Megan Leslie: Five things I wish I’d known

Advice from the 38-year-old New Democrat MP

Young Canadians everywhere have butterflies in their stomachs as they pack to head off to university for the first time. If they’re at all normal, they’re scared to mess up the opportunity.

That’s why First Year Survivor is gathering advice from Canadians who were in that same boat not long ago, but who swallowed their fears, went to their classes, graduated and then thrived.

This week, Megan Leslie, environment critic of the New Democratic Party of Canada, MP for Halifax and social justice advocate, shares her list of five things she wishes she’d known in first year.

1. Meet your profs

I went to a really big university where giant classes were time norm. When it came time to put together my law school applications, I needed reference letters. I asked a Prof who taught a course in my major, and in which I had a solid grade, and he basically told me that the best he could do was write a letter outlining my attendance. Ouch.

And it’s not just reference letters. Most profs really want you to learn something and do well. I’ll never forget the essay I wrote where I handed it in early for feedback, got some, then handed in a re-written version and got an amazing mark. Feedback works! And profs have got a lot of it.

2. Take the courses you want

In the end no one will care that you took “Deconstructing Post-modernism” or “Chaos Theory Applications”. If it floats your boat: take it. Take classes you enjoy. It makes it easier to learn, and usually that translates into better marks. And if not, at least you had fun.

3. Then make a plan

So what exactly did all these interesting courses get you? Sure, take the courses you like, but spend some time with the course calendar to see how you can translate them into a degree. Maybe it means a strange (but meaningful!) Major-Minor (I’ve seen Chemistry-English before), or getting a certificate along with your degree. Maybe it means an inter-disciplinary degree. The thing is that you don’t want to end up in your last year realizing you need a double course-load to graduate, or an extra year to piece things all together.

There’s the course calendar, program counsellors, course directors and a whole array of folks to talk to. Talk to them, consult them, and check in regularly.

4. You’re not missing anything at home

I *wish* I had known this. I went home as often as possible. I went home at the expense of studying, of fun campus events, and of taking an extra shift at my part-time job. And what waiting for me? The same kids from highschool doing the same things we did in highschool. It never changed. Go home to see friends and family of course – you’ll miss them lots – but don’t ditch the new experience at school just so you can go home to relive highschool with the same buds to the same songs…again. And again.

5. But at the same time: get outta dodge

If you think there are new, interesting and amazing experiences on campus, just imagine what waits for you on a campus half way around the world. There are incredible exchange programs out there. Go back to the “make a plan” tip and figure out how to work in a semester, or even a year, abroad. You’ll learn things no dusty course calendar can teach you.

Good luck and have fun!

Megan Leslie has a Bachelor of Arts in Social & Political Thought and History and a Certificate in Refugee and Migration Studies from York University. She earned her law degree at Dalhousie.

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