For this program, a team of older students is assigned the task of answering younger students’ questions and periodically giving them a call to find out how they’re doing. Student mentorship programs and other student help services are now very popular at universities. Student retention rates have increased in recent years, likely due to more attention and resources being allotted to preparing and helping freshmen students transition into their first year of university.
Nevertheless, according to Stats Canada, post-secondary students are more likely to drop out between first and second year, with an average of 16% of students not moving onto their second year. Academic and social integration help lower drop out rates. Factors that influence a student’s chance of dropping out of  are parents’ level of education, grades during high school, immigrating to Canada with parents (students who do this tend to drop out less), and, of course, grades at university. The average student has control over some of these influencing factors, but not all.

The verdict: make the most of the resources your school offers you to maximize your chances of success. Personal experience and empirical evidence support this morsel of advice.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on September 10th, 2011.

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