Arrive and Thrive: Your First Term at University
So, you’ve finally made it. Congratulations! Feeling excited? Nervous? Wondering what’s ahead, how you’ll do? University life can be exhilarating, nerve-wracking, confusing, illuminating, and, yes, sometimes boring. But no matter what happens, you will be forever changed by the experience.
You want to do well, right? Naturally. It’s also natural to keep on doing what has worked for you in the past; after all, you have reached university because you learned the skills and habits that bring academic success. However, you may notice that the learning strategies you've used in the past are not as effective in university, and different approaches are needed.
There is no formula for success at university or anywhere else. Just as you are unique, the experiences you will have, the problems you will encounter, and the solutions and methods that you will devise will also be uniquely yours. Consider the strategies we suggest, and then figure out what works for you. Remember, there is no one “right” way to do anything – there are many ways.
“University” is as much a state of mind as it is a place. When you become a university student, you do more than attend a particular institution; you enter into the world of scholars, a world that engages many cultures and reaches through time. You will be engaging with an intellectual community that has deep roots, and just as you will build on the work of others, future scholars may one day build upon the work you do. This is serious business!
But it is also fun. University is the place where you finally get to learn about things that interest you. And, herein lies the first key to how you can arrive and thrive: figure out what interests you and work on that. The best part is that by working on what interests you, you will be doing something that you really enjoy while you develop valuable skills like organization, research, analysis, and communication.
Your unique educational and life experiences will be valuable to you as you explore and adapt to this new and exciting world. To prepare for your first term, it can be helpful to consider the pace, purpose, and style of your studies. While there will be challenges, there will also be great opportunities to strengthen your learning skills and habits. Below, we highlight what you can look forward to when learning at university.
At university, you get to manage your own affairs. No one will make you come to class or hand in your work. No one will check in on you to make sure that you stay on track or contact your parents to express concern. Instead, they will allow you to make your own decisions.
Therefore, it’s important to make decisions that are in your best interest. You are now responsible for your own education and your own life, and there are many qualities that can help you to make good decisions about your education.
You have a responsibility to yourself. You get to take control of your education, choose your courses, make your own decisions, and act in a way that is in your own best interest. It is your responsibility to know your schedule and your deadlines, to follow the university’s academic integrity policy, and to seek out support or information when you need it. This sense of responsibility and independence is exciting but can feel a little overwhelming at first. Know that you don’t have to go it alone; there are many supports at Trent to help you along the way!
Your university education must be self-directed, the result of your choices, your abilities, and your desires. When you set the path of your education at university, you are more invested and committed to the work of learning.
University will expose you to new ideas and ways of doing things. Consider these new approaches carefully and completely. The views of your professors, university staff, and fellow students are based on training, experience, and study; theirs are “informed opinions.” This is what you have come to university to get: the training that is needed for you to develop educated and informed views. And you will – if you keep an open mind.
Furthermore, be open to new ways of learning. It may feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you at first, but there are staff and student mentors available to help you to navigate the university learning environment, including finding your way around campus, exploring the library, and becoming familiar with other useful tools you will use for research, writing, studying, and participating in class.
In university, you will encounter challenges and sometimes obstacles. Keep trying, keep learning, and keep asking questions, even when you feel like giving up. You will find that reward comes from hard work and dedication. Know that it is a common first-year experience to receive grades on tests or assignments that are lower than you expect. Take time to read feedback on your assignments, ask questions about your work, and reflect on your strategies so you can continue to grow as a learner.
Without a doubt, you will spend less time in class and yet do more work in university. Organizing your time will be essential as you will benefit from making daily plans to complete readings, attend classes, submit posts to discussion boards, complete homework or lab assignments, and other tasks.
- Spend 15-20 hours a week attending lectures, seminars or labs (or for online courses, viewing recorded lectures, reading course modules, or completing virtual labs)
- Be assigned approximately 150-250 pages of reading per week
- Spend approximately 20+ hours per week on weekly reading and review, assignments, problem sets, lab reports, or essays
- Write up to 60 pages per term for which they complete additional reading and research
While mapping your university course load, you may notice ‘crunch times’ during your term where multiple due dates overlap. Therefore, it will be helpful to plan ahead and organize your time so that you can get your class work done, get your assignments done (on time!), and have a life too. This is achievable with good planning and time management skills (more on this later).
- Read all communications from the university. Set up your email for regular access.
- Attend an orientation day for new students.
- Review the academic calendar and register for classes.
- Get a feel for university expectation and find resources to support your reading, writing, and thinking skills.
- Review your courses and understand the requirements for each. Make any necessary course changes soon.
- Explore the campus virtually or in-person and learn about supports. Orientation week activities are designed to help you learn about your new home, school, and community.
- Explore the library; complete the online tutorials.
- Establish a workspace that will work for you.
- Organize your courses; read your course outlines regularly.
- Make a time management plan for the term so that you can manage your time; include both your school work and your life.
- Get to class; establish good habits right away. Speak up; don’t be intimidated by anyone.
- Practice your listening and your notetaking skills; find a notetaking system that works for you.
- Develop reading, math, and writing skills to meet expectations for critical thinking and analysis.
- Review lecture and reading notes each week.
- Review and modify your study habits and time management plan as needed.
- Seek help if you need it.
- Persevere if you face set-backs and challenges!