University: A Beginner's Guide -

University: A Beginner’s Guide

Prof. Pettigrew’s advice: Class is 60 days away, so get ready.

Photo courtesy of Liz Grace on Flickr

With September still a couple months off and high school still a fresh wound, it hardly seems like the time for new university students to be getting ready for their next educational step. But Labour Day will be here soon, and before you know it, you’re moved into residence, your Mom has made a teary speech about how you’re all grown up, and Frosh Week will soon be a hazy memory. Your eyes will open one morning and it will be time to get to class.

What can you do to get ready?

1. Choose your courses carefully. Even small universities offer a bewildering array of courses every year, and with all those choices, it’s easy to look for shortcuts in course selection. Some students just take what an advisor suggests. Others take what their friends are taking, or what an older brother and sister suggested. Fair enough, but if you really want to get the most out of your first year, hunker down with the course calendar and really see what’s there. Have you considered taking a language course? What about Astronomy or Creative Writing? Some schools will give you course credit for certain univeristy activities like a choir or drama — consider those.

2. Read up on your subjects. You might feel like your professors will tell you what you need to know when you get there, and, to a large extent, they will, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait for Dr. Cortex to explain the basics of neuro-psych to you. Find a good book on the subject, or check out reliable web sites. Will you be reading some of what you end up reading in your textbook later? Maybe, but learning demands repetition, and if you familiarize yourself with some of the big ideas and key terms of, say, Philosophy, those things will make more sense when Professor Praxis starts lecturing about them.

3. Cultivate humility. The biggest mistake I made as a first year student was thinking that I knew what I was doing. I was (often) a strong student in high school, and my history essays were the stuff of legend, so I resisted working on my writing skills, thinking that was for lesser students. I quickly learned that my A+ work in high school was B+ at best in university, and that I needed to pay attention to details I hadn’t payed attention to before. Let me put it another way: in over ten years, I’ve never seen a first year student who didn’t have a lot to learn in first year. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but be prepared to find out how unprepared you are.

Readying yourself for university in the summer may make you feel like a geek, but don’t let it get to you. In high school, you were a geek. Now, you’re an intellectual. You don’t think the guys on the football team are working out this summer? Why shouldn’t you be just as prepared?

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