Coming to university for the first time can be scary, even when students have siblings, parents, or other family members who have gone before them to guide them through the process. It can be a whole other story for folks who are the first in their families to take the leap.
I know from personal experience that being the first person in your family to go to university is an honour but can definitely be a challenge. You’ll be navigating classes, campus life, and other new milestones without the benefit of advice from family members who have already experienced university life. But you aren’t alone! There are so many supports at Dalhousie to help you get through those rough patches! We’ve gathered a few tips here to help you through your first few weeks:
1. Upper-year students are your friends
Just because you don’t have family members who have gone to university, doesn’t mean that you don’t have access to upper-year students who made it through their first year and are happy to talk about their own experiences. One of the best ways to connect to older students is to chat with your RAs if you live in residence. They’re there to help you, and they’ve definitely experienced the first-year jitters—they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve that you’ll find useful. You can also talk to your profs or the staff in your departmental office about finding upper-year students who can share their wisdom with you.
2. Build community
First year is a learning experience for everyone—even for people who have family who have done it before. No one should go it alone; making friends with students who are currently going through the same things as you is a great way to make navigating this new world a lot easier. You might even be able to pick up some of those handy tips (like bringing a roll of 2-ply toilet paper to residence with you) from other first-year students who heard them from their families.
You can build a community with people in your residence building, in your classes, or by joining a Dalhousie society—these are especially helpful because you can make connections with folks who share similar interests with you. If you’re in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences or Faculty of Science, you could also join a First Year Interest Group (FIGs)—a small group of about 15 students who have similar academic interests, let by senior undergraduate or graduate students. FIGs allow you to delve deeper into the material, bounce ideas off each other and meet other students who share some of your interests.
But before you even arrive here, make sure you join the Incoming Class of 2019-20 Facebook Group if you’re going to be on the Halifax campuses, or the Faculty of Agricultural Incoming Class of 2019-20 Group if you’re going to be in Truro. It’s an amazing way to meet new classmates and be able to talk to each other about your worries, hopes, and expectations about what life’s going to be like at Dal.
3. Read up on Dal life (kind of like what we write in these blog posts)
This is shameless self-promotion, but read our emails and blog posts! In the weeks leading up to your first day at Dal, students, faculty, and staff send out a lot of information to help you prepare. It may seem like a lot coming at you at once, but there’s so much important stuff in there—especially if you’re not sure about what questions to ask when you get here.
A lot of the stuff you’re reading (including this blog post) has been written by students who have been through it before. We’re not like academic Yodas or anything, but we definitely know what it’s like to be nervous about your first year. So make sure you keep checking your @dal.ca email account for good info from Dal Student Life, your faculty, and likely your department or program.
And follow Dal Student Life on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with what’s happening on our Halifax campuses. In Truro, follow the Agricultural Campus Student Success Centre on Facebook and Twitter, and Dal Aggies on Instagram.
4. And finally: Don’t ditch your family
Just because they haven’t necessarily shared these new experiences with you, doesn’t mean that they can’t help you at all. You may find yourself having a rough week or being a little homesick, and sometimes hearing a familiar voice, or seeing a familiar face, is just what you need to feel better. Loved ones are still an important support system, and they definitely care about how you’re doing. Stay in touch with them and keep them updated on your new life at Dal!
Mercedes was the first in her family to go to university, and she’s doing pretty amazing.