According to a national survey conducted by Statistics Canada, approximately 15 per cent of all undergraduate students do not finish university. The majority of those who fail to complete their studies do so in their first year.
This is why I think it is important that all incoming students get a short but intensive crash course on surviving their first year. University isn’t easy. It’s stressful, incredibly demanding and can take quite a lot out of you – especially if you’re serious and devoted to your studies (on top of working, leisure time, and extracurricular activities).
I understand that this is a totally new experience and for many of you may be your first time away from home and the friends you grew up with. However, surviving university isn’t just about finishing papers before deadlines, doing well on exams and attending lectures; as important as all of these things are, the social side of university is just as important. For those of you who intend on taking the next four years seriously, developing networks and friendships with your colleagues is critical to making it through your first year. They are an invaluable resource for working together, discussing ideas, communicating on projects, and expanding your general understanding.
The second piece of advice I would offer is to pay attention to what professors and your teaching assistants have to say about your writing abilities on essays and assignments. The ability to analyse and synthesize information is the threshold that we all must pass as university students. If we cannot do this, then we won’t make it. But once we do we have to demonstrate that we can use this information to construct and defend an argument through the written word. If you have any doubts about your writing abilities, or if you’re uncertain about how to write papers, it is crucial that you take advantage of the university’s resources. There are some courses on writing available through the English Department, but if you don’t want to take a full-credit course you can go to the Student Development Centre and register in one of the free tutorials designed to help students with writing, note taking, and other subjects.
Lastly, organization is crucial to your success. As Josh Dehaas, the editor of Maclean’s On Campus, writes: “The rule most professors follow when assigning readings is to give two hours of preparation for every hour of class. Considering that each class is three hours per week, that would mean a full-time student who did all of her work would spend 45 hours on class and prep alone. That’s before essays, labs, exams, extracurricular activities and a modest social life. There just isn’t the time.” In other words, unless the only thing you do throughout the week is study, barring part-time employment, leisure time, extracurricular activities and so on, it’s impossible to think you will be able to complete all your assigned readings and other research while juggling essays and exam prep. It’s simply too much.
Dehaas recommends what we might call ‘triage’: “Decide which readings, assignments and courses require the most attention and attend to those first. If you try to do all the readings for psychology, for example, you might never get started on your English essay or biology homework, which may be worth more,” stated Dehaas.
If you think you can do it all while handling a busy schedule, especially if you want to produce quality academic work, it won’t happen. Some people are exceptional but most of us aren’t. This is why it’s critical that you stay organized and figure what is important and what is not; to finish essays and assignments well before the due date and to give yourself enough time to reflect, study, and digest the information. Believe me, the stress isn’t worth it.