University Tips for First Years

I still can’t believe that I have my undergraduate degree, these past four years went by so quickly!

For those starting university or still early on in their degrees, learn from my mistakes (and triumphs) and start off strong:

  1. For the love of all that is good, go to lecture. Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some days, you need to take time for yourself or other assignments or obligations and there are some classes you can do just fine without going to lectures. But there are some classes where if you miss one lecture, if feels like you missed an entire semester. I strongly suggest going to all your lectures until you can suss out what kind of work you need to put into each class. Oh, and actually pay attention. You won’t miss much on Twitter in an hour.
  2. Don’t buy books right away. At least wait until the syllabi are available online and buy the books for required reading. To save money, look into renting from Amazon, borrowing from the university library or speak to you professor about using an earlier edition of the book.
  3. Buy a planner… and use it! I would lose my mind without my planner.
  4. Get to know your professors. If a certain teacher speaks about topics that really spark your interest, speak to them! I know I gained a lot from familiarizing myself with my professors’ work and networking (letters of recommendation from professors look especially good).
  5. If you don’t have it down twelve hours before the test, you probably won’t learn it. As a rule of thumb, I stop intensely studying twelve hours before an exam to let all the material sink in. On a related note, your brain does not retain much in the wee hours of the morning and the reason we need sleep is to process everything we see, read, think and more throughout the day. Get sleep and retain what you have confidently learned instead of trying to cram more in. Check out some exam tips I wrote about a few months ago.
  6. Use the Pomodoro technique. In my exams post, I suggested using the Pomodoro technique to study and it can also be applied to coursework: work efficiently for about 25 minutes at a time and take short breaks to recharge.
  7. Study abroad. If that sounds like something you might consider, start looking into it as soon as possible. I planned my classes meticulously from my first year to make it so I would be able to study abroad for a whole year. There are programs varying in type and length for a wide range of degrees and it goes without saying that my year abroad was the highlight of my undergraduate degree and something I will remember for the rest of my life.
  8. If you must work, get an on-campus jobs. My jobs were very understanding of my workload and even let me do homework on the job!
  9. Get involved with clubs and intramural sports. Perhaps my biggest is not getting involved with clubs, societies, research and recreational sports earlier.
  10. Socialization is a necessity, not a luxury. Make time to call your friends and family back home and get to know new people! An hour for coffee won’t make or break any mark.

Finally, a bonus tip: Just do it. This is pretty generic advice, but do the fun thing, even if it means missing a class (make up some excuse to your professor). You won’t regret it. Academics are important, but they’re not everything. Use your best judgement to decide when is a good time to take a break from university and do it. Most recently, I impulsively bought a ticket to an intimate Rise Against show… in Los Angeles (a seven hour drive away and I don’t have a car)… on a school night. But, fuck it. It was my birthday present to myself, so I bought coach tickets to leave the morning of the concert and return in the wee hours of the morning the next day. It turned out to be the best concert of my life and I regret nothing.

Check out some additional resources from my Pinterest board (which I’m determined to be more active on): “adult-ing” and university student resources.

Good luck in the new academic year!


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