August has always been a special month to me for various reasons. It includes my birthday, and for the past 20 years, mid-August has been the time of excitement and new beginnings, the start of a new school year! This is the first time in twenty years that I will not be attending school. It feels weird, but at the same time, it feels good.
From my twenty-year experience of attending school, thereof six years of University, I have developed my studying skills and learned to make the most of the University years. In this blog, I will share with you some of the things I wish I had known at the start of my University journey.
The University is as much a place to network and make connections with people as it is to learn. In University, you have access to great professors in your field, as well as many of the future leaders of the profession, so make sure you get to know your teachers and fellow students. A good relationship with your teachers can be valuable when you need recommendations for scholarships, further studies or a job. Your relationship with classmates might lead to job opportunities as they might recommend you for their new job or have you in mind as a part of their new start-up. But how to make connections and build relationships in University? I have two easy tips for you.
- Show up to lectures and lab classes and participate in them. This is my single most important advice for incoming University students. It might seem obvious, but way too many students don’t show up to lectures and lab classes as some lectures are streamed online and you can simply watch them in the comfort of your home. Some students do however show up and take notes but don’t actively engage in the lesson. Showing up to lectures and lab classes, asking questions and even answering questions is not only beneficial to learn the material better (in a more fun and effective way), you also make yourself more memorable both to the teacher and other students, and they will get the impression that you are truly committed. It took me some time to be brave enough to really engage in lectures and lab classes, but when I started to engage, my whole University experience became more enjoyable, and eventually when it came to the point when I had to ask some teachers to write me a letter of recommendation in my final year, at that point I was confident they knew my name and remembered me from lectures and lab classes.
- Always be polite to the staff and students, also when complaining. In fact, just always be polite! I was really surprised when grading assignments as a TA, how many rude complaints I received after submitting grades. Remember that teachers, TAs and office staff are people just like me and you and they have feelings and even they can make mistakes. If you are convinced that the grade you got for an assignment isn´t fair, make sure that you state why you think it is unfair and do it in a polite manner. This way it is much more likely that your assignment will be regraded. Also, remember that people talk, that goes for teachers, TAs, and other staff as well, and you don´t want to get the reputation that you’re a chronic complainer. Also, think twice before complaining, never send an email when you are upset over a grade, save the email as a draft and read it over the next day and then take the appropriate actions.
Make the most out of your time and tuition fees
Remember that you have paid a lot of money to study at the University, so make sure you are making the most of it. Here are my two tips for you on how to do that.
- Make use of the available services and facilities. Again, attend lectures and lab classes, but also attend the teachers´ office hours to get better explanation and advice, attend extra lectures, always ask questions when in doubt, use the facilities at the university, the school counselor etc.
- Carefully select your elective courses. Choose your elective courses based on your interests and goals. Don’t just pick the easy courses, you are not paying to get the degree easily, but to be competent in your field. Note however that you need to listen to yourself and your body, your mental health is more important than to finish University in time, or to get good grades. Thus, it can be important to balance the course workload wisely. Think about why you are studying and what you want to do after graduation. Maybe you want to do a master’s degree, then have a look at the required prerequisites for it, and make sure you finish those courses. Maybe you want to do a Ph.D., then you should probably take some research-oriented courses, or try to get to do an independent research project. Maybe you are passionate about video games and dream of becoming a game designer, make sure you check if there are any elective courses on game development and sign up for them, you get the idea.
Make your University experience fun and memorable
If you have fun at University, you are much more likely to do well and finish on time. But how to have fun, and at the same time do well? Here are my two tips.
- Find a good study group. Studying with friends is so much more fun than studying alone. It can also be much more effective as you share your ideas and learn from each other. Just make sure to pick your study group carefully, you should ideally have similar ambitions. It is very important to remember not to compare yourself to the others in your study group but instead be ready to learn from them and be inspired. I gained a lot of knowledge from students who had more experience than me and am very grateful for that.
- Attend extra activities. Attending conferences, talks, and meetings in your field is fun and you can learn a lot and network at the same time. You get a new perspective and might see how many the opportunities in your field actually are. Don’t underestimate this kind of learning, even though it takes time from revising or studying for exams. Remember that your grades are not the only thing that matters.
Find your ideal study technique
Finding a good study technique that suits you is very important and can save you a lot of time. Everybody is different, but there are few study tips that I think are always relevant (more on this subject here: Studying vs studying).
- Practice. In subjects like Computer Science, it is crucial to practice your programming skills. You won’t learn anything by just reading, you must practice, practice, practice. Always try to do the projects on your own first, before googling or asking for help. When studying for exams, don’t fall into the pit of just reading, rather do old assignments, exercises and practice exams. Just remember to be patient, it can take a long time to get good at a new skill, like programming.
- Manage your time. University is a full-time job, so to get the most out of it, studying should be your main focus. To be able to study efficiently, you must, however, give your brain a break every now and then, and it is important to make time for exercise, family, friends, and hobbies. Just make sure University is your number one priority.