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Illustration Credits: Joyce Wong

Stumbling through the door on move-in day, you lay your eyes on an equally dishevelled figure unpacking his bags. Meet your roommate. After rolling the dice with the University of Toronto’s notoriously eccentric student body, it looks as though your ballsy gamble has paid off. He doesn’t call Toronto “the 6ix,” nor does he look like a complete serial killer—you’ve lucked out. After a brief introduction and a sigh of relief, you unload your binders, sticky notes, planners, books and calendars—anything to lessen stress and improve organization.

However, first year is anything but controllable. It’s a year dominated not by thought-out decisions and common-sensical outcomes, but by chance events and murky, subconsciously-led randomness. Lifelong friends are determined by dormroom algorithms, favorite professors by the width of their jaw and grades by the font on a worksheet.

Back to your roommate. He and the other possibly-lifelong friends you’ll meet in first year came about not because of fate or charm, but proximity. Consider this study: in the late 1940s, a university housing complex was set up in response to the tsunami of war veterans returning to the U.S. Located near M.I.T., the Westgate complex housed hundreds of students and their families. A team of opportunistic psychologists saw this as fertile ground for a relationship-grounded study, and initiated a research project.

They found 60 per cent of residents cited their best friend as someone three doors away or fewer. Only four per cent had a best friend living four doors away or more. They found the most popular residents were those located near a high-traffic area, like the stairs, elevator or washroom. Why?

Familiarity breeds attraction. The more you see someone—even just catching a glimpse of the side of their head—the more you’re attracted to them.

Consider this supporting study: a psychology professor hired three women to sit in on his 100-person lecture. Woman A went five times, Woman B went 10 times and Woman C went 15 times. All they did was sit down and blend in with the other bored undergrads. At the end of the semester, the prof showed the class pictures of the women and asked them to grade their familiarity and attractiveness. Woman C ranked first in both categories and Woman A ranked last in both.

The same phenomenon will penetrate your social circle. Sitting at the front of the class and absent-mindedly turning around may scare a few, but in time it will nurture a subtle, class-wide affection for you.

Say you’re in that aforementioned psychology class, and your friend (from a few doors down, of course) asks you how you like it and how you’re doing in terms of grades. “The professor’s kind of a grouch, but smart enough, I guess. I’m getting decent-ish grades, too.”

Let’s dissect that statement. Despite being the gaudy, stringent institution that it is, university is plagued by the same arbitrariness that’s present in relationships. People with long noses are seen as more intelligent, while those with circular faces are seen as gentler and kinder.

You internalize this Pinocchio-looking prof and regard him as more intelligent. His ‘grouchiness’ could be genuine, but it could result from having a non-circular face. And your grades? You and Pinocchio both influence them, but so does Microsoft Word.

Varsity Blues live and die by the pen. The majority of students attach their self-worth to marks, scholarships and GPA. Hours of tutoring, hundreds of coffees, thousands of dollars. But, once again, factors that tiptoe around our conscious state-of-mind are in play.

A class was unknowingly split into two groups. Group A received every handout in a suitably sized, easy-to-read font. Group B received every handout in Comic Sans and a very small font.

The cursed Group B fared better on tests and the exam. They had to strain to understand the worksheets. The students focused harder, and the information was ingrained deeper than the privileged Times New Roman-users of Group A.

It’s easy to account for the anxious, foreign rush of university life by revving up organization and planning, but don’t fall victim to the trip-wired logic of Organization First. Far from smooth sailing, your Freshman Journey is one plagued by submarined factors including noses, doorways and even Comic Sans.

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