10 Freshman Mistakes To Avoid + College Essentials

Good morning, hope you enjoyed your weekend! Today I am sharing my favourite things for university and my top tips to survive and thrive. I am going into my 4th year (senior) in HBSc Biology with Extended French. I have a post about my experience in French immersion in first year and also tips for studying in a second language, maybe I’ll do an updated experience at the end of my program.

Mistakes to avoid!

Mistake 1: Bringing too much stuff

Honestly I’m probably guilty of this. I did use pretty much everything I brought BUT I didn’t really need it. Going with this, be realistic about what you are going to wear. I don’t want to sit here and say everyone only wears sweats, becasue they don’t (I defs don’t). If you like wearing dresses or dressing up then that’s perfectly fine, if you like baggy tshirts and sweats that’s also cool. Just dress for your own comfort.

Mistake 2: Starting your work too late

Don’t procrastinate your work!! If you aren’t procrastinating and still can’t keep up see mistake 6.

Mistake 3: Not utilizing office hours + resources on campus + seeking help

Going to office hours sounds intimidating but honestly (most) professors are really nice and welcoming. When you show your interest in their class they are much more willing to help (also don’t go last minute before a test or assignment is due). Going with this, use the resources that you campus offers, wether it’s help writing an essay, free workout classes (well included in tuition because nothing is actually free lol), study groups, tutorials, counsellors and psychiatrists. It’s OKAY to ask for help, wether its academically or emotionally, it’ll be better than trying to cope with your problems on your own. If you feel too overwhlemend with your courses, try talking to an academic advisor, they may be able to reccomened a better path for you (like taking 4 classes per semester rather than 5 etc.).

Mistake 4: Not taking time for yourself!

This is probably my biggest mistake. I’ve talked about this before, but this is something I learned the hard way. When I was in first year (freshman) all I did was do assignments, just trying to keep up, and I barley studied until the night or two before because I physically did not have enough time. In the end, over the course of the next couple years I learned how important it is for your mental health and productivity to take time to do things you enjoy. When I started going to Yoga and joined Rotaract, even though that was a time commitment, I found myself to actually be more productive, finsishing projects and assignments far quicker than I had before. This is because I gave my mind and body a true break.

Mistake 5: Not getting involved

Similar to the previous mistake, find something you are passionate about (because there is probably a club for it)! Wether it’s your student union, a sport/intramural or club! Whatever you’re passionate about, there is probably a club for it.

Mistake 6: Taking on too much

First semester first year I took 6 classes when 5 classes is average (because that’s what the university recommended and I thought you had to follow the course sequence) I also didn’t know you could drop a class (see mistake below). This also extends if you are part of many clubs and sports, don’t spread yourself too thin! Also please remember, everyone learns at their own pace, and YOU DON’T HAVE TO FINISH YOUR DEGREE IN THE SET AMOUNT OF TIME. It is totally okay to take less classses and finish a semester, a year or more later than you had planned.

Mistake 7: Learn your school rules + Regulations

I had never even been to the city before I moved in and with that I had never toured campus. Everything was so new and overwhelming, I didn’t know what you could or couldn’t do (PS. You can drop a class, you don’t have to take your classes in the recommended sequence, YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR PROGRAM AND SCHOOL).

Mistake 8: Studying in the wrong place

While I don’t have a definitive right or wrong place to study, this is all personal preference. Here I mean, choosing to study with friends when you know you study better alone. Or going to a coffee shop when you would be more productive in a study room. This takes some trial and error but worth it when you find what works.

Mistake 9: Buying textbooks before your first class or buying them brand new

First year I bought all my textbooks before class started, some I bought used and some new. I bought my chemistry textbook new and it is still (3 years later) sitting under my bed in the plastic because it really wasn’t required for the class. Also look around, see if your school has any facebook groups or if your faculty student association have ways of selling and buying used textbooks (my faculty has a “Textbook Garage Sale” at the start of each year). Some cours syllabi say you need certain texts but when you get to class, your prof says you don’t actually need it, so it’s definitely worth the wait. Also check out other bookstores, in person or online (not just your campus store because they tend to be VERY overpriced, not to mention the line ups in the first couple weeks of class).

Mistake 10: Having high expectations

Yes I am guilty of this, I thought I had my whole first year planned and I knew what was going to happen, NEWSFLASH, it wasn’t what I expected. Just know that is okay, everyone’s college experience is going to be different, and even in college people are different points in their life. Just try your best and live in the moment. Be open to spontaneous adventures and let yourself grow!

College Essentials

iPad + Pencil (or a laptop)

Okay while an iPad is not technically necessary (though you probably need at least a laptop), I found that my iPad made the biggest improvement with my school work. I can take better notes and was more efficient while studying because I always had my notes with me. I thrive on written notes however, most of my teachers provide their powerpoints and thus expect you to use them and don’t give you enough time to write everything on the screen as well as what they said in class so I resorted to printing the slides (6 on a page) but even that is a) not environmentally friendly b) not time efficient c) sometimes profs post the powerpoint too last minute and I couldn’t print it and d) very small and limited writing space. So the iPad and apple pencil was the PERFECT solution. If you are in a STEM program an iPad can be super beneficial vs a regualr laptop for many types of notes, it’s very rare to see someone typing their notes in math class becasue it’s just not efficient. I have a budget friendly iPad and 1st gen Apple Pencil. If you want more details about that and the best apps for school check out my recent post! If you don’t have an iPad then a laptop is pretty necessary, it usually doesn’t matter what brand or style (If you don’t have a tablet and need a new laptop mayeb look into a hybrid option!), just make sure to check that your program doesn’t have any specific requirements.

Planner/Bullet Journal/To Do list/ Google Calendar etc.

You get the point, you really need something to keep you organized and keep track of upcoming assignments and exams. Again find what works best for you! If you like bullet journaling, be sure to check out my academic bullet journal setup this Friday!

Water bottle

Self explanatory, you don’t need anything fancy or expensive, just something that holds water. At least on my campus there isn’t always a fountain close by (not to mention how gross they are and may not even be available this year because of COVID).


It doesn’t matter where you go to school I’m sure at some point you will need this.


Even better if you can find noise cancelling ones. These are great for focus studying or drowning out noise. Also great for the gym!

Pen + Pencil

Doesn’t matter the brand or style, but it’s good to have one of each. Some profs only allow pen while others don’t care and if you have to fill out a scantron (for multiple choice or try/false) then a pencil is a must.


Even though I use my iPad for pretty much everything, you never know when a prof is gonna throw a pop quiz or want you to hand in something during class.

A good backpack

This is extra essential if you live off campus. Investing is a good, padded, well constructed backpack is so worth it. In my opinion I rather sacrifice style than comfort (though you can still get really cute GOOD backpacks, like North Face). I have a North Face Recon Black and Gold backpack and I’ve had it for over 3 years, I use it every single day and even travel with it, plus it has so many pockets! I still see some people just carry tehir laptop or have a purse, but I am teh type of person to be very prepared and have many things so a purse is not very practical for me (though if I only have one class, sometimes I will just put my iPad in my crossbody).

Thank you so much for reading, I hope you found something useful! Let me know if your going back to school (or if you are already back). Good luck with this upcoming year and stay tuned for more school related posts!
~Tori Scherle~

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I'm 22 years old and starting my Masters in Biology at the University of Ottawa in September. I just recently graduated with my Honours BSc - Biology. I love photography, baking, plants & adventures!

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