Gaining a place at University in the USA or Canada is an achievement but leads on to the next challenge – how to make the most of that place by going on to achieve academic success at university? The vast majority of university students are successful, so there is no need to be too anxious, but what can you do to make sure that you are in that number rather than be one of the minority that drop out in their freshman or sophomore years or only proceed under an academic warning with failed courses on their record?
First of all, you need to be prepared for the fact that university study is just different from studying in high school. You are going to be expected to take a significant step forward in terms of the mature thought you bring to your studies and the range and nature of the skills that you’ll be called upon to deploy. Take advice from those who have gone through the experience and try to learn from them. Preparation is very often the key to success and so don’t let yourself be taken by surprise by the demands that university study impose on you.
You can also help prepare yourself in practical ways. Consider in advance the courses that you want to undertake and try to get an early sight of the textbooks that you’ll be using. Look at the nature and number of assignments that you’ll need to complete in those courses and don’t overload yourself, especially with written assignments, in an unrealistic attempt to collect as many credits as you can.
Try to live healthily at university. It may be tempting to live the life of the ‘night owl’ that you always suspected you were, but remember that getting enough sleep is very important. Everything becomes more of a burden when you are tired and that includes keeping up with your studies. Try to eat sensibly too, especially eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and take exercise regularly. Joining in sports helps you stay healthy and enables you to make a lot of friends quickly too.
It may sound obvious, but you should aim to do the work. Turn up to all your classes and become known to your professors for good reasons. You may find it difficult to keep up with everything but it’s easier to do that than to catch up if you fall behind. Being at class makes perfect sense. You keep up with the courses, you receive a lot of additional guidance and advice from your professors and you have your classmates to bounce ideas off.
The general advice is that one hour in class should be backed up by three hours study outside of class. To achieve this you need to be well-organized. The ideal is to have set study times. You’ll have seen in your forward planning what needs to be done in terms of assignments and you should have set enough time aside to cope with the expected volume of work so that you can comfortably meet your deadlines. Be strict on yourself and stick to your planned allocation of study hours. This means that you can always cope with any unexpected demands on your time without your study plan being total derailed.
Be proactive as a student. Take notes in your lectures and keep these organized and up to date. You are always a more effective student with a pen or pencil in your hand. Review regularly the material you have learned and then you won’t have to burn the midnight oil when you have a quiz or examination. Your aim should always be to store material in your long-term memory so that it remains there for you to draw on rather than try to hold onto some information looked at in last-minute cramming on the way to the exam hall. Be honest in your assessment of how you are doing and how much effort you are putting into your studies. You will know the particular areas you need to improve on better than anyone else and you should be open to seeking the advice you need to help you do it.
Develop and refine the university level study skills that you need. Be a careful and attentive listener. Develop the ability to skim complex texts and scan them for relevant points or your reading lists will overwhelm you. Practice the ability to analyze, challenge and criticize what you’re reading or are told in lectures. Learn how to source information and assess the value and reliability of your sources.
Make use of all the resources that are available to you. These are not only the obvious ones in the learning commons but also the tutoring or advising services, the free access to on-line study skills materials, your instructors’ office hours, the specialized input of the Writing Center and the support of your fellow students through both formal and informal ‘study groups’.
Finally, don’t forget that university is a total experience. The best student is not normally the one that locks himself away with his books and does nothing but study. Even if he appears to be very successful, he is also missing out on many important aspects of university life. Don’t be afraid to enjoy your leisure time. You should engage in extra-curricular activities as these confirm you as a more ’rounded’ person and often count strongly in your favor when you apply for higher degrees or for employment. It’s OK to want to party, even if it’s more sensible to do so on a night when there’s no school the next day.
Do well in your studies while gaining the maximum benefit from the wonderful range of opportunities that university offers you. Then you really will be able to look back on one of the happiest and most productive times of your life.
Best wishes for the new academic year!