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Education The most important piece of advice for first year? Talk to your professors

Here's the deal: University is a big step, it's transformative, it's provoking, it's challenging – we've all heard this before. The general conversation on the transition to the first year of university falls nothing short of menacing. We are told that university changes our lives, it makes or breaks us, it changes personalities.

Here is a list of nine things not to do in your first year of university to help you ease into this overwhelming experience:

1. Don't do all your readings

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Take this with a grain of salt. I'm not suggesting that Sparknotes should become your holy grail or that you should purposefully ignore your readings; just be smart about how and what you study. Arts students, for example, will have close to 300 pages of academic reading per week; I'm no mathematician, but that will leave you almost no time to do anything else with your university experience. The key is to know what to extrapolate from the seemingly impenetrable and almost foreign sounding academic readings you'll be given. I genuinely wonder if Heidegger knew how much suffering he'd cause generations of youth.

2. Don't be balanced, be you

So often you hear about balancing your university life. What's overlooked in this relatively meaningless statement is the importance of being able to understand what your own balance entails. Do not try and reinvent yourself. If you're a partier, party and then find your balance to study; if you're an athlete, work out and then find your balance to study and if you're a nerd, then just do your thing...

3. Don't be intimidated by the flaunting

As a means of social self-satisfaction, your first couple weeks in university might entail a whole lot of flaunting – giving you the impression that everyone is fake and that you're doomed to make terrible friends. Don't be intimidated by ostentatious habits, do your own thing and remember that everyone is just attempting to socially re-establish themselves.

4. Don't wait to get older, you're old enough

Yes, you're a "frosh," a "first year," and once again you're at the bottom of the food chain. Don't let labels define you and your capabilities. Sure, there are certain opportunities only available to upper-year students, but don't underestimate yourself. Create your own opportunities and broaden your scope. The highest performing young people are successful because they disobey convention and become trailblazers in their own respective ways.

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5. University is not always meritocratic

The best essays don't always get the highest grades nor do the best test answers always get full marks. I'm not trying to dilute university grading; rather, I'm highlighting the importance of knowing who your marker is and what they're looking for. If a professor is marking your paper you can generally be more creative with your writing, conversely if a T.A. is marking, stick to something more conventional. Controversial view? Sure. See if your experience doesn't end up matching it.

6. Don't be afraid of your blank slate

University is a scary experience but it shouldn't strike fear; its scariness should simply be the byproduct of its novelty. To essentially recreate your social self and public identity is understandably not easy. You should embrace this blank slate – think of it as an opportunity to dismiss the things you didn't like about yourself and keep the things you like. In the end, those adjust best to university are the ones that welcome the awkwardness of making new friends, open up to new opportunities and embrace the challenge of re-establishing themselves socially.

7. Don't set your academic bar too low

We are often reminded that if we got 95 per cent in high school, then we should expect no higher than 60 per cents in university. The mentality that university is academically impenetrable is one that most high-school students are accustomed to hearing. Students create a lower bar of achievement for themselves as a result.

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8. Don't be afraid of your professors

Do not waste an opportunity to visit your professors during their office hours. The best way to secure a research position or any external academic opportunity is by getting to know your professors. More students are seemingly willing to approach professors who teach smaller classes than those teaching larger ones. Students have an illogical fear of approaching professors that don't know them. Even if you have nothing to say about the curriculum, go speak to your professors about their research or subject areas that are of common interest. Getting to know your professors is almost as important as your GPA.

9. Don't take too much advice

The final, and most important piece of advice I have, is to not take too much advice. Being in a new environment can sometimes pressure you to accept everything and anything that peers (especially those older) tell you. Be sure to make your own decisions based on what you know about yourself – don't let other people re-live what they wanted their first year to be like through you.

Kourosh Houshmand is a second-year student at Trinity College at the University of Toronto and was a recipient of Canada's Top 20 Under 20.

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