Updated: Aug 11, 2019

Surprises, Setbacks and Change - About Your First Year Class Experiences

So… You’ve graduated from high school some time ago and now you’ve chose your next step as university. Congratulations!! There are several changes which will be coming your way – regardless of your personality and individual background, program, housing situation, etc.

My name is Stefan Mladjenovic and I am thrilled to be entering my fourth year of Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University! I remember when I was applying for post-secondary institutions in my grade 12 year and how absurd the whole experience was for me. I was only 17 years old and I was supposed to choose a program which is going to decide the outlook of the rest of my life ??? (or so that’s how I thought this would work lol). Well, a lot has changed since the beginning of my journey and that’s what I would like to share with you!

I completed my first year at a different university in Ontario and quickly learned that the environment at that university wasn’t for me. The first couple months were as surprising as they were full of setbacks. While I quickly met many new people, I didn’t develop deep connections with most of them – and I’ve come to learn that this is perfectly okay. The course material was much more interesting to me in university compared to high school, however I also found the courses much more challenging. Many of my friends share the same sentiments, regardless of which university or college they chose to attend. I joined McMaster in my second year of university and am forever grateful.

In my experiences, I’ve found that it is very important to set goals and aim high. If you want to achieve success, you have to believe that it is possible. Just as important, I’ve learned that things rarely go according to plans. There will be many failures and sacrifices which you will experience – both inside and outside of school.

Despite having a high average in high school, there were some assessments which I performed poorly on during my first year of university. I initially struggled with not being one of the top students of my class anymore. I expected that university would be challenging, but I didn’t anticipate that my grades in university would be much lower than my grade 12 grades. Obviously my past studying techniques and strategies were incompatible with succeeding in university. I know many people who dropped out of university, for various reasons either within or outside the realm of their direct control. Anecdotally, the most common reason people dropped out were ultimately linked to poor grades in their first year of university. It was important to me that I completed my goal of graduating university on the Dean’s Honours List. I quickly learned that if I wanted to achieve my goals then I needed to change myself.

I cannot do anything about my past, and neither can you. However we have the power to take responsibility over our futures. If I could go back in time and give my first-year self one piece of advice, it would be this: you will face challenges and you will fail; the quicker you adapt to change, the more potential for success you will realize. For several months I was stuck in my old ways regarding time-management and studying techniques which were not advantageous to my personal growth nor success. This culminated in not reaching my full potential as a student and as a person. I was much better off once I recognized my inadequacies and actively working to improve myself. I am proud to share that I was able to reach my goals of being on the Dean’s Honours List in my first year and all of the following semesters.

I have since learned to actively invite changes into my life rather than resisting them. Your environment will vary from day-to-day. You have the choice to change yourself to live your best life – both in your first year and beyond. I hope that briefly sharing some of my challenges and successes will inspire you to learn from my experiences so that you will be better equipped than I was. Good luck and all the best you, regardless of what your future may bring!

- Stefan M Mladjenovic

Being Part of the McMaster Community

Throughout first year, you may be bombarded with various obstacles, such as learning how you best study, finding your social group, and discovering that your overall mental and physical health are more important than any grade on your transcript. This was something I figured that I would have no issues with upon entering university - I was top in my class, had many friends, and was always quite happy. Not to say that everyone who fits this criteria will undergo the same transition as I did; however, I found that it took me some time to develop meaningful friendships, that I still struggle with defining my best study habits, and that mentally I have changed in various ways. Despite this, I continue to reflect on my good days, see where I need to improve, and constantly attempt to look at the world through a “glass half full” perspective.

With this said, there is no “i” in “team” and McMaster is not only easy on the eyes, but the community is one where many professors, staff, and students are more than willing to help you through the challenges you may face during your university transition. Aside from reaching out to people, a simple “Hey, how are you finding the course?” in the little bit of time before your lectures, labs and/or tutorials was how I met some of my closest friends. Continue to put yourself out there, whether it be by applying to various volunteer or extra-curricular opportunities after you were rejected from one you desperately wanted, by working yourself just that little bit harder to improve, even slightly, in a course, maybe that you are not too fond of (remember: small victories are still victories!), or by going outside of your comfort zone to join in on the conversation about how large the first year chemistry textbook was in your first Chem 1A03 tutorial (this was how I met one of my best friends).

If you have reached this point in my response, I hope that you learned something new about me and that of yourself - we continue to learn each day, still try to find our path in life, but regardless of how critical we are of ourselves, we are a force and with perseverance, our dreams will no longer be a leap, but rather one small step away.

- Ashley Adile

Noteworthy Risks

When I came to McMaster, I was nervous to take risks in my novel environment. I made my course schedule based on countless opinions passed on from upper year students – I knew which courses to take, at what times and with what professors. However, the process was very emotionless. I chose many of my courses because I had to take them, or because they’d help me in upper year courses. I didn’t have any “wild-card” courses. It wasn’t until I met with a professor one day that I became intrigued in taking a risk.

Last year, Impactful Initiatives in Health was offered at McMaster as a 1st year course. I’m to happy to share that it is being offered as a new 2nd year course. I had heard about the course all summer, but because I didn’t have any ‘reviews’ from upper year students, I was a bit hesitant on taking the course. After meeting with Dr. Lovaye Kajiura, who teaches the course, I was sold. This course sounded like something I’d enjoy – working with students from different academic years, diverse faculties, and alumni from several professions in order to better the lives of individuals in the community. Ever since I made my decision to enroll in that course, which was a week after classes began, I have not looked back. The Impactful Initiatives in Health was the Science course that I was most passionate about in my first year. In that course, I wasn’t learning to memorize, I was learning to learn, and applying my knowledge and skills to create things to help others. I believe there’s a big difference between the two. I was doing something I loved while earning a university credit, which was a win-win situation for me.

I felt like I was a part of something bigger. As a result, I gained the courage to reach out to the professor teaching the course to seek more opportunities in the IMPACT Initiative, the volunteering opportunity connected with the course. I’m very glad I did this, and it made me realize that reaching out to professors is not as scary as I believe or as it is often portrayed.

From taking this risk I have learned many valuable lessons. Firstly, sometimes you may have all the information, but it might still not be the “best” information. By that I mean that even though I felt I was an “expert” at planning my schedule, there was still information I lacked and it’s because no one had yet to create that knowledge. Secondly, pick courses based on your passions and not because something is “easy”. If you truly enjoy the work, then you won’t find it to be work at all. Finally, I’ll end by saying that I believe being open minded is the greatest skill an individual can have. Ever since I was young, I’ve always had “a plan” – I’m extremely organized and I’ve always liked knowing what to expect. However, I’ve found that some of my best experiences have resulted from unexpected opportunities that I was brave enough to pursue. Thus, keeping an open mind can sometimes lead you to a better place than you ever even imagined.

Good luck to all incoming first years, and I hope to see you at Welcome Week!

- Jessica Moreira