Debunking university myths

I’ve heard the “university experience” described as “cold, expensive, and isolating”. So that’s what I expected when I came to UTM. People were right in saying that no one was going to hold my hand through every step. What they never told me was that that doesn’t mean isolation in learning.

I asked some students what they thought university would be like when they were high school seniors, and how that differed from their actual first-year experience. I received five overwhelmingly unanimous answers. So, without further ado, here are five major myths about university.


“You’re all alone”

So maybe your first week as a first-year was a little lonely, and a little academically daunting. This myth says you’ll be lonely, miserable, and buried under books. But in reality many students get academic help from the library, the academic skills centre, and even professors. Universities have all kinds of resources for learning, scheduling, and writing. You just have to find them—and be willing to give them a chance.

The loneliness myth isn’t specific to UTM, either. Students from other universities also talked about the idea of your own success being on your shoulders, the idea that you just have to deal with it all yourself.

This myth probably originated from parents, professors, and old high school teachers who wanted to emphasize how different and difficult university would be, probably to get us to take it more seriously. Maybe a noble intention, but in many cases, it just stops students—particularly first-years—from seeking the help they need.


“Professors are unapproachable and don’t have time for your whining”

Despite what you might think, professors are human. There’s a belief, particularly among first-years, that professors are distant, even scary human beings who see teaching as a burden they must bear for the sake of their academic endeavours. But in fact, people who teach at the university level often genuinely enjoy what they teach and enjoy talking about it in more detail with the students.

Professors who are stern in class unwittingly lend credence to the myth. In fact, that’s probably where it originated. In reality, building a relationship with your professors can help you academically and professionally. Sometimes, just discussing what you’re learning can open up ideas you didn’t have before. Sure, it can feel like you’re just a number when you’re sitting in a class of 500 students, but if you go to their office hours regularly, you might just bust this myth.


“Study, sleep, party—pick two”

You can’t do more than that because you obviously won’t have time. In more extreme cases students claim, almost with a note of pride, that you can only pick one. We’ve all met that person who says no to everything because they “have to study”. But really, how much can you study? Contrary to this popular myth, balance is important. First-years usually struggle to find the equilibrium. One key is not to underestimate the value sleeping and partying themselves, not to mention the ensuing sanity, will have in letting you study more effectively.

This is another myth that probably originated as a warning, but all it does is make you freak out.


“It’s all in the textbook”

I was surprised to find how many people think this. When I asked current grade 12 students what they expected from their first year, they spoke about the amount of reading they would be responsible for. You can’t fall behind on the readings, they warned me. I’m going to drastically improve my work ethic, others promised.

The slideshows can tend to only be summaries of chapters, but few professors design the actual lectures so that they’re limited to the textbook—and even those who do will say more if students ask more.


“Get in the fast lane and never switch”

When I came to UTM, I intended to study psychology, but one fateful summer I took a writing course, and I was hooked. Many students have the same story. They come to university with their whole academic career planned out, and then they happen to take a course on a random topic and everything changes. In a way, they learn about themselves and what they like.

There’s no shame in realizing that you like something or than you thought, nor in taking longer to do it. When classes are starting points of interest, studying, reading, and learning suddenly don’t seem like such a chore.