Student Life

Protips for surviving first year

You can't live on pizza and beer forever, and eventually you have to go to class.

Feb 11, 2016

Just because you can survive on pizza and beer doesn’t mean you should. I learned this the hard way during my first year of university. Looking back, I can’t believe I actually lived through the whole experience and didn’t get scurvy. I also realized how awesome my parents are, and how much I rely on them. So before I start spewing my wealth of life-saving knowledge go give your folks a hug and tell them they’re amazing because they’ll be your single best resource when facing post-secondary head on. Now, for some protips on making it through your first year of post-secondary:

  1. Embrace student life and live it up

    These next couple years are going to be some of the best of your life, so make memories that count. Sign up for a salsa class, travel, get your first tattoo. My mom banished me from the house when I got my belly button pierced during my first semester. It’s been six and a half years and a baby since then and I still wear it like a badge of honour. It reminds me to stay youthful, and it reminds me of some of the amazing times I had coming into my own skin as a student. The person you are when you start post-secondary is not the person you’ll be when you leave. Go have some fun before you’re thrust into the job market!

  2. Get a Costco membership

    It’s a pain in the butt to pay the initial membership fee, but the benefits outweigh the cost big time. First of all, they make the world’s best hotdogs and they are dirt cheap. Second, they have free samples, so when your bank account is in the negatives after paying for all your textbooks you can still afford to eat (Protip: bring a hat and sunglasses so you can do the rounds twice to get double the free food). Third, Costco sells everything in bulk for low low prices. Don’t know what you’re going to do with 100 boxes of Kraft Dinner? Ask your roommate who is just as broke and starving as you are and I’m sure he’ll take a couple dozen off your hands.

  3. Live in residence

    Yes, your mom’s cooking is awesome and you still don’t know how to do your own laundry but you need to go out and get real life skills. Think of it like early networking. I mean, that guy doing a keg stand in the common room might seem like a jerk now, but he might be your next boss or land a job at your dream company and put in a good word for you. The relationships you make in residence will last a lifetime so take advantage of them now. There are all sorts of activities and resources specifically for residence students, to help with the transition to post-secondary. Think free pancake breakfasts, all night study-a-thons with unlimited coffee, and student groups to meet people who share your interests. Lastly, do you really want to live with your parents forever?

  4. Be smart about student loans

    I’m hoping that by this point in your life you’ve learned that money doesn’t grow on trees. Just because someone hands you a cheque for $25,000 doesn’t mean you should spend all of it. Actually you most definitely should not. Student loans are not a free gift from the money fairy; you have to pay them back eventually. Be smart with your loans; use them sparingly on the necessities for school and nothing else. The last thing you want to do is start your post-graduate life living on the same boxes of KD that you bought as a freshman because you’re drowning in student debt.

  5. Get enough sleep

    Another protip for you: 8am classes are not awesome, do not take them. Period. Do you like getting up at the crack of dawn to do math after a late night of rigorous studying and academics? (at least that’s what I tell my parents I was doing when they call to check in). Didn’t think so. Sleep is precious, covet it. You deserve it with all that late-night studying, champ.

  6. Give yourself enough time to complete assignments

    Speaking of late nights, never, ever, ever leave a research paper to the night before it’s due. You will regret it terribly. Turns out when it’s 2 o’clock in the morning you stop caring if Napoleon was a famous French political leader, or just a really good type of ice cream. Your GPA will thank you when you give yourself enough time to complete assignments. Also, when printing off said assignment, make sure you have black ink. I’ve had to hand things in with purple and green ink because I didn’t realize I was out till the night before. I blame this for the C+’s I got, not the lack of sleep I wrote my papers on. For extra help in this department, check out our posts on "How to Beat the Homework Blues" and "13 Strategies for No-Stress Studying."

  7. Take advice with a grain of salt

    There is no right or wrong way to make it through post-secondary and no one’s journey is going to be the same as yours. You kinda gotta experience it for yourself… we’re all just winging it, really. I know it sounds crazy, but I promise you’ll get the best results that way. The only way to know where the best places to study are, or how to make it from one campus building to the next in 8 minutes, or to stay away from Tuesday’s Taco Surprise in the cafeteria is to live it, and find out for yourself.

    There is no magic formula for surviving or even excelling in post-secondary. Ultimately, it is you who will decide how your first year goes, and the years that follow. So while advice like this can be helpful, take it with a grain of salt, and don’t be afraid to carve your own path.


University of Alberta

Think being a student is hard? Try being a full time single mom too! I juggle potty training, working, and a full course load.

Check out Sarah's profile »»