photo of girl stressed out over work

University Expectations vs Reality

Whether it’s your program, job, love life or friendship group, sometimes the early stages of university can be completely different than we expected, or there are expectations being put on us that we never anticipated. No matter what stage of university you’re facing there’s inevitably going to be a hurdle or two. Speaking from the perspective of being in my fourth year I’ve experienced many of the different stages of university, and I’ve found that with some patience and effort it’s never too difficult to turn your semester around.


gif of rory gilmore from gilmore girls


You’re learning about all the things you’re passionate about and getting your degree feels like a breeze.


You realize that you’re either not interested about what you’re learning or overwhelmed with the workload.

What to do about it:

Sometimes our program is exactly what we envisioned it would be and we find ourselves enthusiastic and eager to learn everyday. But when university makes you focus so much time and energy on one subject, it can be so draining to the point that you find that your passion is becoming too associated with a workload you can’t handle and you forget why you loved your major in the first place. Just remember that first year – and especially first semester – does not define what the rest of your course will look like. I remember my first semester was loaded with theory classes and long lectures, and as a media production student I felt frustrated that I wasn’t doing anything practical or working with equipment right away. Then second semester was loaded with practical classes which I loved. Sometimes it just means waiting it out. Other times you find that your passion isn’t what you imagined it would be at all, and that’s ok too. If that’s the case, there are plenty of guidance counsellors and resources at Ryerson that will help find the right place for you.


gif of dustin from stranger things


You’re going to find your best friends and a healthy, long lasting relationship in first year.


People are walking in and out of your life faster than you ever imagined they could.

What to do about it:

Whether you’re living on residence or commuting you’re bound to meet countless people in your first semester and especially the first week of school. You’ll find that you’re meeting so many different personalities and dipping in and out of so many friendship groups that it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, and you might feel like you’re unsure of where you fit. Or you might think that you found the perfect friendship group within the first week of university on your residence floor or in your program, but then eventually you realize that you’re more different than you thought. Having a healthy social life is great, but best friends that you can depend on and connect with is invaluable. It just sometimes takes a bit of time and experience to find them.

Now that I’m in fourth year I have an incredible group of solid best friends. I don’t have a dozen of them – in fact I can only count my real best friends on one hand. When you start university you think the quantity of friendships is the most important thing but later you may come to understand that quality is what truly matters. Never regret the time you spend with the wrong friends because it’s all part of the learning process, and if you find that you’re not connecting with people in your program or in residence, why not try getting involved in something outside of your program that will help you meet more people? It’s also a good idea to branch out and meet people outside of residence or your program. But no matter what, take the time to evaluate your friends every once in a while at university and make sure you’re truly happy with them – they’re supposed to be your home away from home and it’s important that you feel that way with them.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve seen so many of my friends put themselves through so much in order to find a significant other in university that it often makes me question whether they really want one, or if it’s just the idea of it. When you’re away from home you’re naturally going to feel vulnerable and sometimes lonely, but never force yourself into a relationship for the wrong reasons. It’s completely normal to be a first year and to have never had your first kiss. It’s completely normal to be a virgin in fourth year. You’re still young and learning so much about yourself, and you have all the time in the world to meet the right person. So don’t worry if you haven’t in university.


gif of Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde

Expectation: You’ll hit the gym at least once a day and maintain a balanced, healthy diet.

Reality: You’re so busy with schoolwork and friends that going to the gym has become a distant past-time, and you’re grabbing too much fast food out of convenience.

What to do about it:

One of the greatest challenges students face in university is realizing they don’t have time for everything, and more than often sacrifices are made, like the hours you spend at the gym or prepping for healthy meals. However, it’s so important to take the time to focus on your health – both physical and mental. Try your best to incorporate working out into your schedule – trying out classes at the MAC with a friend is a great way to balance socialising and exercising at the same time. When it comes to finding the time to eat healthy, it’s a good idea to plan out your meals for the week and there are plenty of fast and easy recipes online. We also have some tips on healthy eating here.


gif of josh hutcherson talking about social media

Social media is a fun way to portray your lifestyle and you need it to maintain friendships.


You find that all the different apps you’re handling have become a toxic distraction.

What to do about it:

Delete it. Seriously. No matter how many professors tell you that your Instagram has become your new portfolio, or how important it is to have Twitter for networking purposes, if you find that it’s having a negative impact on your mental health it’s time to cut ties with social media. It can be mentally exhausting, distracting and consuming, and if you’re not willing to delete it at least take a break from it every once in awhile. When I was in first year I was the only one of my friends to not have Instagram, Snapchat or Tinder, and I constantly felt like I was missing out even though I didn’t want the apps. Eventually I caved and discovered that I wasn’t really missing out on anything at all, and I reckoned that if my friends were pressuring me into being on social media it wasn’t a friendship worth investing in. I love Instagram and Twitter and engaging with people, but I also know when to put the phone down and disconnect which can be difficult for students to do – especially those in courses that require social media. Never feel pressured to download an app just because all your friends have it or think that the only way to date people is to download Tinder. Social media should be fun, but once you find that you’re comparing your lifestyle to others or find that you’re overanalyzing what to post, it’s time to take a break.  


gif of two people on a bed surrounded by dollar bills

Expectation: You will spend your savings/OSAP money wisely.

Reality: You didn’t anticipate the cost of textbooks, nights out, or groceries and you find that you’re spending more than you thought.

What to do about it:

Most of us students have been at that point where we don’t want to look at our bank account because we’re absolutely terrified of what we’ll discover, and it’s ok to have spent a little more than you expected. But being responsible with money is crucial in not only university but also in life, and learning how budget is a necessity in university. Creating a budget plan for each month and sticking to it may sound challenging but you’ll thank yourself in the long run. To get tips on how to save your cash and manage your budget, check out our RU Money-Smart series.


gif of kristen wiig from the movie bridesmaids

Expectation: With university comes freedom, and that means everyday is a party.

Reality: Your energy levels have reached an all time low, and you realize you don’t love clubbing as much as you thought you would.

What to do about it:

In first year I discovered that I was an introvert, and that being around large groups of people often sucked the energy out of me. Clubbing and going out constantly didn’t interest me in the slightest, and it wasn’t until third year that I felt like I wanted to. Since balancing work and socializing in university is hard already, it’s important that when you have down time you’re using it wisely and doing the things you want to do instead of doing the things you feel pressured to. The expectation of partying and going out is a huge aspect of university, but after spending time, energy and money on countless nights out you may realize it’s not worth it and it’s not as fun or fulfilling as teen movies make it out to be. If you find that your friends only want to be around you when you’re partying and drinking a lot, then they’re not the friends you want in your life. And if you don’t want to party but you still want to socialize, there’s no harm in going to the pre and chilling with your friends (which is usually the best part of the night anyway) but not going to the club, or suggesting other activities to do with your friends that don’t take as much energy. 

How do you feel about your university experience? Are there any other aspects that you’re working on changing? Let us know at @RUStudentLife!