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So I just finished my entire undergraduate degree in social sciences (honours B.A.) from the UTM campus, and I’m going to give all those prospective newbies a what to expect out of UTM kind of post because I wish that someone did this for me! I really hope that someone who needs to know about UTM finds this in their epic search for more information. I can’t talk about a science degree (bio, chem, etc) because I’m sure that that experience is really different from a social science one. Here goes:
- · UTM, like the rest of UofT, is a RESEARCH institute. Do not go into the social sciences here expecting to get a ‘practical’ education and be exposed to what the workforce would be like. My dear, UofT prides itself on being the best at research and for making scholars out of all its wee young ones. Yes, the focus of university is NOT to get a job or any practical job training (go into a practical program for that, like nursing) it is to make you a scholar. If this is not your goal, then seriously reconsider spending $30 000 on something that you do not want.
- · DO go to UofT if you would like to go into a Masters program which requires a Masters thesis / research (most programs do, but there are certain masters programs that are more practical based, like the MPP program at Queens). I have many friends who have had their undergraduate education from UofT and let me tell you, there is no university that prepares you better for a Masters program. The quality of work and just the overall expectations that UofT has for its students is unparalleled, and this *really* comes out when you work with others from other universities. There is a reason UofT is usually rated number one in academic pursuits.
- · DO NOT go to the UTM campus expecting wild parties, social outings, OR GOOD FOOD. Honestly, the UTM campus is a health hazards to students watching their waist line. There are minimal options on campus and around campus. And the food is really expensive. My advice is to bring your own lunch! Also, on campus life is a lot different than if you don't live on campus. UTM can be a real community if you live on campus, but if you commute, you may feel out of touch. Try to make a lot of friends in your program early to help with the loneliness.
- · The gym at UTM is spectacular. Just really amazing. One thing that the campus got right.
- · I really like the library too, but there are conflicting opinions in regard to the library. Personally, I like it, I use the quiet study space and its comfortable and quiet, just what a library should be. The group study is good too, but it’s hard to find a space to sit sometimes and GOOD LUCK trying to get a computer. They’re always busy. And one thing that really sucks: STAYAWAY from the “15 minute” express computers. They have screwed me over one too many times. It takes 10 minutes to load a program, especially Microsoft Word. And it automatically shuts down without saving anything, so you lose anything that you did anyways.
- · My advice is to make sure you have a laptop from first year onward. Best brands that actually last: Lenovo or IBM, Macbook Pro or just a Macbook, and SOME Toshiba models. Models that tend to break apart are Dell and HP. I have no opinion on Asus or Acer. I used to have a LG and it was super pretty, but the cord started breaking within the first week, so not good. But I know some LG’s are really good. They are really delicate and if you’re clumsy like me they may not be suited to your lifestyle. Sony’s I think are just overpriced for what you are getting; you are paying for the brand. But they are average computers, they look really nice though!
- · Be open minded when you enter your first year of social sciences. Take a variety of courses, and see which one you would like to do a major in. At UofT, you don’t declare your majors / minors / specialists until the end of your first year (or I think after four credits) and so this first year should be an exploration of the things you like. I never signed up to do Political Science right away, but after first year, I loved it! And make sure you know the DATES of when to declare your subject posts on ROSI.
- · Speaking of dates, ALWAYS know the dates to get 100%, 75% and 50% of your refunds back from courses you would like to get out of. Look these up on the registrars website. Keep them memorized or written down and honestly think about dropping a course. It can really mess up your GPA if you only keep a course for the sake of keeping it and not doing well. And trust me, unless you want to do nothing after university (which is fine), then it’s not worth it to let your GPA fall. Sometimes, its just better to drop a course. Case and point; I am not a morning person at all. I cannot make it to any class that is before 11am. It’s just not something I can do. I had a class that was at 9:00am to 11:00am, and I thought long and hard about if I was seriously going to do well in this considering I likely would not be able to get to lecture and miss all the crucial points of the course. I just dropped it, and I’m glad I did because in retrospect it would have been a poor choice to keep it because I would have gotten a bad mark in the course.
- · Keep your GPA as high as humanly possible, especially in the first year. This is the crucial year for your GPA. I know some people who had horrendous GPA’s in their first year but were able to pull them up, but there is a barrier that they could never cross; they could never get higher than a 3.0. Your first year is your foundation year; make it as good as possible.
- · How to get a good GPA? If you are an ok / mediocre writer, then be careful about social sciences as everything is about writing coherently, consistently, clearly, and being able to argue your points effectively. The content of your writing is important, but the most important thing is to write clearly. The HMALC has people who will go through your work and give you very helpful feedback on your work. YOU MUST learn to write an effective essay, critical review and reports. It’s best you learn in your fist year. I know this seems daunting, but it will be worth it to have these skills, as I know many people in the work force right now who are unable to do this.
- · Learn what constitutes plagiarism. Seriously. I know many people who are otherwise hardworking, who have been caught for plagiarism without even knowing that they were doing it. Obviously, coping and pasting is just unsophisticated and you never get away with it. But I’m talking about ALL forms of plagiarism. Mostly all professors will charge you, you will go to the dean, and you will piss in your pants out of fear. This may ruin your GPA or your academic career in general.
- · Go to your tutorials if they are worth marks. Seriously, I WISH I listened to my own advice on this one. Otherwise 4.0’s on my GPA were just 3.7 or 3.3’s due to my lack of attendance for an easy 10% of my grade. Learn from my mistakes folks. Its only an hour (usually) and you won’t even remember going.
- · Secret: in a lot of courses you can get away without doing a lot of reading if you take excellent lecture notes. These notes have to be excellent though. Verbatim is best. This is how I do my lecture notes and they were coveted by all my friends for their accuracy and all details. If you can’t do this however, read your readings.
- · Learn to read your textbooks / lecture notes effectively. Not everything will be tested, and you don't need to memorize everything. Who has the time for that?! You need to gain these skills. The best skill is to take a large amount of text and be able to accurately paraphrase it in your own words in a couple of sentences. Learn this skill. The HMALC can help with this too!
- · Use all the resources that UTM has to offer; the gym, the library, Mac labs, etc. You pay for these, might as well get FULL usage out of them.
- · Join a club that you’re interested in! It can be a lot of fun, and you can meet cool people who otherwise would have been strangers to you. UTM has a lot of ethnic clubs, so if you’re interested in that then go for it! Clubs week is in September so sign up for all the clubs you actually like and they’ll email you about meetings, etc. Also, UTM is a very pro-environmental campus, so if you’re into that then join an environmental club!
- · If you are on OSAP, then in the beginning of September look on the career centre website for work-study opportunities. Work-study is a great thing to make money while on OSAP and all the jobs are on campus. Also, usually professors are your bosses so it’s a great way to network.
- · Be a keener; if a professor is working on a project / has worked on a project that you think is interesting, then ask them about it! I find professors easier to talk to than some of my classmates. Usually, they are pretty flattered and a lot of them actually care about you. I can’t say the same for TAs. Most TA’s I’ve had have been less than helpful. It might just be my luck and my program though. But if you’re concerned about your mark in a course and you have access to the TA who is marking your work, talk to them about it. Usually, those who I’ve talked to can put a face to a name and mark kinder; sad but true!
- · If you’re an academic keener like me, seize every opportunity to get experience! I want to do a Masters thesis, so I made sure to do an ROP. An ROP is short for a Research Opportunity Program and it is an excellent way to teach practical research skills and to work on an actual research project that may or may not be published. Plus, it’s a great way to network with profs, and it shows your interest to Grad schools! Do multiple ROPs if you can. I think you can start doing them in your second or third year, depending on the program and the ROP for the year.
Hope this helped a bit. Leave a comment on this post if you have a question, I'll be checking it and answering it back! I'll be back to do a review of all the courses and profs that I've had too, so check back!