Nivetha Chandran vividly remembers her first lecture at U of T Scarborough — her professor began the class with a speech that still resonates with her.
“She said, ‘U of T Scarborough is not just about academics, it’s also about finding your own social support system and growing as a person,’” recalls Chandran, who graduated in June.
“That set that standard for me — it’s not just about getting the grades, it’s also about growing as a person and giving back to the community.”
While learning what study methods and note-taking styles work best for you, it is also important to learn how to best take care of yourself, mentally and physically.
We asked recent standout graduates for their top advice beyond the classroom — on personal growth and well-being as a student.
Get involved in a way that works for you
Recent grad Hassan Ahmad, who co-created the Barbershop on Campus fundraiser, calls himself a “Type A” person and says he felt compelled to join a club as soon as he arrived. But he instead took his first year to weigh his options before committing to anything.
“The last thing you want to do is something that you aren’t passionate about just because you want to add it to your resume,” he says. “Then you’re kind of stuck with it and not really gaining anything personally, so look through everything, take your time and find what fits.”
Whether you’ve found ways to get involved or are still weighing your options, Ahmad recommends attending a variety of events. He says that they are a way to connect with other students, faculty and staff without having to commit to a club.
“You really lose out on the university experience if you don’t go to events. Go to a variety of events — professional events, social events, something fun, those de-stressors are so important,” he says. “That’s something I learned much later and I looked back and said, ‘I wish I knew that in first and second year.’”
Keep a balance, but try new things
“I think my best advice would be to really try and balance your life,” says alum Brady Vallbacka, project manager of Weav, a carpool start-up that began in U of T Scarborough’s entrepreneurial incubator, The Hub.
He recommends having a schedule for both studying and extracurriculars, to keep a handle on what you want to accomplish while making sure you aren’t focusing solely on academic development.
While juggling his management degree, co-op placements and a budding start-up, Vallbacka says it was crucial that he kept his life from being all about work. He maintained that balance by exercising and finding a group of friends who enjoyed the same extracurricular activities as him.
He adds that looking for friends and activities can be a manageable way to start trying new things.
“Lots of people are away from home for the first time or are starting to live as adults, so experiment a little bit –– don’t be afraid to try different things and go out of your comfort zone.”
He also recommends embracing U of T Scarborough’s diverse student body and large international student population to interact with and learn more about others’ cultures while meeting new friends.
“I’m very grateful that you get to meet people from all over the world, and that’s one of the greatest things about our campus,” he says. “You can interact with different cultures and that helps you grow you as a person.”
Focus on what matters
Ahmad says students can feel compelled to embrace “proactive stress” — to worry about things far earlier than needed. That stress can be internalized, mobilized and then make the scenario even worse, he adds.
“Sometimes if things don’t go a certain way, maybe that happened because something else needed to happen,” he says. “I think trusting the process is so important. I’ve learned to let things be and step back from a holistic perspective.”
Diane Hill, who was president of the Indigenous Students’ Association, says students should approach the personal development side of education with as much passion and significance as the academic side. The ability to ask questions is crucial to success in the classroom — and outside of it.
“Ask questions and be curious as much as you can. When I say that, I mean don’t be afraid to go to your professors, don’t be afraid to join a club or committee, don’t be afraid to get help in any of that,” Hill says. “Keep asking questions, no one will ever make you feel bad for asking questions.”
Hill’s advice can be surmised as a simple, symbolic direction: “Raise your hand.” When you need help, whether it’s an academic or personal issue, always be ready to ask, she says.
“Even if you’re going through a hard time, especially if you’re going through a hard time, raise your hand,” she says. “Be open to learning and to getting help, but also to asking things and being given an answer.”
Several alumni gave similar advice to personal success as a student — keep your sights set on your own journey.
“You’re going to meet countless people that are smarter than you, that are better socially than you, that are just better at life than you are, but you have to realize you have the potential to be the best version of yourself,” Ahmad says.
“Focus on yourself because if you shift that focus somewhere else, things can go downhill very quickly.”
Keeping that focus on yourself also means taking breaks and understanding the importance of self-care.
“You’ll find that life as a university student is demanding and requires hard work. There will be days where you feel overwhelmed with assignments, readings, and exams but you will get through it,” says Sarah Syed, who co-founded Global Youth Impact, a non-profit that encourages youth to address global issues.
Syed recommends taking time to be with family and friends, playing a sport or even making time for a nap. Taking care of yourself is something that bleeds into your academic performance as well.
“Self-care is important and will help to ease your stress,” she adds.