Common University Mistakes & How to Fix Them

Posted by Megan on January 8, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

Hello readers!

Today I really want to talk about some common university ‘mistakes’ that you might encounter next year. The important thing to remember is that every ‘mistake’ gives you the opportunity to learn – about the situation and about yourself. Most university students encounter at least one of these problems, and many encounter multiple! I’ve actually dealt with all of these issues so I wanted to share some helpful information to get you through these scenarios with the least amount of trouble as possible.


Failing anything is probably one of the scariest things any students can go through. It can be hard to stop yourself from fixating on the bad grade you received and all the negative outcomes that might happen but it’s very important to snap out of it.

A Test/Paper

If you fail a test or a paper, the first thing you should do is meet with whoever marked it. If you aren’t sure who marked it, schedule a meeting with your TA. Ask to see your test/paper if you haven’t already and ask your TA lots of questions about where you went wrong. All of their replies will give you beneficial information about the expectations of your class and the particular TA’s marking style. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask if you would be able to re-write your test or paper. If you have a solid reason for this, other than just failing the first time (ex. medical reasons, or a death in the family), this will help your case. However, some TA’s are generous enough to offer you a second chance regardless of your personal situation. If they do, take it.

To do differently next time:

  • find out what your TA or Prof expects
  • touch up your writing skills by visiting the writing centre
  • schedule some study sessions with people in your class
  • ask questions about course material you are unsure of
  • practice questions from your textbook or lecture slides (Note: sometimes these can be found online)
  • supplement your course material with outside related material that interests you
    – maybe some other books on the subject or some good quality videos from YouTube
  • Give yourself enough time to prepare for coursework and exams

A Class

Failing a class is particularly brutal for a few reasons including ‘wasted’ money, ‘wasted’ time, and a huge hit to your self esteem. But  failing a class can indicate a few different things. Maybe you aren’t suited for university. Maybe this isn’t the right program for you. Maybe it was just the class or the professor. Maybe you need to work on your academic skills more. Maybe you need to commit to attending all your lectures. At the end of the day there is always a lesson to learn from failing a class.

So what should you do now? You don’t necessarily want to  do nothing because a failed class can have a huge impact on your GPA. I recommend retaking the class if you like your program and if it’s necessary for your degree. Maybe try it with a different prof (try checking out their ratings ahead of time here) or with tutoring (offered for free here for some classes). If you don’t need the class you can try to petition it off of your record. This means that it will no longer affect your GPA. York is more lenient with first year cases but in all cases, additional documentation always helps. This is a good time to check out York’s CDS if you are worried that your mental health is affecting your academics. You can also submit a financial petition if you have solid documentation – if this is successful you will get all or some of your tuition back!

To do differently next time:

  • Drop a class by the deadline if you realise it isn’t right for you
    – this will prevent it from impacting your GPA
  • Be aware of the financial drop dates if you are worried about the financial implications
  • Get help AS SOON as you need it. Don’t put it off
  • Don’t be afraid to approach the TA and/or Prof for clarification
  • Ask questions in class about lecture material if you are unsure –
    however, if you have LOTS of questions, schedule a meeting with your Prof
  • Don’t wait too long to petition a course – in most cases you need to petition
    within a month of the class ending

Note: if your GPA drops too much, you risk having your academic standing changed. Read more about York’s academic standings and their implications here.

Changing your Mind

We’re human. We all change our mind at sometimes. I know that there are high expectations on us to just know which program to go into, but life doesn’t always work out that way. Many students switch programs or schools – sometimes even more than once. If you aren’t happy or you want more for yourself, it’s okay to change your mind… especially when it comes to your education. You’re getting it for yourself after all. And if you aren’t, you should be! Post secondary education is something that will affect the rest of your life – it may as well do so in a positive way 🙂

Don’t like your major

Don’t like your first choice of major? I didn’t either. I was pretty good at Chem and Bio in highschool so I decided to pursue a degree in Life Sciences. I had quite the shock when I realized that university sciences and maths are not only out of my league, but that I don’t even like them or appreciate them in the slightest. It wasn’t until I took an intro to Psychology course that I had my ‘AHA!’ moment.

So what should you do if you don’t like your major?

The first thing I recommend is spending some time thinking about what program you do want to study. You might already have an idea from an elective you took or you might have no idea at all. If you have no idea at all I recommend taking a variety of courses that you think will interest you. You can also take courses that you feel you will do good in – maybe you were a strong writer in high school and you never considered taking writing at a university level – now’s a good time to give that a try!

Sometimes your current university might not offer the program you like. In fact, sometimes NO university will offer a program you like. This is why it’s smart to look into programs at a wide variety of universities and colleges. I think it’s really important to never settle for less than what you love, especially with something so big and important as your education. And don’t wait if you don’t have to. I was too afraid to admit that I didn’t like my program so I waited TWO YEARS before switching, and yes, I was miserable. Don’t make the same mistake that I did.

Don’t like your university

Don’t like your university? I HATED my first university. I didn’t like living in residence, I didn’t like commuting (second year), I didn’t like campus at all. I was just filled with a big ball of negative energy. The good thing is you don’t HAVE TO stay with your first university. If you don’t feel like it’s a good fit for you, you can always apply for another one. I chose to apply to York because I wanted to try living in the city and I knew York had a great Psychology program. It was also close to my hubbies work and I knew we’d be able to find somewhere to live close to campus. Finally, when I stepped on campus I fell in love. I loved the architecture and design and I loved the community feeling, something my old university didn’t have.

So whether you are at another school thinking of coming to York, or you are at York and you aren’t sure if this is the place for you – that’s okay. While I feel pretty passionate that York offers something for everyone, you always need to do what’s best for you.

So where do you start?

Start looking at programs at other schools. Check their requirements. See if you are eligible for transfer credits. Apply. Some schools you can apply to directly, while others you have to apply through the OUAC just like you did in high school. As long as you have a decent GPA, you should have no problems switching! I only had a C average when I applied to York and I was able to get in my dream program 🙂


Attendance is something that seems to vary from student to student and class to class. I think most of us have been guilty of missing at least one class, although some of us are guilty of missing much more. Especially at York, because it is largely commuter based, a lot of student might come to school, but then they choose to leave right away instead of hanging around and getting involved. I’m going to explain why that’s not the best idea.

Not attending class

While I do think it’s important to do what’s best for you, there are a lot of strong arguments as to why one should attend class as much as possible. For one, you are paying a lot of money for a top notch education – you can’t really say you are getting your money’s worth if you miss out on classes. You might also miss out on valuable information related to your exams and because of this your grade could be affected by your lack of attendance. I’ve also found from experience that missing class can lead to a couple bad habits.

Personally I get in the habit of making excuses and I also find that I get more socially anxious from not challenging myself. For example I might make some excuses like ‘I don’t feel well’, ‘I have a headache’, and ‘it’s too cold out’. While all of these might be true, all three excuses can be dealt with. I can take a Motrin for my headache. I can have some medicine if I’m sick. I can wear warmer clothing if it’s cold. The point is – don’t let excuses ruin your attendance!

As for social anxiety – that’s something that a minority of us deal with, but it’s still a serious problem. I find that if I miss a class I’m likely to miss it again just because I perceive the situation as more awkward/higher anxiety. However if I JUST GO, it’s not even a big deal. No one cares that you missed a class. Some people might look at you but they aren’t really judging you. It’s just a curiosity thing.

Not getting involved

Not getting involved… this is something near and dear to my heart. At my old school I didn’t get involved for TWO YEARS. Once I switched to York I was determined to get involved somehow. I had a slow start, mostly getting involved online in Facebook social groups and on a blog I launched, York U Life, but eventually I decided it was time to get involved in person. I started hanging out more with friends. I applied for a work study job (I got it ;)). I explored more of campus and tried new food. I even explored more of the area AROUND campus. And I’m not even close to being done yet! I still want to get involved with volunteering and a club 🙂

I think that getting involved is the MOST important aspect of post secondary education. Why?

  1. It helps you network
  2. You can learn more about yourself
  3. You can develop valuable skills for future education and career paths
  4. It looks good on your resume (sports, clubs, volunteering, etc)
  5. It builds your social support which can help improve your mental health and your grades
  6. It makes you feel more connected to your school
  7. It gives you the opportunity to build relationship with professors

So now what? Where do you start?

Do you have any advice for common university mistakes? Comment below!



Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

See other posts by Megan