Thank goodness, you’ve finally made it out that of the mess that was high school and are now ready to take your first step into the world of higher education.
Freshman year is definitely an exciting time, filled with potential and excitement (and probably a lot of partying, debauchery, and anxiety).
But before you start to fill yourself with existential dread (the time will come, don’t worry), here are 5 easy tips from a recent grad, guaranteed to get you on the right path to a successful university career.
1. Join a club.
No, not that kind of club.
One of my greatest regrets is not getting involved in more extracurriculars in my first year.
On top of being a great CV/resume/application booster (especially if you don’t have much or any work experience), joining a club or society is one of the best ways to meet like-minded people.
I, myself am hella awkward, and thus, managed to make it through my undergraduate degree without making friends with any of my fellow engineering classmates. Sure, I had acquaintances and formed study groups etc. but the actual friends I did make were through my involvement in sports, clubs and volunteering.
Additionally, the longer you’re part of a club (and the more active you are) the likelier you are to become an executive member in your senior years. This experience and the connections you make could be invaluable to your career and/or graduate school prospects.
Not sure what you’re interested in? Universities regularly have “Clubs & Societies” nights giving you the opportunity to talk to the execs of each group and attend introductory meetings to get a feel of what they’re about and decide if it is right for you.
2. Don’t skip class.
It can be reeeeaaaalllly tempting to skip class. Especially if you’re falling behind and you think your time will be better spent “catching up on your own time”. You and me both know that is a straight up lie.
Even if you’re behind or have no idea what’s going on, go to class. The more you skip, the further behind you fall and before you know it, its midterm season (or finals) and you’re screwed.
So what if you don’t understand derivatives and your class has moved on to integrals? It’s fine, go anyways. At least you’ll be able to learn a bit about the new topic, and in doing so, you might even retroactively figure out the old stuff too. You were smart enough to make it here, so you’ll be able to keep up, I promise. But to do so you have to go to your damn classes. ***Except if your sick. Keep your contagious body at home, drink water and rest.
If you need a financial incentive – divide your tuition by courses and see how much each skipped class is costing you and how many coffees that could buy you. Yikes.
3. Meet your profs.
Walking into your intro-level classes can be intimidating or claustrophobic even, with hundreds of other students packed into a hall together.
Stop yourself from being just a number, and get to know your profs.
It’s possible! Here’s how:
- Be early… or at least on time.
- Showing up late will get you the wrong kind of attention
- Sit in the front.
- Being close to the front where your prof can see you will force you to stay engaged and will limit the distractions of people talking near/around you.
- Ask and answer questions.
- Show your engagement by answering questions posed by your prof (See where being in the front is helpful?)
- Impress him/her even further by asking intelligent questions that furthers classroom discussion or complicates the narrative being discussed
- Go to office hours.
- Every week for at least one hour, your prof will have their door open for students to come in and ask questions
- Careful not to abuse this – nothing is more annoying to a prof than having their time wasted. If you’re having trouble with a problem, bring the solution that you’ve worked out, highlight where your specific problem lies and then approach them for help. Profs know you’re here to learn, but if you show your academic aptitude in this way, they’re going to be much more willing to help and will likely remember you in the future.
- You’re going to want to keep a repertoire of profs who know you well for future reference letters (for graduate school or career opportunities)
4. Learn how to study effectively.
Studying, am I right?
Studying is hard. And boring. And if you’re like me, you’d rather do ANYTHING else. Laundry, deep cleaning the fridge, volunteering to walk people’s dogs. What ever it takes to avoid studying. But there’s a better way.
Just a head’s up, whatever study methods got you through high school are probably not going to fly in university. The course content and delivery is radically different and there’s a lot more self-teaching that needs to be done. You can’t rely solely on attendance to get you that A (although good attendance is a big help), but here are some easy-to-follow tips to get your going.
- Take notes (by hand) in class
- To eliminate distractions, I even stopped pulling out my laptop in class and left my phone in my bag. Nothing on my table but my trusty notebook and pencil case.
- By handwriting your notes, you force yourself to really listen and focus on what is being said, plus it limits you to writing only the important points.
- Studies have also shown that writing by hand aids in information-retention (compared to typing)
- Typing them up later for easy access come exam time is another good way to refresh your memory of what went down in class that day
- Toss out that textbook (but not actually)
- Don’t bog yourself down by reading and highlighting your textbook
- Stick to the assigned readings by your prof, but review with your class notes and use the textbook as a reference for key concepts of which you need clarification.
- If you’re a highlighter fiend, wait until a few read-throughs before you get yellow everywhere. After a few readings, you won’t be needing to highlight as much as you would on the first read.
- Form a study group
- Studies have also shown the most effective way to learn a concept is to teach it to someone else. So, split the contents in a group and then present what you learned and your notes with each other. That way you become a master in at least one area and you get detailed notes from the others, saving you a ton of time and effort.
Keep in mind that what methods works with some, doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Try out various methods and see what works for you. Tutoring is also a really good option if you’re stuck on a certain subject or course and need some additional coaching. Remember to study smart, not just hard.
5. Don’t stress. (or try your best not to)
There comes a point in every student’s life where everything feels like a garbage fire.
Breathe. “Drink some water, take your meds, call your person.” (shout-out to Another Round for this daily reminder)
University is hard. If your grades take a dip, or you find yourself on probation or your physical or mental health has taken a hit, just try to relax and know that it will be okay. First year is a big shock for most people and it’s a good time for reflection.
Maybe this major isn’t for you, or maybe being away from family is too hard. This is the perfect time to explore all your options, just don’t forget to take care of yourself throughout the year.
Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating good food and setting aside time for your hobbies, exercise and socializing are crucial to maintaining good overall health which is conducive to succeeding in school.
If you’re struggling in any facet of university life, check out the resources available on campus and in the community. There are trained professionals available to help you through this difficult transition. Remember that you’re not the only one who feels this way and it’s okay to ask for help.
Aaaaand that’s it. Five easy tips to get you started on your journey through university. Don’t worry, you got this!