With the start of university approximately 1 month away, incoming students are likely starting to get very anxious about their future. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for the Fall term if you are planning on starting university.
- Make sure you are prepared to participate in online course activities.
- If you are planning a move, think about the things you will need to take with you.
- Develop healthy living habits prior to the start of university.
- Connect with your classmates and instructors as early as possible.
- Reach out for help when you need it.
Let’s look at each of these points in detail…
Make sure you are prepared to participate in online course activities.
With classes being held remotely in the Fall and most likely the Winter, you will want to make sure that you have created an environment suitable for studying effectively. You may not have the luxury of buying a brand new computer with dual 27″ monitors, a desk, an office chair, and all of the peripherals you would love to own so you need to prioritize. My suggestion is to focus on acquiring things that will make it easier for you to study for reasonably long periods of time.
A functional desk is essential. Students living in residence will have access to a suitable desk and a chair. Some students may find it useful to upgrade their chair to a proper office chair for long hours in front of a computer. In my home office, my chair is probably my weakest link. A good office chair is something you will definitely appreciate when working long hours. Keep in mind that there are ways to purchase chairs affordably. There are stores that sell used office furniture where you can get a very good deal. With businesses closing, you may find that there is a reasonable supply of lightly used office furniture. Regardless of whether you are purchasing a new or used chair, make sure you try it out before buying it. Stores like Staples and IKEA have chairs that you can test out.
On the computer front, make sure you have the peripherals you will need to be successful:
- A full-size keyboard
- A nice monitor (or two)
You will note that I did not specify a computer. Almost any computer will work with the online teaching tools used by the university. Unless your existing computer is very old or you do not have a computer at all, upgrading to a new computer may not be necessary. Most computers (even old ones) are capable of running office software and browsing the internet.
If you need to acquire any peripherals, now is the time to do so. Things like webcams can be hard to find. Demand for technology has outpaced supply over the past 4 months. Also, back-to-school sales have already started.
If you are planning a move, think about the things you will need to take with you.
Remember your business attire. You will never forget to pack your favorite t-shirt but it is easy to forget that you may have a job interview in your first month of co-op studies. Even if you are not in a co-op program, you should always have one outfit suitable for a job interview or a special event. Working from home hasn’t eliminated the need for business attire completely. If you are interviewing for a job, you should still show respect to an employer by dressing appropriately.
Another good thing to remember would be some memories of home. If you have a photograph, a poster, or something that just sits on your desk and makes you happy, remember to bring it with you. It is important that you make your “new home” feel like home.
If you need anything to help you sleep better, bring it with you. A pillow or a blanket might turn a residence room into a much more welcoming environment. But also remember that you will need something to wake you up in the morning. When I was a student, a dedicated alarm clock with a battery backup was a great investment. It also doubled as a radio which was nice.
Finally, keep in mind that space is likely limited. You cannot move an entire house into residence. Choose things wisely. A bean bag chair might not fit comfortably in your new place. Only bring things that you really need. After a few terms of packing and unpacking, you will get very good at recognizing what you need to pack.
To figure out what you really need, you can do the following over the next week. When you use something over the next week, make a note of it. At the end of this week, things not on the list are probably things that you can manage without (at least for 4 months at a time).
Develop healthy living habits prior to the start of university.
Eating right, exercising, and developing healthy sleeping habits will boost your productivity. All of these are tough things to do well but every effort you make will help. Most importantly, try to develop a good schedule now while you are not in university. Once you develop a schedule, it will be easier to stick to it when you start your studies. I would suggest going to sleep no later than 11 pm in the days leading up to you starting your studies. Also, try to wake up by 7 am the next day. Remember that classes start as early as 8:30 am. In a normal term, you need to be at class by that time which means waking up, cleaning up, getting dressed, having breakfast, and going to class.
I have been guilty of having some very bad sleeping habits lately. The long hours of teaching remotely have been taking a toll on my sleep. Again, when you fall out of good habits (and this will happen), do everything you can to get back on schedule.
Connect with your classmates and instructors as early as possible.
There are ways that you can connect to your classmates already. The Waterloo Ready program is just one of many ways to connect. There are Discord servers and other online forums for students to interact with their classmates. While many of these channels are unofficial, they are great ways to get to know other students in your program. E-mail also works. Feel free to reach out to your instructors. Many of them will gladly e-mail you back.
Reach out for help when you need it.
Isolation is not healthy for anyone. We have already seen anecdotal evidence that excellent students are struggling with remote learning. While some students strive in a remote learning environments, students who have traditionally done very well in their studies are struggling the most. Our university has been doing everything it can reasonably do to help students with stress, anxiety, and depression. We realize that students are worried not only about their studies but also about many important societal issues and health concerns. While we have resources to help students, many of the resources require students to take the first step. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Knowing your limitations is a sign of strength, not weakness!
A final note…
There is still time to defer your university studies by a year (or two) if you are not ready to start classes in the Fall. The deadline for submitting an Admission Deferral Request Form was extended until August 14th this year. Our university extended the deadline from August 1st in recognition of the fact that many students are likely undecided on how to proceed this year.
Deferring is not a decision that you should make lightly.
This year, more than ever, there is a strong case to be made for deferring the start of your studies. Students starting this year will be studying remotely in the Fall. You are making a huge investment in your future. You need to maximize the return on your investment. If you do not think that remote learning is a good fit for you, deferring may be a very good option. However, if you typically spend a fair amount of time in front of a computer watching videos, remote learning may be ideal for you. Some students are thriving in remote learning. Others are struggling. It is difficult to predict how any individual will react to remote learning.
Another reason to defer may be that you cannot come to the university and you are studying in a different time zone. We have approximately 300 international students who have actively enrolled in first year studies for engineering programs in Fall 2020. While travel restrictions are always subject to change, the current restrictions do not appear to allow new students on a study permit to travel to Canada for remote learning. There are a few exceptions but travel may be impossible for new students. While it is possible to study remotely in the Fall, it may be difficult to justify paying over $30,000 in tuition and incidental fees for one term of remote studies. For those students studying remotely in different time zones, know that the University of Waterloo has been developing ways to support you effectively in your remote studies.
Of course, recent data suggests that students who graduate from our engineering programs often get very lucrative employment offers after graduation so studying this Fall may still be a very good investment in your future. A recent survey of Management Engineering graduates suggests that the starting salaries of the graduating class are very comparable to the salaries of the faculty members teaching them. About a third of our recent graduates in Management Engineering report making more than $160,000 CAD.
On the subject of investment, keep in mind that university tuition typically increases every year. This is one of the disadvantages of deferring. From a cost perspective, it is always best to start your studies as early as possible and to finish as early as possible. For international students, first year tuition sometimes increases by as much as 15% per year so this can be an important consideration. For domestic students, first year tuition increases are typically around 5% so it plays a much less significant factor in decisions.
As a final comment, I should point out that even if you start this Fall and you find that you are overwhelmed, the last day for a full tuition refund is September 28th. If you start classes and decide that you are not ready after a few weeks, you always have the option of getting your tuition refunded. While it is clearly better to defer now than to pay and then ask for a refund, this does provide students with a bit of time to better assess their situations.
I will finish by thanking everyone for the positive feedback on the photos from my garden. Here are a few more photographs from my garden to brighten your day: