Freshman’s survival guide

Posted by: Mike Peirce on September 29, 2015 9:00 am

In preparation for the university adventures my graduating students were heading off to in September, for many years I would invite last year’s graduating class back to talk about their first year experience. Passing on their words of wisdom to the current graduating class became an annual tradition. With orientation week over for the 2015 incoming university freshmen, I felt it would be a good time to review some of the pearls of wisdom my graduates have passed on to students heading off to university for the first time.

While this one really is a no-brainer, my graduates stressed the importance of getting to those lectures. This is where professors give all kinds of clues to how to succeed in their courses. I always suggested going one step further. I recommend that students visit each professor during office hours with a question regarding the material in the course. Since so few students actually do this, it is remarkable how well a professor will remember you. In your favorite courses, this may provide the opportunity to develop a relationship which will lead to the possibility of using this professor as a reference for graduate studies or employment down the road. I always told my class that if they have to come back to me, their high school counsellor, for an academic reference following their undergraduate degree, they really haven’t done their job.

Treat your academic responsibilities as a 9 to 5 job was one of my favorite recommendations from a very successful engineering student who I know had a very busy social life at university. He stressed that during the work day, he focussed all his energies on attending classes, getting his work done and seeking assistance if he was struggling; leaving plenty of time for him to enjoy a social life on the weekends while his friends were struggling to catch up.

Keeping one’s academic notes and material organized can be incredibly helpful come exam time. One strategy I loved was the suggestion by a psychology student to write a single cue card each day summarizing each lecture attended. When you completed your card for that day, you flipped through all the former cards from that course you have already written. Simple memory theory has noted that repetitive review improves the brain’s access to the information. Some students may prefer to do this in electronic format such as a new PowerPoint slide for each lecture.

Setting up a support network is key to success and happiness at university. In those large first year university lectures, it can be tough to meet anyone. Every year my returning graduates would stress how much of their success was due to the fact that they got involved beyond the lecture hall and met many people as a result. It did not matter what the involvement revolved around: student government, an intramural sport, the residence council, volunteer work or a club of any persuasion. Getting together with people with similar interests provided opportunities to have fun, but more importantly, provided shoulders to lean on when time were tougher.

Having a balanced lifestyle is also key. Being healthy is just common sense, but my graduates pointed out the need to lead a healthy lifestyle. Setting up a routine which includes eating and sleeping goes a long way to providing lots of time for study and for having a good social life. At times of the year when papers are due, midterms are happening and the weather is miserable, getting sick is the last thing the first year student needs.

The undergraduate university years can be some of the most enjoyable and memorable years of one’s life. Why not try some strategies out to help solidify your successes.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA