Welcome to Concordia. Going into my fifth year in this wonderful institution of higher learning, there are a lot of tidbits I can share with you about how this school works. I wish I had paid more attention to articles like these during my first year, but I was so lost and intimidated by the size of this place that I do not even remember picking up the paper to read it. I did not want to learn about everything going on because I knew I would be dismayed by the sheer deluge of information.
That was a mistake. Do not be afraid! Walk INTO the light. It is good to know what’s going on here but more importantly, you have to know which resources are available to you and how to use them efficiently.
This is just a guide, mind you, so take what you need and ignore the rest. Everyone succeeds differently. Now finish that text message and pay attention to what I’m going to tell you!
Each year Concordia puts a heavy emphasis on orientation, making sure you get acquainted with the tools that will ensure your success here. You may see it as relatively useless, or as information you can pick up along the way. However, it is your first year, it is a new school, a new environment and for some of you, a completely new city, so why not take advantage of all this awesome help?
The “Student Success Check-Up and Orientation” is a two-part program that helps you get to know yourself and your university better. There are two parts: an online, self-assessment that will identify your strengths and weaknesses and a follow up orientation session where an educational counsellor will help you interpret those results and create a personal action plan. According to them, you will connect with a Student Success Mentor, an upper-year student, who will take you on a tour of important university resources and answer your questions about what it is like to be a student at Concordia. Check out http://newstudent.concordia.ca/knowu/ to sign-up.
Get organized and prioritize
This is crucial, folks. You are entering a time in your life when you will really get to understand the meaning of the word ‘independence.’ Firstly, you need to score a free agenda from the CSU (a fantastic resource in itself), located on the 7th floor of the Hall building. Exploit the hell out of it; write down all your assignments, class times, exam dates and especially when the Habs are playing. Set up your timetable for the semester as soon as possible and that way you will not get any nasty surprises when midterms and finals come around.
Readings from your professors are not suggestions, they are mandatory and they allow you to understand the material that will be presented later on in the course. I learned that the hard way my first semester. Same goes for lectures and homework. No one really cares if you attend class or not and they will not go wake you up in the morning (although that would kick ass, wouldn’t it?) But trust me, getting used to not attending class is a vicious cycle and one that could haunt you in the long run. You are paying for your tuition, right? (Well, someone is.) You may as well attend, then. In most cases, you will be so intellectually stimulated that you will walk out of class with a huge grin on your face (and perhaps the courage to talk to that cute boy/girl you were sitting next to).
If you play games like WoW or D&D or even S&M (for the kinkier crowd), quit now. You may think you can balance the demands of full time studies with everything else but for the time being, this is all incredibly new to your system. Get acquainted with your new schedule and ignore the distractions. All of this becomes a juggling act really quickly. Do not believe the myth that you can kick back and cruise through everything. If you want to attend graduate school after your undergrad, your GPA counts for a lot, so keep that in mind during your first year.
It is important to be organized during the first semester because it is the basis for the rest of your academic career. You will be learning notions that you are supposed to build on in subsequent semesters, so pay attention and it will be so much easier down the road to add to your knowledge base.
Another priority is your OPUS card. If you are 25 and younger as of Oct. 31 of this year, registered as a full-time student at Concordia and a resident of the island of Montreal, you qualify for a student bus/metro pass. Just go to the STM website and fill in the form, then bring it to the Birks Student Centre to be stamped, and finally go get your picture taken at a designated STM station to obtain your card at a seriously discounted price (only $41 a month, you lucky bastards).
Concordia has two fairly big campuses with lots of buildings, so it is important to know where everything is. Downtown, you will probably spend most of your time in the Hall building. Across the street is the McConnell building, for all things academic (prof’s offices, the library, some classes, etc).
The library is definitely a place you want to become acquainted with and soon. There is one downtown and at the Loyola campus, so there goes your “it’s too far” excuse. You will be there doing research, using the computers, asking librarians for help and borrowing books. Heck, I did not even know until my second year here that I could staple my assignments there, too. Be aware, though, that the library is trickier than it seems. Go explore it and you will quickly appreciate what it has to offer because in the end, you will worship it. When you have important work to do, it may be better to do it there, free from the distractions of the modern world (Facebook, Jersey Shore, etc.)
If you need a little more action, there are plenty of moderately-amplified study spaces like Java U, the 7th floor of the Hall building and the couches on the Hall building’s mezzanine. The Second Cup a couple steps away from the Loyola campus is a good study place, too, but don’t be dismayed if there are not any spots available. The Second Cup a five-minute 162 bus ride east is pretty cozy.
Get to know which clubs and associations are available. There are literally hundreds of them, most of which can be found here http://deanofstudents.concordia.ca/student-groups/complete-list-of-student-groups/. Do not underestimate their benefits; not only can you meet and network with like-minded people, but being part of a club that is tailored to your needs and interests is awesome. Plus, it is great for your CV. When you see these clubs advertising themselves around campus, walk up and introduce yourself. They will not eat you (by-law 841 prevents them from doing that.)
Speaking of all those buildings, why not grab a campus tour? It is a great way to find your way around. Led by current Concordia students, the tours leave the Welcome Centre (LB-185-40) at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. You can even book a tour online, through the My Concordia portal.
Get to know your professors
They are people just like you and me. They do not live in ivory towers. They subsist on foods and liquids, just like regular organisms. Most of them are kinda nice, too. They just want to make sure you succeed academically, so when they offer their office hours, use them. Otherwise, they just sit there doing nothing and you have just ruined their day. Do you want to be responsible for that? If you do not understand something in class, drop by, that is what they are paid for. Before classes begin you can also take a look at www.ratemyprofessors.com, just to get an idea of who you are going to be dealing with for the next four months. A good professor can not only help you understand difficult material, but he or she will make an effort to advise and recommend other resources. Just do not be intimidated by their status; they know what it’s like to be a first-year student. Make sure to show up with some questions in advance, so you don’t waste each other’s time.
Get help when you need it
Never shy away from asking a question in class. Professors can lecture pretty quickly sometimes and take things for granted, i.e. your understanding of a concept. Stop that person in their tracks and ask for more explanations. Otherwise, talk to your classmates outside of class. You are all in the same boat anyway, so you may as well use each other (for academic purposes only, of course). Your TA’s are also there to assist and can get pretty bored at times, so email them or crash their offices. Furthermore, Concordia offers a wide variety of resources to help you in your studies such as the Career Resource Centre, the Student Success Centre and a whole lot more.
Spend your money wisely
Going to university for some is like going to Las Vegas. Bright lights, plenty of opportunities for fun but you get to waste a LOT of money on stuff you just do not need. Money comes and goes but trust me, it sure does go.
Firstly, you need a healthy body to go along with that healthy mind. Concordia has a fantastic new gym just around the corner, located in the EV building. It will only cost you $60 for the entire semester and it is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday, which gives you more than enough time for a quick run before or after classes. Getting enough sleep is also key; save the partying for the weekends or for my birthday.
You can join one of several sports leagues, which offers everything from basketball to Ultimate Frisbee. You can get more information here : http://athletics.concordia.ca/campus/sport_leagues/default.html.
It is a cheap way of staying fit, meeting new people and watching others run around in skimpy outfits.
There are a variety of pubs, bars and cafes around both campuses. Downtown you should get acquainted with Reggie’s fairly quickly, as it is located in the Hall building. Beers are cheap and people are usually quite drunk, so it is a nice place to unwind after a hectic day. Java U (also on campus) offers cheap coffee and snacks and it is a great place to study or meet people, thanks to the awesome music they play there. Food-wise there is Maison Bulgogi on St-Catherine for some authentic Korean food, Al-Taib on McKay for Lebanese, Antep Kabab on Maisonneuve for yummy Turkish sandwiches and McKibbin’s on Bishop for some really good pub fare. Monkland Avenue is also a pretty happening place around Loyola campus, with popular places to drink including Ye Olde Orchard, Typhoon and Pizzadelic (mmm… sangria.) For your mid-day breaks, there is cheap food aplenty at Sushi Shop and Bangkok Express downtown. Make the short trek to Souvlaki George right next to Loyola and you will not be disappointed. Westminster Avenue also has great, dirt-cheap burgers at Burger de Ville. The key, though, is to ask around and explore!
Buy your textbooks online from Amazon or Abebooks. Also check out the myriad of ads around campus from people selling used books; you may only use them for a semester, so consider getting them second-hand. You will save a lot in the long run and if you are lucky, you will avoid the soul-crushing pain of paying over $100 for a single textbook. You can also rent some textbooks for the semester from the Concordia bookstore; in some cases you can save up to 60 per cent. Check out their website for information.
If you can, keep your bills and receipts for an entire month and see how much you have spent. Try to work out a budget for yourself and stick to it. Going out is great and dare I say necessary, but overdoing it may just end up killing the novelty.
Take it seriously but be open-minded
When addressing your professors, do it professionally. Get your stuff in on time; full-time studies are akin to full-time jobs, and in the real world, lateness and laziness don’t exactly translate into success.
You are entering an environment where people are different, their ideas and opinions may be radical, and you probably will not agree with everything you see or hear. But you know what? That’s the great part about university life. Understanding different cultures and exchanging ideas are what bridge gaps between people. There are over 150 nationalities represented at Concordia; stay open-minded and refrain from judging people, and you’ll make friendships that will last a lifetime.
Lastly, make sure to bookmark the First-year survival guide:newstudent.concordia.ca/survival.shtml.
Good luck, Freshmen!
-With files by Marissa Miller