Arts and Science at McMaster University

Daniela (Year 3)


What did you wish you knew before going to your university? What made you choose this institution over all others? What are advantages and disadvantages of your institution or campus? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your university.

When choosing a university, I often heard that it was a choice between a certain program and the school itself. I applied to a variety of different programs and schools and when weighing my options, I often found this to be true: I either really liked the campus, but the program didn't seem right for me or the program seemed unique and interesting, but the campus and facilities were not appealing. I chose Arts and Science (also known as ArtSci) at McMaster for the program AND the school itself. I liked the small campus size (it only takes about 10 minutes to walk from one end of campus to the other) and that the school was relatively close to my home in Toronto (so I would be able to live on campus and visit home on the weekends). The ArtSci program was also one that was unique to McMaster, without an equivalent at any other University I had applied to. McMaster is also located in Hamilton, which I find to be both an advantage and disadvantage. Hamilton has many great little areas and places to explore. Their downtown area has quite a few independent shops and eateries that are great to visit after class or on a weekend and are only a short bus ride away. On the other hand, Hamilton's core area is much smaller and has significantly less to do than a larger city, like Toronto. My advice to first year students would be not to settle between the specific program and the school itself. Try to find the option that satisfies your wants and needs in both areas! Additionally, consider what you would like your surroundings to be and what environment you think suits you best. Do you prefer a small town or a big city? Once at University, don't be afraid to explore your surroundings and take some adventures off campus once in a while!

What did you wish you knew before choosing your specific program? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your program? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your program of study.

When I applied to University in grade 12, I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do and so I applied for 11 different programs and 5 different Universities. I wrote many supplementary applications, went to numerous open houses and University fairs and researched countless different programs. I truly thought I would never make a decision and I remember being so afraid to make the wrong one! I ended up choosing the Arts and Science program at McMaster because it gave me the ability to continue exploring my interests in both the arts and the sciences without feeling the need to limit myself to either one. I’m glad that I chose the ArtSci program because it's relatively small (only about 70 students in each year) and there are some really interesting courses that are only available to ArtSci students. Something I wish I knew before choosing my program however, is that for those who have no idea what they want to do (like me), it’s very difficult to make that decision in later years. Since the program is so broad and has a number of required courses that you must take each year, some students might have to take a 5th year (or at least an extra semester) to get the requirements that they need to go on to graduate school. I sometimes wish I chose a program with a definitive end or solid direction, so that there would be more structure and a definite path for me. It's worth mentioning that the ArtSci program also offers "combinations" which do provide a definitive path for students after graduate, but in this case, you have to know what you want to do for certain after first or second year. Overall though, my experience had been a positive one and I’ve met some really great faculty and made some really good friends and I don't think I would change my program given the chance!

What was your favourite university experience?

My best experience at University thus far was definitely living in residence in my first year. I was fortunate to be able to room with a very good friend of mine from high school, and we both lived in McMasters only all-female residence, Wallingford Hall, in our first year. I remember both of us were unsure of how our residence experience would be, since the building itself was very old (it is actually one of the first buildings built on campus in the 1930s), had no air conditioning and no elevators (only stairs). Apprehensive but excited to be away from home and to live on my own, I decided to embrace my residence and all it had to offer; looking back, I'm so thankful I did. Living in residence was such a valuable experience, as it allowed me to get my first taste of independence while providing me with a support system of other girls who were transitioning into their first year of University, just as I was. I was able to create some really close friendships that I still maintain today! I was lucky in the sense that my residence was extremely small, and so it was easy to get to know the other girls and especially the other people on my floor. I made sure to go to as many community events as I could and my roommate and became "famous" for decorating peoples dorm room doors upon request. Since this year will be different for many students and many residences will not be opening in September, my advice would be to join as many online student communities that are offered to you as possible!

What was your least favourite university experience?

This is a great question! I feel like so many people are only interested in the "highlight reel" rather than the "not-so-great" parts, but I think it's important that students hear both good and bad experiences. I would have to say that my worst university experience would be house hunting at the end of my first year. Since I live about an hour from campus, I decided that it would be best to try and find a student house close to campus to live in my 2nd year, and hopefully 3rd and 4th as well. I was fortunate to have a group of 6 other girls to live with: all that was left to do was find a house! We were all pretty pumped to begin the hunt and we made countless appointments to see houses in the area. We also made sure to start early, around December and early January, in hopes that we would beat the rush of other students, who often start to look for housing in late January/ early February. We were on top of our game, organized with spreadsheets, google docs, a colour coded calendar and a planned route to take to hit the most houses in the least amount of time. Nothing could stop us...or so we thought. It turns out that more often than not, student houses around campus are run down, old and not well maintained at all. House after house was a disappointment. Pretty soon, our free time and our weekends were spent making calls to landlords, walking from house to house, and in a few cases, visiting houses only to find out that the house had already been leased and the landlord just forgot to let us know. I remember actually starting to fall behind on coursework because every moment of free time that I had was spent looking for a house. My group and I ended up visiting over 35 houses before finally finding one that was well kept, close to campus and, most importantly, all of us liked. My advice to anyone who is planning on renting a student house while in university is to gather together your housemates before going to look for any houses and make a list of features you want the house to have. When you have a list made, make sure you only visit houses that have these features! You'll save yourself a lot of time, effort and walking from house only to be let down time and time again!

What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?

My program is a combination of arts courses and science courses, and so during the year I take courses such as, "Social and Political Thought", a look at philosophy for the modern day, but I also take courses like "Cellular Biology". In this regard, I think the hardest part of my program would be having to switch between these subjects so freely when studying and attending class. Obviously, courses like philosophy and biology or chemistry require you to think differently. I often found that having to switch gears so frequently and fluidly was challenging, especially when studying for exams when I was constantly rotating between subjects. It took me a while to adjust to the constant workload and also took me a little bit of time to understand what worked the best for me and made my studying most efficient. I tried a bunch of different things that I thought might make the transition between vastly different subjects easier. For example, I tried only allotting myself one hour to study for one subject per study session, hoping this would help me separate the subjects best and make it easier to go from thinking about Plato to thinking about chemical bonding. In the end, what worked for me was to focus on one subject for a more prolonged period of time, as opposed to switching too frequently (which I actually found made it more challenging and confusing). Doing this allowed me to take the time I needed to focus on my work for one subject, without thinking about what I had to do for the others. My advice for students who are having trouble adjusting at the beginning of the year would be to take the first couple weeks of classes and treat them as a "trial run". See what study methods work best for you. Try a new technique every week until you find one that feels right. Try studying in a new place on campus (or, because of COVID, a new corner of your room) until you find the best and most comfy spot where you are most productive.

If you were able to take electives, what was your favourite elective? If you were not able to take electives, what was your favourite course and why?

My favorite course was actually a course that I took in my first year of Arts and Science called "Inquiry: Global Challenges'' (course code ARTSSCI 1C03), a mandatory course for all first year students in my program. This course talks about a range of different issue facing the world, with each week touching on a new issue and included topics such as "Neocolonialism, Human Rights, Global Tax and Trade, Gender Based Violence and the War on Terrorism and Drugs". It was definitely an eye opening course that I was wary to take at first, since I'm pretty naïve when it comes to this kind of stuff. I remember walking into class the first day with all these preconceived notions of what I imagined the class to be. It actually took me a while to appreciate (and eventually love) the course because I was so convinced that the course wasn't for me. The weekly readings were so interesting, introduced perspectives I hadn't considered, and the conversations in tutorial were always so compelling. I hope you take this as a reminder to approach each class with an open mind, especially for your mandatory courses that you aren't too sure about. You might end up disliking it or it might become your favorite class, but you'll never know if you don't give it a fair shot.

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