Debunking university myths

I’ve heard the “university experience” described as “cold, expensive, and isolating”. So that’s what I expected when I came to UTM. People were right in saying that no one was going to hold my hand through every step. What they never told me was that that doesn’t mean isolation in learning.

I asked some students what they thought university would be like when they were high school seniors, and how that differed from their actual first-year experience. I received five overwhelmingly unanimous answers. So, without further ado, here are five major myths about university.


“You’re all alone”

So maybe your first week as a first-year was a little lonely, and a little academically daunting. This myth says you’ll be lonely, miserable, and buried under books. But in reality many students get academic help from the library, the academic skills centre, and even professors. Universities have all kinds of resources for learning, scheduling, and writing. You just have to find them—and be willing to give them a chance.

The loneliness myth isn’t specific to UTM, either. Students from other universities also talked about the idea of your own success being on your shoulders, the idea that you just have to deal with it all yourself.

This myth probably originated from parents, professors, and old high school teachers who wanted to emphasize how different and difficult university would be, probably to get us to take it more seriously. Maybe a noble intention, but in many cases, it just stops students—particularly first-years—from seeking the help they need.


“Professors are unapproachable and don’t have time for your whining”

Despite what you might think, professors are human. There’s a belief, particularly among first-years, that professors are distant, even scary human beings who see teaching as a burden they must bear for the sake of their academic endeavours. But in fact, people who teach at the university level often genuinely enjoy what they teach and enjoy talking about it in more detail with the students.

Professors who are stern in class unwittingly lend credence to the myth. In fact, that’s probably where it originated. In reality, building a relationship with your professors can help you academically and professionally. Sometimes, just discussing what you’re learning can open up ideas you didn’t have before. Sure, it can feel like you’re just a number when you’re sitting in a class of 500 students, but if you go to their office hours regularly, you might just bust this myth.


“Study, sleep, party—pick two”

You can’t do more than that because you obviously won’t have time. In more extreme cases students claim, almost with a note of pride, that you can only pick one. We’ve all met that person who says no to everything because they “have to study”. But really, how much can you study? Contrary to this popular myth, balance is important. First-years usually struggle to find the equilibrium. One key is not to underestimate the value sleeping and partying themselves, not to mention the ensuing sanity, will have in letting you study more effectively.

This is another myth that probably originated as a warning, but all it does is make you freak out.


“It’s all in the textbook”

I was surprised to find how many people think this. When I asked current grade 12 students what they expected from their first year, they spoke about the amount of reading they would be responsible for. You can’t fall behind on the readings, they warned me. I’m going to drastically improve my work ethic, others promised.

The slideshows can tend to only be summaries of chapters, but few professors design the actual lectures so that they’re limited to the textbook—and even those who do will say more if students ask more.


“Get in the fast lane and never switch”

When I came to UTM, I intended to study psychology, but one fateful summer I took a writing course, and I was hooked. Many students have the same story. They come to university with their whole academic career planned out, and then they happen to take a course on a random topic and everything changes. In a way, they learn about themselves and what they like.

There’s no shame in realizing that you like something or than you thought, nor in taking longer to do it. When classes are starting points of interest, studying, reading, and learning suddenly don’t seem like such a chore.

1 comment

  1. Not sure which year Ms. Johnson is in, but I’m in fourth year, just thought I’d add my 2 cents :)

    “You’re all alone”
    – you’re not, I promise. don’t be afraid to talk to strangers and get involved and you will never be alone.
    – if you really feel alone and depressed, talk to someone. The health & counselling centre is amazing and offers free counselling… it can really help and of course it’s completely anonymous.

    “Professors are unapproachable and don’t have time for your whining”
    – This can be true. Some profs are TOTAL douchebags and seem to hate their jobs. SOME. Most of us will come across an a-hole, unapproachable prof, but you can’t take it to heart. At the end of the day, you get to go home being you and he/she will go home being his/her miserable self.
    – There are also some very INCREDIBLE, passionate professors that love to teach and are very open to helping you, if you reach out to them.
    – My best advice is that you have to give every professor the benefit of the doubt and don’t judge them too quickly. Don’t be intimidated to approach anyone… if they hate their job, it’s on them, not you.

    “Study, sleep, party—pick two”
    – I can’t lie, in my four years, I’ve found this somewhat accurate. Finding balance in university is VERY tough. It takes some sacrifice and a LOT of discipline.
    – If you have a crazy social life, you’re going to be tired a lot, and obviously your grades will suffer.
    – If you’re constantly studying and doing nothing else but sleeping, you will actually go crazy
    – Also, be careful with jobs.. it’s good to work through university, but make sure you aren’t taking on too many hours per week.
    – Overall, I agree with Ms. Johnson, it’s definitely a warning. Find a balance, create a routine, stick to it… you will be fine :)

    “It’s all in the textbook”
    – This is definitely on a course to course basis. I have classes where it’s true, and I’ve had classes that don’t even use the textbooks.
    – Personally, I don’t even buy the textbook until I’ve been to the first lecture because profs will usually be very honest if you ask them about how useful it will be.
    – The library has “course reserves”, you can always rent out your textbook for a couple hours if you’ll only be needing it for an assignment or two.

    “Get in the fast lane and never switch”
    – The SAME thing happened to me as Ms. Johnson. I changed my program completely over the summer in my first year after I fell in love with an elective.
    – So what if it delays your graduation? Why are you in a rush? You have your whole life ahead of you and the last thing you want down the line is regrets about your undergrad choices. It’s better to make the switch now, than to have to come back 5, 10, 15 years from now.
    – Take advantage of the Credit/No Credit option and explore some different fields.. I wish we had that back in my first year!
    – If you find a program you’re more passionate about than your own, you will be much more successful at it and even your grades will go up because you’ll WANT to be in class and getting the work done.

    Great article, you’re so right!!

    I wish all of you current and prospective students the best of luck in your academic careers :)

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