I’m just going to start off by saying that university is not easy. The material is more challenging, the reading more intense, and the overall atmosphere is much more serious. This is not to say it’s not fun and you shouldn’t do it. It’s a very rewarding experience and when you look back on it when it’s all over you’ll see how bad it really wasn’t. What you will also see is the things you wished you had done differently or knew sooner.
With school having started again, I thought I would share some of my own tips that I learned during my first four years as an undergrad. Some of this I learned much later on in my academic career and some I knew from the beginning but others did not. Some is also my general tips I learned about myself and might not work for everyone but I thought I would share them anyway.
- Learn about your school’s resources. If you have a problem with writing, find out if there’s a writing center. If you need help writing your resume, see if they have a center that offers to look at your CV and help you polish it up. To put it plainly, if there is anything you need help with, more than likely your school will have places you can visit to help. USE IT. You will see your writing improve, learn to do better presentations, or maybe get assistance if you need more time writing midterms and final exams.
- Sign up for counselling. This one is mostly for all my anxiety readers. If you’re like me, and school and life in general can easily get you down, but you don’t have the finances for a therapist/psychologist, use the free one the school offers. Personally this has been nothing but helpful and has helped me through quite a lot during finals and managing my stress overall.
- Learn about your library. Your library is probably going to become your second home during your time at uni, so it’s best if you know how to navigate it well. I’m not just talking about the dewy decimal system; I’m talking about everything else. Most libraries have a “course reserve” section apart from the regular books where most, if not all, of your required reading for your classes will be available. The catch is that these books are only on a 3 hour, 1 day, or 3 day loan. So you can’t hoard the book all semester. Sorry. But it’s good in case you forgot yours at home. Learn about the databases as well that link with your school to facilitate the finding of scholarly sources. They can be rather confusing and hard to navigate at first but easy to understand once properly explained. If you need even more assistance talk with a librarian (or your faculty’s librarian) as they always have tips and tricks to teach you.
- Ask for your syllabus in advance. Trust me on this one. Your syllabus will give you an idea of what to expect from the class as it outlines everything you will be doing during the semester. From your assignments and their worth to your readings and when they’re due. This way you get an idea of the workload and the material. If you have too many papers, a final paper and no final exam, or vice versa, or too much reading, you will see it in the syllabus. You might realize that you really don’t want to be in the class this way and can chose to drop it before it’s too late or even before school starts.
- Buy your reading materials in advance. If you followed #4 then I strongly advise doing this. I also strongly advise doing the readings in advance as well. If you’re a procrastinator like me then it’s easy to always be putting off readings but not so easy playing catch up. By buying and reading in advance you might even have a leg up on the class and actually enjoy listening to the lecture more.
- Make a friend or acquaintance with someone in your class. This way if you miss a class or you need someone to review with you will have someone you can discuss stuff with. Added bonus: new friendship.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle. If you can’t handle full time or a lot of classes then don’t do it. Yes, it may take more time and may mean summer classes, but in the long run when your grades aren’t dropping and you are not at the end of your rope, you’ll be thankful.
- Know the minimum amount of sleep you need to function. This may sound like a weird one and may not work for everyone. But I eventually learned that I only need a minimum of about 5 hours sleep and still be able to function properly. Anything less and I’m a walking zombie. Knowing this helped when I had a lot to get done during midterms and finals. I don’t support functioning on lack of sleep and fully support managing your time properly to get a proper night’s sleep, but knowing your limit is important, in my opinion, when you’re pressed for a deadline and stressing.
- Make time for yourself. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in school work but that’s the quickest way to burn out. I know I struggle with the idea that any time not doing school work is time wasted. So I would force myself to sit and do work but ended up not getting much done because I was tired or I wanted to just read for fun or play video games for a few hours and ended up procrastinating. You may find that you work better by staying organized and managing your time when you make space for fun.
Hope at least one of these things was a little bit helpful. I might do a little more in depth post later on, on more specific things such as navigating databases or talking about the many resources that are available at most universities.