By Ivan Watson
For the Saanich News
I remember my first day at university. My parents and I loaded up the mini van and we took the early morning ferry to Vancouver. Arriving at a crowded residence hall at the University of the British Columbia we unpacked all the essentials – mini fridge, computer, stereo system, textbooks, etc. and when everything was set up and my parents said their goodbyes, I remember sitting alone in my dorm room and thinking: “what now?” With the back to school season in full swing, many people will face a similar situation. The following are six top tips for thriving at college or university.
Instructors are people too
It is natural to feel lost in a cavernous lecture hall or intimidated in a small seminar discussion. One of the best ways to get yourself noticed and to achieve academic success is to understand that your instructors are people too. Instead of signalling disrespect by cocooning yourself with headphones and a laptop in the back row, sit near the front and contribute thoughtfully to class discussions (a couple times per class when appropriate). If your professors see you as attentive and respectful and get to know you by name, they will naturally feel more inclined to reward your hard work with good grades.
Help is available – if you ask
Most institutions offer orientations and welcome weeks that provide a fun and easy introduction to campus life. Sign up for these. You’ll gain great advice and may make lasting friendships – people you can rely on for class notes and a helping hand over the course of your studies. As you get deeper into your first term and may need some extra assistance, take advantage of the many options focussed on student success, from instructor office hours to counselling and financial aid. The most important thing to remember is that people are available to help and they want you to succeed.
Take advantage of campus life
Clubs and sports teams offer something for everyone. In my first year at UBC I joined intramural soccer and ballroom dancing and later got involved in public speaking and volunteer service clubs. Your college days will be richer and more meaningful if you say ‘yes’ to the opportunities for personal growth and fun. Learning takes place both inside and outside of the classroom and when you graduate some of your best memories will be from these structured activities. When you send out resumes in search of a good job, you’ll find that the skills learned through campus leadership experience are in demand and transferable to many industries.
Libraries are your best friend
It’s tempting to believe that everything is available online, but professors often complain that students rely too much on Wikipedia and other easy online sources. Differentiate yourself with comprehensive research. Librarians are trained professionals who can advise you on the range of specialized databases, journals and research tips related to your field. Libraries also offer writing and exam preparation sessions and special seminars. Your campus library should be your first stop, not your last when writing that important paper. They’re also great places to relax and focus when you need some time to yourself.
My dad often tells this story from his university days. One time, he accidentally handed in his handwritten final essay draft along with the typed version. When he picked up the marked assignments, the typed version had an ‘A’ and the handwritten one received a ‘D,’ yet they had the exact same content. Paying attention to instructor preferences for style, structure and presentation of assignments is as important as following the proper style guide and making well researched arguments. If something both looks good and has good content, you’ll earn a good mark.
Take care of yourself
Getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthily will improve your mental and physical health and ultimately your grades. Campus gyms are open early in the morning and late at night to accommodate your preferred schedule and there are many places on campus where you can spend a few minutes in peace and quiet when you need to recharge your batteries. Sometime all it takes is a good walk in the campus gardens to come back refreshed and ready for your next challenge.