5 Mistakes I Made In College That New Students In Canada Should Avoid

Spare yourself the humiliation. 👀

Patrick and his mother. Right: A college campus.

Patrick and his mother. Right: A college campus.

Starting college can be a whirlwind, especially for new students in Canada. I know because my first year as an Ontario college student was a total train wreck. Why? Oh, just because I had no survival skills and was essentially a tall, slightly hairy baby.

Your pal Patty J can vouch for that, having attended Niagara College’s Acting for Film and Television course in 2013 on the school’s Welland campus. And if you're curious about Welland's film scene, it's not quite Hollywood, but it sure is a great place to make friends.

All this is to say that I was destined to make every mistake in the book when I entered the postsecondary world, and boy, did I ever.

Good! I say. Now, I have a purpose.

I can share all my embarrassing stories and maybe, just maybe, prevent others from making the same blunders. (Though that's a big maybe.)

"But there are so many!" you exclaimed rudely. "How could you possibly tell all those horrible stories in a single essay?" I cannot. So, I’ve distilled it down to five reasonably appropriate mistakes I made in college.

These errors can serve as lessons for anyone preparing to enter a post-secondary institution soon, helping them avoid blundering as much as I did. You'll still make mistakes, of course. That's inevitable. But maybe, just maybe, you can avoid cringing as much as I am right now, thinking about all the moments I’m about to share with you.

Using what little money I had to buy stuff that I blatantly didn’t need

Ah, to be young and receiving OSAP regularly. Here's how bad I was with money.

In 2013, I spent $300 on CDs and DVDs! Can you imagine? Instead of spending that money on groceries and books that I genuinely needed, I chose to buy every album I ever torrented on CD. Why? Because I felt the need to give back to Green Day, who, I'm sure, were struggling in their California mansions.

Spend the summer before going to college training yourself not to listen to that voice inside your head that tells you to buy something you merely want. Here's what you genuinely need to survive in a post-secondary environment: clothes, hygienic products (toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.), food, and utensils to eat with. That's it. Everything else is just a cherry on top.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't ever splurge on the Ontario government's dime; it can be a delightful experience. However, moderation is key. I doubt I'd be writing this if I had spent only $50 on CDs. It would've still been a foolish move, but a more acceptable one.

Not taking advantage of a meal plan.

As mentioned above, I had zero cooking skills going into my first year of college. And I mean zero. Outside of a single egg and a few packages of ramen noodles, I hadn't cooked anything. While I was initially willing to sustain myself on the latter, it quickly grew tiresome.

Thankfully, my dorm was only a five-minute walk from the school's common area and cafeteria. So, I was never really at risk of going hungry. The only issue was that paying for meals every day wasn't exactly in my budget. If I had been as savvy as my classmates, I would've invested in the school's meal card, which allowed students to eat without additional charges.

Yes, you had to pay for it upfront, and it wasn't exactly cheap, but it would've saved me money and spared me a lot of financial stress.

Now, for all I know, you might be a culinary student or someone who picked up cooking during their teens. If so, this advice probably doesn't apply to you. However, if you'd prefer not to worry about the responsibility of cooking your meals while studying, I'd highly recommend checking out what your school offers in that department. It'll save you a lot of hassle.

Focusing more on fitting in than working on my craft

Admittedly, it's hard to blame myself for this one. I was an 18-year-old away from home for the first time. What else was I expected to do? However, in the decade since I left school, I've come to wish that I had spent less time joking around and trying to get along with everyone and more time genuinely trying to develop my skills as an actor.

I was fortunate to see some of my peers truly strive to be their best, and I witnessed firsthand how it positively impacted their work. The results of their efforts were evident. I found myself working hard to catch up to them. I could've been in their shoes if I had skipped a few parties and hangouts. I could've been a top contender in the class, but instead, I squandered my potential trying to befriend people who I haven't seen since.

It's an understandable mistake, but it's one I'd advise you to avoid. Strive for balance. Have fun, but don't let peer pressure pull you out of your dorm when you know you should be studying or, in my case, practicing lines.

Playing a drinking game before class

I mean, this one should be a no-brainer, right? But, given that I once found myself tipsy enough to see triple during a class where I was supposed to be wrapping up a crucial assignment, I feel it's my civic duty to drop some wisdom. If you're planning on indulging in a bit of liquid courage, for the love of all things academic, do it after you've safely handed in that assignment.

I still have this hazy memory of the room doing the spins as I tried to plug my cellphone (which, in my enlightened state, I was convinced was my hard drive) into the computer. You'd think my pals would've stepped in, but nope. They watched the show, laughing and pointing.

Waking up the next day felt like emerging from a time warp. I had little recollection of the previous evening's shenanigans. But lo and behold, not only did I pass the assignment, but I kind of aced it. Now, before you think of this as a challenge, remember: this was sheer dumb luck. I was one hiccup away from academic exile.

Attending every class diligently

Don't hate me, do-gooders. Let me explain. Yes, it's beneficial to absorb as much as you can during your college years, and attending every class can, in theory, help with that. But if there's one thing I've grasped about learning in my 29 years, it's that you can't force interest in a topic that simply doesn't resonate.

While I was sleepwalking through Civics — a class that mysteriously nestled itself between scene study and tai-chi in the curriculum — I could've easily skipped it, rented out the school's rehearsal space, and practiced my lines.

That would've not only piqued my interest but also better prepared me for what I was actually there to do: act. Instead, my diligent, naive self sat through a two-hour class led by a teacher who seemed uninterested in engaging the class, droning on about the basics of politics.

So, if something feels utterly irrelevant to you, like a lecture on the making of silent films, consider dropping it. But don't squander that newfound free time. Channel it into something pressing, something that captivates you and that you genuinely enjoy. I firmly believe that's the best strategy for success.

It's not about blindly following instructions. It's about doing what you believe will propel you forward. Often, that means embracing more challenging yet rewarding tasks.

Patrick John Gilson
Patrick John Gilson was a Creator with Narcity Media focused on Ontario gas prices and is based in Toronto, Ontario.