COLUMN: 7 tips for first-year students

SFU Surrey student columnist shares what he's discovered about making it in first-year university.

COLUMN: 7 tips for first-year students

Having completed my first two semesters at university, I have learned a great deal about both myself and the university system. I am glad to say the post-secondary experience has thus far been quite rewarding.

One can find many practical tips on how to navigate and excel in the university system. Aside from hard work and diligence, I have compiled the following seven pieces of advice for high school students entering their first year this September.

1.  Learn your citations (and learn them well).

Almost any university subject requires students to know how to cite. This can be in APA, MLA, Turabian or other formats. It is important for students to learn how to cite their work properly. Otherwise, one could be penalized for plagiarism, which is an extremely serious matter in university work. Although some first-year professors will help you with citations, students should still have a general familiarity with the major formats. I advise high school students to practise some of the citation styles in the summer prior to entering their first year. This will allow them to deal with any issues before university courses commence. University libraries will often organize workshops and make online citation guides available. Although citations can require a long and meticulous process, they will help you throughout your university career.

2.  Create a course schedule.

Creating a balanced course schedule is imperative.  Often times, students rush into university thinking they know what they wish to major in.  Although one should have a general idea of what field he or she wants to pursue, it is not necessary to have your whole four years lined up. Taking subjects outside of your possible field not only allows for diversification, but is also required by many universities. I preferred taking half my courses as electives and half in my major area. This allowed me to make a decision about what to major in after I completed the two semesters. When choosing courses, students should also learn about the professor teaching the course. I recommend students use Although one has to take advice on this website with a grain of a salt, it does give students a general idea about the lecturer.

3.  Pre-read in the summer.

In the summer prior to entering university, I recommend students pre-read some of their subjects.  Students should pre-read two weeks prior to the first day if they have already purchased their books. Entering university can be an overwhelming experience. By reading some of the material prior to the course, one is already ahead of the game.

4.  Join one club, council or team.

Although academics should be the main focus, leading a well-balanced lifestyle is equally important. Make a goal of joining at least one club, council or team in the first year.

5.  Use an exam calendar.

When exam time rolls around, it can be extremely stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. As soon as exam month begins, use a planner or print out a calendar so you can count how many days you have left until exam day and divide up the chapters or units accordingly. Do this for each subject so each day, you can work your way through all the semester’s work.

6.  Search for scholarships.

Many scholarships are available to high school students, but first-year university students are often unaware scholarships are also available for them.  Continue to check your institution’s website for internal and external scholarships and bursaries. A little extra money for university never hurts. All it takes is a few hours working on your application.

7.  Don’t write off research.

For those students interested in pursuing research, do not make the mistake of thinking that opportunities are not available for first-year students. Having called a few professors myself, I have learned that in fact many prefer first-year students because the researchers are able to guide these students from the start. Even if you are unable to get a position because of course requirements, stay in touch with research professors that you want to conduct research with.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

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