I've just finished up my first year as a University of Waterloo student entirely online, and while the year obviously wasn't quite what anyone's first year experience should be, it wasn't all bad.
We're all learning to better adapt to the online world, and vaccines are rolling out fast, so hopefully future years won't be quite as rough as this one. That said, I enjoyed my experience as a first-year university student during the pandemic overall. Here's how it went, along with some things you can expect.
Living on campus
I decided to move out from my home and into residence. I mainly moved out for the independence and some sort of university experience, but I ended up getting a roommate I got along with really well, creating a life-long friendship. It goes without saying not everyone's experience will be as lucky as mine, but if you think it's worth the cost for you, despite everything being online, I do recommend studying on campus.
Sleeping and studying
At the University of Waterloo, all my courses were online and asynchronous, meaning we had no scheduled classes and I could do everything at my own pace. This may sound great for people who can study on their own and don't need interaction with their professors or other students to learn — if that's you, maybe online school isn't such a bad thing. Others had classes at specified times each week, but mine left it up to me to schedule my time effectively.
One large benefit I found with asynchronous classes was I found myself getting tons of sleep. I could easily get over 8 hours of sleep a night without it taking time away from my schedule. A downside to this: the reason I got so much sleep was because I practically had nothing else to do other than study. I made very few friends and met almost nobody in any of my classes.
Friends and frosh week
That's not to say it's impossible to make friends. People still did have parties and ignored many of the COVID rules in frosh week. After the frosh week people had basically found their friend groups and didn't seem to be looking for more friends.
It may seem unfair that people breaking guidelines seem to benefit, but considering there were multiple COVID outbreaks in residence, I believe it isn't worth the risk. I definitely discourage breaking COVID-19 guidelines, perhaps just try to put effort in to reaching out to classmates online and I'm sure friendships will come easy, even if a little unconventional.
Another thing to note about the classwork is it seemed to be never-ending. University is a huge step up from high school, but not really in terms of difficulty, at least not in my experience. I found the work was not very challenging to understand, but it was definitely a real challenge to make time to do it all.
Classes seemed to pile on greater amounts of lesser weighted assignments — being online, it could be very easy to fall behind if there were only a few large tests or assignments. While I do think this system is best for online learning, I still found myself working essentially from when I woke up to when I went to bed for a lot of the first semester. Once I learned to better manage my time I was able to free up some space for hobbies and relaxation.
My first year, entirely online
First year university entirely online is definitely a strange experience, but one that I don't regret. It was a challenge, but I still made valuable friendships and learned to make the most of the situation. It's important to weigh out your personal strengths and weaknesses before making any big decisions, but I can confidently say I'm proud to have gone to university and tackled the strange online-learning obstacles, making a few lasting friendships along the way.
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