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McGill Redpath Museum
(Hayley Mortin / McGill Tribune)

McGill 101: Carving your own space at McGill

a/Opinion by

The question I constantly asked myself and my peers in my first year at McGill was “What should I do?” Beyond the classroom, how do I strike a balance between social life and schoolwork, and which clubs should I join? We somehow all made it to McGill, yet upon arrival that accomplishment can seem more like a burden.

Once the haze of Frosh lifts, the ivory towers of McGill feel intimidating. Class sizes can be huge, the material challenging, and everyone appears to know what they’re doing. The enormity of McGill may be thrilling if you came here looking for a fresh start and a challenge. On the other hand, it may feel more daunting if you came here thinking that you were guaranteed an excellent education, regardless of what you put into it.

McGill can be a labyrinth and is particularly challenging for first-year students. While there is no standard approach to finding the answer to the ubiquitous question of “What should I do,” there are ways of navigating the many resources and opportunities at McGill so that you can find an answer for yourself.

The variety of clubs, intramurals, and societies may appear insurmountable. The opportunity cost of how to spend time feels a lot more intense as everyone operates at a high velocity—“work hard, play hard” being the unofficial McGill motto. Oftentimes, first-years end up either underachieving by not becoming involved in anything at all, or overachieving and burning out by committing to too much too soon.

The silver lining of McGill’s size is that there are countless opportunities to find your niche.

The solution is not to demand for smaller and more refined obstacles; rather, the solution is to gain independence. Allow yourself to try new things; quit if it isn’t the right fit, and try again. The silver lining of McGill’s size is that there are countless opportunities to find your niche; it just takes time to navigate the plethora of different opportunities available to you. Don’t worry if you haven’t found your space until the end of your first year, or even until the end of your second or third year.

For all the independence you will undoubtedly acquire in your time at McGill, help is available—but it won’t come get you out of bed in the morning. Use add/drop period to the fullest and try out everything until you find the subject, professor, or friend that inspires you. Go speak to a real human being in an advising office, or at a student association, and rely on each other for help and advice. Finding that middle ground takes time and patience, as well as a great deal of self-forgiveness. But ultimately it’s worth it.

This article is a part of our McGill 101 issue, which aims to ease your transition and answer questions you have about McGill and Montreal.

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