I met a university freshman recently. Of course from my vantage point as a cynic, it was quite an amusing experience listening to them talk about their idealistic career with a glint in their eyes. They mentioned they were struggling in university though, and I found myself in a position to dish out advice so this is for them and everybody in a similar position;
8) Know the lay of the land before the first day of classes. [This really depends on your university]. Sometimes you assume classroom numbers and building numbers would follow some sort of logical sequence, but that’s not always the case, so spend the weekend before class roaming around campus to know where your classes are going to be held.
7) No man is an island. If you were a loner and a nerd, then you might have survived high school on your own without any trouble. However, the rules change in university. A huge part of surviving uni is connected to the tribe, so make sure you have a good one. Your tribe may include the following characters:
The batchmate: This person is registered to most – if not all – of your classes. Aids with homework reminders, notes copying…the like.
The dorm connection: If you don’t live in the dorms, you need to know someone from your major who lives in the dorms. These people tend to be the most resourceful as they meet students from different majors and years in the dorms. They’re a good source of past papers, elective choices…etc. Plus you might get a place to crash during the day if you have a long break between classes.
The morning espresso: this is the person who talks too much that they wake you up during your walk to campus. Not everybody appreciates this character as some may love their morning chatter-less peace.
The tribe chief: this is the student who has been on campus for so long he might as well be labelled with a barcode sticker that says, “Property of the university*”. S/he’s usually a Master’s student (probably on their third Master’s or something), and their picture is there right next to “Wealth of Information”. You can tell why they’re important.
A disclaimer about selecting people for your tribe is to forge friendships, as these people usually end up being friends for life. Don’t be a taker and use people. Everybody hates a taker.
6) Learn time management skills. You can read books and articles on the topic, but most importantly, apply what you learn. Experiment with different techniques – timeboxing, pomodoro method – and see what works for you. One paradox I’ve discovered over and over again is the more full your plate is, the more efficient you become and the better you do overall. I never understood why, but I’ve heard it over and over again; students registered to eighteen credits were more efficient at managing their time and keeping up with their coursework than others. Maybe it’s because they simply can’t afford to ‘not keep up’ and end up wasting less time procrastinating.
5) Stay on top of your classwork. It’s easier to understand material when you review it within twenty four hours of the lecture. I know some students claim to be driven by the last-minute adrenaline rush, but the quality (of learning/work produced) suffers. Trust me on this.
4) Before a quiz or exam, when facing an option between sleeping and pulling an all-nighter, always choose ‘sleeping’ even if you haven’t covered all the material. It was good I learned this lesson during freshman year. I had Economics and Statistics finals on the same day, and I had pulled an all-nighter. Come Statistics exams and while calculating, I ended up with r-squared value more than one (not because I didn’t know how to apply the formula, but because I was too tired and couldn’t focus on what I was punching into the calculator). Of course, that was a mistake I caught, but it made me realize I would have done better if I had just slept a bit before the exam.
3) Hunt for past papers for every single class. Enough said.
2) Develop a food system; a chart with defined meals on certain days of the week. I have to admit I’m still struggling with this even as an adult. But for people living in the dorms, the earlier you develop a healthy food system, the better. Since there will be times when you just can’t spare any brain power to decide what to eat, you’ll find yourself reaching out for a kitkat from the vending machine more often than not and that’s not good.
1) Adopt stress-reduction techniques that work for you. The best one I know is hitting the gym as it helps you keep in shape and avoid the freshman 15. We used to say our alma mater “AUS” stood for “Always under Stress”. There will be days when you’ll be overwhelmed, and the stress could be too much to handle. Reach out for help as the student counseling services exist for a reason. Don’t suffer alone, and remember…misery likes company.
Last but not least, remember it’s only freshman year. Things might get better – or worse from there onwards. After all, they don’t call sophomore year, the ‘Suffermore’ year for no reason.
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