U of T’s notoriety follows it around like an intoxicating perfume — or a noxious cloud of smoke. Undoubtedly, many students sought out this university for its reputation of academic excellence. After all, we have some of the most prestigious research facilities in North America, and we consistently make top spots in university rankings. Yet, U of T’s prestige also comes with a price: rumours of uncompromising academic rigour, evil TAs, and the infamous ‘bell curve’ only aggravate its reputation.

Here, three students discuss their personal experiences in the hopes of debunking some of the ominous myths that surround this institution. Regardless of what you hear from anyone though, ensure that whatever path you choose to pursue is entirely your own.

Boundless opportunity — for those who take it

Stretching across three large campuses, with enormous classes and a reputation for remarkably low grades, U of T definitely does not come across as a friendly place.

The beginning of my time at U of T encompassed all those things: a seat in Con Hall, a sea of unsmiling faces around me, and a C+ on my first paper. Despite a stellar high school record, U of T felt impossible to crack. I had no idea how others around me were scoring As and participating in coveted research positions with professors and extracurriculars. For days after my first C+, my dream of law school felt more distant than ever.

After that dreadful first semester, I gritted my teeth. I took the paper to my professor and waited in a lengthy office hour line to get feedback. I visited my college’s writing centre, and made weekly appointments with my Trinity One professor. I made an effort to fit debate meetings and G20 research into my seemingly packed schedule, and I found the skills I was developing improved my academic performance. It felt difficult to admit that I needed help, but when I did reach out, help was most definitely there.

By my second year, I was balancing a full-time schedule with several extracurricular activities and starting my own campus club. I realized that, when I was willing to give U of T a chance instead of shrugging off my failures as an inevitable reality, opportunities truly were boundless. Furthermore, I realized that U of T’s support network went beyond academia. I was able to get my resume reviewed at the career centre, glean valuable career advice from faculty networking dinners, and meet some of my best friends in classes and clubs.

U of T has been both a draconian institution that threatened my career ambitions and a home. I truly believe that it can be the latter for anyone who gives it a fair chance.

-Daryna Kutsyna, fourth-year International Relations and History

A place where voices echo

There can be a lot of silence at U of T. I do not say this simply because I spend a lot of time in and around our many libraries; it is something I notice in other moments. Groups of students gather outside class or prepare to jaywalk across Queen’s Park, but everyone seems to be staring either straight ahead or down at their phones. We are all here, but it is so quiet.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The #uoftears reputation functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are warned about how unfriendly people are, and as a result, we are unfriendly in return. It’s ironic how newfound independence can come with so much anxiety about making friends.

Defying this reputation is mostly a matter of stepping outside your comfort zone, as cliché as that may sound. One of the best things about university, especially one as large as U of T, is the potential to be constantly surprised by the people you encounter and the experiences you gain. Any decision, from choosing a seat in a lecture hall to sneaking into an event for the free food, has the potential to introduce you to unexpected opportunities.

If you are the kind of person whose default conversational topic is the weather, you might be worried about chatting with fellow students who are still, for all intents and purposes, strangers. Fear not: bonding with peers at U of T is relatively simple. Look for something to complain about, and you will never run out of things to say — welcome to adulthood.

It is your first year and you can cry if you want to, but there is really no need for tears. It gets cold enough here in the True North without artificial distances, so we should work on warming up to each other. As a wise woman once said, “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

-Reut Cohen, second-year International Relations

Not fact, but fiction

The popular depiction of the University of Toronto rests solidly on the foundation that this institution is colder, harder, and therefore worthier than its contemporaries.

[pullquote-features]There is no one way to attend U of T — there is no ‘right’ way.[/pullquote-features]

Apprehension and anticipation saturate the mind of any U of T applicant who spent years romanticizing the way this institution ought to be. The school itself, however, is often misrepresented. Although these grand flourishes and firm proprieties exist and permeate every aspect of academia at the institution, U of T is much more than this small facet of the experience.

Students may very well claim harsher conditions, a surplus of anxiety, and low GPAs. But they can also speak of outstanding extracurricular programs, impeccable recommendations, and high-grade equipment. There is no one way to attend U of T — there is no ‘right’ way. Every student at this school is composed of their own personal skills, goals, and expectations. When these three components meet on some equal ground, the student experience becomes fulfilling. When these components do not meet on equal ground, one might misunderstand the university as a cold and austere place.

When I first came to U of T, I enrolled in a program that did not fit my skills, my goals, or my expectations. Over the years, I came to find a better place for myself at U of T, where I was able to utilize my abilities to achieve my objectives.

Any university can seem cold and hollow and hopeless — but only if you let it.

-Jenisse Minott, second-year CCIT