With the fall semester beginning, a new wave of students will soon flood the school. If you are one of them, you probably have no idea what going to university today entails. Instead of going in blind, why not take note of some upper-year advice? It could help you avoid some of the fatal mistakes that we’ve committed before you.

Now, this may be obvious, but you actually do have to go to class. Your courses might not take attendance or ask for participation credits, but you can expect to lose points when you eventually take a test or complete an assignment. Often professors won’t write everything on the lecture slides, and asking friends for notes might net you some incomprehensible garbage, so you can only trust yourself to make sure you learn what you need. Not to mention, if you begin skipping occasionally, you can be sure that it’ll become a habit. Don’t allow your GPA to drop just to watch a Netflix show or play video games. There’s a time and place for everything.

Speaking of time, you should set up a study schedule. University is very different from high school, having a daily schedule for lectures and breaks will structure your time. There will be days where you’ll have a course at 10 a.m. with four hours to spare until your next class. Take advantage of these breaks to do your homework and study. Even if you don’t set up a study schedule, at least make sure you do your homework consistently. If a professor expects you to have read a chapter from a book, it’s because you need that information to understand and engage with the lecture and discussion. You can use tools like Google Calendar or UTM’s TimeTracker to set up a proper schedule and remind yourself to study, especially when online learning makes it all too easy to procrastinate.

Another vital tip to learning efficiently in university is to attend office hours. One-on-one conversations with professors are invaluable. Whether you have a question about the homework or the syllabus, nobody is a better source than your professor. Not only are they generally the best people to ask, but getting acquainted with your professors is something that many upper-years end up wishing they had done. Connecting with professors allows you to learn more about graduate programs and can lead to recommendations for internships, post-graduate applications, and work-study positions, among others. It’s going to be especially important to go to office hours this semester because you can never be sure whether the online format will allow you to showcase your knowledge in the same way that lecture rooms can. Moreover, the majority of professors genuinely want to engage and help their students, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them.   

In terms of finding friends, I recommend joining clubs. They can end up being a lot of fun if everyone gets involved. I’ve met some of my best friends at UTM because of clubs and even started one myself this semester. There’s no better way to find people with common interests than signing up for a club dedicated to said interests. There are a wide variety of clubs at UTM, including ones on movies, music, literature, activism, and mental health support. Although the format for many has changed, with many clubs moving online and offering virtual events, clubs continue to be a place for people to socialize and have fun. Finding connections with people who have similar interests in studies as you are also beneficial. It’s great to make friends with people in your program because you’re able to discuss the courses you feel passionate about and whether you like what you’re learning. So, reach out to students in your tutorials and lectures! It might help you realize whether you enjoy your career choice or not, and help you further engage with the course.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take care of your mental health. The Health and Counseling Centre is an excellent resource for students in need of medical assistance, and this includes personal counseling and other mental health support. Students are very vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression, so don’t feel afraid to reach out to people who are there to help. If you’re unsure about whether you should join a mental health club, trust the professionals whose jobs it is to help you stay healthy and safe.

Good luck with the new semester and remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and stay safe.

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