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‘7 things I wish I had known in first year’

A recent Concordia graduate offers tips on what new undergraduate students need to succeed
August 28, 2014
By Kayla Morin

Rafael Sordili (third from left) advises new students to remain flexible, even after you’ve chosen your path.
Rafael Sordili (pictured here third from left) at the Garnet Key Society Banquet. Sordili advises new students to remain flexible, even after you’ve chosen your path. “If you fall in love with another program, don’t be afraid to change direction.”

It’s time to hit the books instead of the beach. Luckily, student success mentor and recent Concordia graduate Rafael Q. Sordili (BA 14) is here to help.

Sordili offers his insight. “These are seven things I wish I had known in first year,” he says.

1. Get to know the university

Sordili suggests that you go to orientation. You can learn about all your student services like tutoring and mentoring, health services and recreational sports.  

He also recommends the New Student Tour, offered at the Sir George Williams and Loyola campuses. “They showed me where my classes would take place, where to get my computer connected to Wi-Fi and where to eat a free meal on campus,” Sordili says.

He also recommends you take a virtual tour of Concordia’s R. Howard Webster and Georges P. Vanier libraries.

2. Get to know your professors and get them to know you

University can seem intimidating at first, with classrooms filled with people that you don’t know.

“What if I sound stupid? What if what I say has nothing to do with the class? What if they laugh at me? What if? What if? Whenever the professor asked a question, I would look down and avoid eye contact,” Sordili says.

“That was a very bad call. Engaging in the class conversation is one of the best ways to start learning.”

Be courageous! If you speak up in class and visit professors during their (sometimes quiet) office hours, they will remember you. Build long-lasting relationships that will lead to exciting opportunities in your future.

Sordili was invited to talks, got published and eventually became a research assistant — all because he made an effort to connect with his teachers.

3. Make a game plan and stick to it!

It might seem early to consider life after convocation if you just got here, but having strong direction can make all the difference.

“When I got to Concordia, I didn’t even know what my options were after graduation,” Sordili says.

He spoke with a career counsellor who helped him realize he wanted to go to graduate school and came up with a strategy. “I’ve stuck with it ever since,” he says.

4. Change your plan if it stops working

While Sordili’s plan carried him through his bachelor’s degree and on to graduate studies, it’s good to revisit your original plans to make sure your interests haven’t shifted.

“Every year, I would pay follow-up visits to my career counsellor to discuss the successes and failures of my strategy, as well as take necessary course corrections toward my goals. If you fall in love with another program, don’t be afraid to change direction,” Sordili advises.

5. Experiment

According to Sordili, “University is a time for experimentation. Although this idea of trying new things is usually confined to social life, it also applies to your schooling.”

Get out of your comfort zone. Test your limits. Challenge yourself. These are clichés for a reason. Think of university as an opportunity to expand your horizons.

“Why stick to the same department?” Sordili asks. “Take art classes, take math classes, take advantage of the multicultural environment.”

6. Be strategic with your time

“University is demanding,” Sordili admits, but that’s no reason to think there isn’t enough time in the day. You need to get organized.

Concordia offers workshops that will prepare you for the rigours of higher education.

Also, getting organized is not the same thing as getting caffeinated. “You will never produce your best work the night before the deadline,” Sordili stresses. “Avoid procrastination!”

The libraries are open for study 24 hours a day to accommodate people with difficult schedules (although not your last-minute freak-out — but if you are suffering from panic attacks or other serious ailments, you can seek care).  

“Start your papers in advance, discuss them with your professors and get feedback from a writing assistant,” says Sordili. “Go through several drafts before your final project.”

“If you have trouble with procrastination, get help — I did,” he adds. “That way, I managed to do fun stuff outside of school.”

Another way to bump up that GPA and still enjoy life is to form study groups.

“It’s a great motivator, not to mention that defending your own ideas among a variety of viewpoints and understandings will polish your argumentation skills for papers and exams,” Sordili says.

7. Get involved, but don’t overextend yourself

There is an incredibly wide array of student groups, activities and opportunities to participate in student life at Concordia, ranging from the Greenhouse Project, Sustainable Concordia and the student newspapers to Ultimate Frisbee, the Aboriginal Art Research Group and many more.

Don’t see one you like? Start one yourself! Or get involved in Concordia politics through student government with the Concordia Students Union and community volunteering through the LIVE Centre.

And while it may be tempting to use extracurriculars as a guilt-free excuse to put off homework, for Sordili, “involvement is not a substitute for a good academic standing,” he says.

It’s all about balance.

“Throughout my years at Concordia, I struggled to find a middle ground between all my activities,” Sordili says. It’s difficult to keep academics, health and a social life happening all at once.

“Basically, you can do everything you want as long as you do just the right amount. Take what works and forget what doesn’t. Find your groove!”

Welcome to Concordia! And good luck!

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