- Making friends is important, not only for your sanity but also for academic success in later years. You need people you can trust for those group projects!
- If your TA can't speak English, complain. A few years ago, they made it possible for TAs to be sent to remedial English training. It's free for the TA, and they don't lose their future TA jobs, so you're pretty much doing everyone a favour by helping them learn to do their job better.
- It may seem that everyone else is way ahead of you in class. But actually, a lot of other people are just stupidly arrogant. You're probably way more awesome than you think, and other people are probably struggling with the same things you struggle with.
- Your course schedule may not work out every year. If you're in a smaller degree program, you might even find that it's not possible to complete your degree without substituting things because your required courses are offered at the same time! If you run up against a wall, talk to the undergraduate/graduate advisor in your department. They can help figure out what to do.
- If you have any problem with registration or any other administrative thing, make sure to talk to the admin staff in person. Our administrative staff is excellent, and they can solve a lot of problems that the computer systems deem impossible. Just remember to be polite, and try to show up when they're not busy!
- You can skip classes by challenging for credit. It costs money, but can get you out of stuff that would be a waste of your time. That said, easy As are great ways to buoy up your scholarship marks if you're willing to sit around being bored. (that's what I did in first year.)
- You can take upper year classes early, sometimes without prerequisites, if you're willing to work for it. Sit in on the first few classes and then ask the prof to sign the necessary paperwork when you're more sure, or just ask them for their advice. You can also take graduate courses as an undergraduate! (I did this, and it's how I wound up doing graduate school!) Graduate courses sometimes have an easier workload than the undergraduate ones, but you'll have to do a lot more independent thinking, so be prepared!
- If you're struggling in a class very early on, it's perfectly ok to drop classes and take them later. Sometimes the prof's teaching style won't mesh with your learning style and you should take it with someone else, sometimes you're just too busy with other courses. Before you drop anything, though, make sure you do it properly in the system before the drop date so you don't get an F, make sure you can take the class later or substitute another class, and make sure it's not a prerequisite that will mess up your schedule for the next term!
- Find a few good places to hang out and spend more time on campus. Having a place you can sit where you can let off steam with a game of cards, meet up with your friends, curl up on a couch for an hour, or even just buy cheaper snacks/coffee can be invaluable. I lived off-campus as an undergraduate and tended to go home frequently in my first year, but I didn't really find a love for Carleton until I started hanging out with the Math Society.
And nowadays, obviously I recommend you all join WISE, too!
So welcome to the new students this year! And for those of you returning, I'm sure you've gotten some great advice too. Got anything you'd like to share?