The First Month at University
How Can I Survive and Thrive?
Organize Your Courses
Print your course schedule, or better yet, make a screenshot of your schedule the lock screen on your phone. A quick look can help you to learn your new schedule quickly, so you don’t miss class or show up at the wrong location.
It is also helpful to download or print your course outlines for regular review. Read each course outline or syllabus carefully, and make note of crucial course information: the goals and themes of the course, the schedule of class readings, the lecture schedule, the lab or seminar schedule, assignment due dates (and often, the assignment descriptions or instructions), the professor’s office hours, and much more. Often, professors will assume that you are aware of the assignments and deadlines listed in the course and, as a result, will never mention them in class. We recommend you review each syllabus weekly so you don't miss anything!
Make a Plan to Manage Your Time
Creating a time management plan can help you to meet the new demands of university. First, your time is no longer as clearly organized and structured by school as it has been in the past. Second, you are responsible for figuring out what is expected of you and how you will meet those expectations. Third, you need to have balance in your life; it is important to have a great social experience that does not come at the expense of your learning experience at Trent. So, consider how you can adapt to university and succeed academically while having fun. That is what time management is all about.
- Guide to Time Management
- Guide to Goal Setting and Time Management in Online Learning
- Planning tools and templates
Get to Class
One of the big differences between high school and university is the difference in attendance requirements: in university, you are often not required to attend class. You may be tempted to skip a class or two for one reason or another, but don’t do it! Skipping class has a number of repercussions.
You will create a bad impression with your professors and tutorial leaders, implying that you have something more important to do than to attend class. You will also miss the chance to participate and to ask questions.
Also, you will miss both information and learning. The information can be provided by a classmate, but the learning is gone for good. Another law of life says that whatever is discussed in the one class that you miss will make up the bulk of the exam! If your lectures are recorded video or podcasts, be sure to listen or watch weekly; it is very difficult – and not beneficial to your learning or your understanding of assignments – to cram this viewing or listening into a few days leading up to a test or exam. However, the benefit of recorded lectures is that you can review lectures more than once if you need clarification on certain ideas. Read our guide to taking notes on online lectures and materials.
Speak Up – Don’t Be Intimidated
For many students, university can be quite intimidating. Everything is new and confusing, and the other students seem so much more at ease and so much more knowledgeable about what’s going on. Everyone else must be much smarter, you may think. Wrong!
Actually, everyone is in pretty much the same boat; it’s just that some people are better at hiding their insecurities than others. Don’t be intimidated! Forget about everyone else and concentrate on learning what you need to know.
If you don’t understand something or have questions, ask! If you find it difficult to participate in seminars, try writing out some ideas of interest or questions before you arrive. Having something written down may help you to speak with more confidence.
You may also be required to participate in an online discussion board where you summarize, synthesize, respond to or ask questions about the week’s readings or lecture topic. This is an opportunity to deepen your thinking about a subject, to demonstrate your understanding of course content, and to engage in dialogue with your peers and course instructor. Read our guide to successful participation in an online discussion board for more specific guidance.
Develop Your Listening and Notetaking Skills
University lectures can be quite different from what you are used to. Basically, a professor will stand at the front of a big room and talk to you for an hour or so, trusting that you will be able to listen to what is being said, figure out what is important enough to write down, think about the ideas being discussed, and develop questions. Often, the lecturer will also use PowerPoint, requiring you to read as well as listen. Your lectures may be recorded for you to review later, but this is not a replacement for attending class. We recommend thee steps: review before lecture, listen and note during lecture, and summarize after lecture.
Develop Your Reading Skills
Academic reading is almost always difficult reading. It is usually densely packed with ideas and implications that need to be thought out and considered. The result is that your reading will take time – lots of it.
It will also require that you read actively and critically. Critical reading involves breaking the argument down into its parts to see how well each part works and how parts of the argument work together. In high school you developed the ability to determine what the text says. Your post-secondary reading will challenge you to determine what a text does and how it does it.
Different types of texts are read differently; however, you can use a similar three-step process for reading them all: preview, read closely, and reflect/review.
- Guide to Reading Textbooks
- Guide to Reading Scientific Papers
- Guide to Reading in Humanities and Social Sciences
Develop Your Math Skills and Keep Up with Problem Sets
Don’t expect math in your studies at Trent? Think again; students are often surprised to discover the importance of math in many disciplines: for example, statistics are integral to research in psychology, geography, and environmental and resource studies; economics is discussed in international development studies, politics, and history; and math basics are necessary for nursing, accounting, and forensics.
Particularly for classes in mathematics, but also for problem-based courses like economics, statistics, physics and chemistry, you will be required to complete weekly exercises, which may be in place of or in addition to reading. Your success in these courses depends on your commitment to completing these exercises; working through problems, using formulae, and developing a mathematical vocabulary and skill base through practice will help you to make sense of course material that is more abstract and theoretical than the math you know from high school.
Another difference you may not expect: there is no in-class time to work on exercises; however, in some classes, voluntary workshop time is available. Lecture time is usually spent recording worked examples and taking notes on mathematical procedures and logic. As soon after class as possible, re-read your lecture notes and the section of the text that covers that topic. Use the margins to indicate important points and trouble spots. Then, work your way through the exercises assigned in the lecture, using the solved examples as a model. Some students find it helpful to work with a classmate or a study group to discuss solutions. If you get stuck, ask for help at workshops and labs or during your instructors’ office hours.
Often, you may not find a solution to a question on the first attempt; but if you persevere, you will probably find the solution later. For this reason, you must not wait until the last minute to do assignments or to prepare for quizzes and tests. Train yourself to think logically. Understand the procedure used to reach solutions. While it is unlikely that you will be able to memorize everything, you will be expected to know basic formulas and to understand when and how to use them.
- Academic Skills Resources for Math and Statistics, including new instructional math videos
Develop Your Writing Skills
Most of your marks will come from your writing, either in assignments or exams. It makes sense, then, to focus on developing your writing skills. Many students find the writing assignments at university to be different and more challenging than high school writing.
Writing and Analysis: Thesis and Evidence
The essay or research paper is the most common university writing assignment, but this form of writing differs considerably from writing in high school where your papers likely focused on providing detailed information to describe a topic. In a university paper, you will need to go beyond description to explain, analyze, and interpret a question, issue, or idea. This explanation or analysis becomes your argument or thesis, which you will support with detailed information or evidence.
The Writing Process
There are several consistent steps to writing a paper, no matter the length or subject. Try to be thoughtful about your approach to writing, and try not to leave your assignments to the last minute.
- Read assignment instructions closely. Break down questions and identify assignment requirements.
- Brainstorm/Review: What course material is relevant? How can I narrow the topic? What questions should I ask to understand and analyze the topic?
- Research/Read: Find and evaluate sources. Ask questions of sources and consider how to use evidence. Keep track of your sources.
- Think/Outline: Refine your thesis/direction. Organize your thoughts into paragraphs.
- Write a rough draft: Get your ideas down and revise them later. Cite your sources as you go!
- Revise for organization and analysis first. Proofread for clarity and grammar.
Value and Protect your Academic Integrity
Understand the expectations for original and independent work at university. As a registered student, you are expected to be familiar with the Undergraduate Academic Integrity Policy. Many students at Trent learn about the policy and how to maintain their academic honesty in a short online module, which is often required in 1000-level courses.
- How do I protect my academic integrity?
- Guide to Academic Integrity and Online Learning
- Academic Skills Guide to Documenting Sources
- Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism
- Trent University Undergraduate Academic Integrity Policy