Written by: Peter Widdrington
I’ve been around the block when it comes to universities, so I have a little more experience than the average student when it comes to different undergrads. Thanks to this, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about the university experience and how to tailor it to my needs, plus figure out the way to get the most out of it. My first year of university was at Ryerson, where I studied Business IT Management. It was brutal; I knew it wasn’t the place for me and that what I really wanted to pursue was filmmaking. So, at the last minute, I switched into Cinema and Media Studies at York. I did that program for two years before being accepted into the Film Production program, where I am currently situated for only a few more months (and then I graduate!). With almost five years of university and three different programs under my belt, I thought that I should share the three most important lessons I’ve learned while being at university that I wish I knew going into it.
1. Don’t be afraid of change.
I won’t lie, university can be pretty overwhelming — especially in your first year. When I was studying in business school, I remember trying to convince myself that things would get better: that I would eventually learn to love my studies, the people in my program, and the world I was moving into. It just seemed easier to do that rather than restart first year in a different program and school, even if that’s where I knew I wanted to be. In addition, that was more money I was going to need to spend, and I knew that if I switched programs I would most likely be doing five years of university rather than four. I just wanted to be done with school. I didn’t even know if the program I wanted to switch into would be any better.
However, let me tell you this: LISTEN TO YOURSELF! If you aren’t happy in your program, or with your institution, or whatever it is, take initiative and keep trying until you get to where you want to be. It’s better to listen to yourself now, rather than years down the road. And trust me, if you aren’t happy with your program/university, you are probably going to still be unhappy by your fourth year. So don’t wait! At the end of the day, it’s your life, your studies, and your career, so take advantage of this time in your life to explore a little and find out where you want to go. You might even decide that university might not be right for you, and that’s completely fine. Take the time to evaluate what you want to do, why, and how you are going to take action to achieve it. It took me a total of three years and four attempts to get into film school, but I didn’t give up. Now, I’m where I want to be and I couldn’t be happier! In the end, the extra money was worth it, the additional year was worth it, and I’m finally studying what I want to study.
2. Work hard, because your career starts now
Yes, that’s right: now! It took me a couple of years to realize this, but what you do in university will be the very foundation that will land you career opportunities when you get out of school. It’s easy to treat university as sort of a high school 2.0, thinking that you can put in the effort to pass your classes, but why strain yourself to do well when there’s nothing much to gain from it? Let’s be honest, most of us probably only worked hard in the last couple years of high school because we wanted to get into our top university choices. But what do we get for working hard in university? Perhaps if you wanted to pursue a masters degree then your GPA matters, but is anyone really going to be checking your grades after you graduate to hire you?
It’s hard to visualize the benefits of working hard in university because before this, there has always been a “next step”: from elementary school, to high school, to university, it’s always been hard work to get to the next level. But after university, where do we go? I felt that this mentality lead me to sometimes be lazy, or to not try hard while at York, but please don’t let this happen to you! It might seem like after university there is nothing to grasp for. However, what we all need to realize is this: YOU MAKE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES. That’s something that they don’t always teach you in school (well, at least not in film school). Just because there might not be a specific path perfectly set out for you at the end of university does not mean that there is nowhere for you to go. By working hard in university, you make your own opportunities and better your chances of being able to get meaningful and fulfilling work after you graduate. By treating university as your first step into the working world, you will see how many doors will open up for you, even while still in school. This also applies to your classmates. You won’t be leaving each other behind after graduation; you will all be entering the work force together, and a lot of people will base their decisions of who they want to work with on their school experiences. Students that put in the effort to make good work and make a good impression on their fellow classmates are the students who have a strong foundation to begin working in their desired industry after graduating.
3. Make friends, and have fun!
Many of the friends you make in your classes are going to be the friends and colleagues you work with for years afterwards, so make sure you value the time you spend together. The more friends you make, the more experiences you will be able to share with one another down the road. Power in numbers is what I always say! Many of my friends and I have made projects together, both in and out of school. However, I realize making friends can often be a challenge. When it comes to making friends, just be yourself; you’ll find that likeminded friends that you actually want to spend time with will just sort of come to you. If that doesn’t work, do what you came to school to do: MAKE ART. I guarantee people will take notice. Making friends should be something that’s organic and, most importantly, fun! So go out to events, get involved in projects, show up to class — you will only have these experiences once.
Although university is a place that requires a certain amount of seriousness and time, you should also make an effort to enjoy it, because it won’t last forever. Everything I’ve mentioned above shouldn’t be boring or excruciatingly difficult; it should be done in a way that inspires you and encourages you to work even harder and pursue everything you want to accomplish! Take time to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done to get to this point, and all that you are going to accomplish in the future. There is a whole world out there for you to enjoy, and the only thing holding you back from doing anything is yourself. I hope you enjoy your time at York as much as I have, and good luck!