Many, if not all, of my posts have a bias toward grad school, being a grad student, and various issues that arise around grad studentness (like avoiding being an asshole). This got me to thinking that I was neglecting the portion of the university population that is perhaps even more confused than grad students. After all, the majority of new matriculations to any university will be undergraduates. So, from my own experience and some help from Twitter friends, I present to you the following list, which is by no means exhaustive, in number form. I have also attached gifs of kitties to each one because I am trying desperately to look hip.
1. You Are Not in High School Anymore
This should be obvious on your first day since I doubt your high school had a bar. There are other important differences, however, between university and high school. The first and most important is the academic expectations. Let’s say you were some sort of academic hotshot in high school — straight A’s, teachers’ prized possession, blah, blah, blah — well, you’re starting from square one in university. Nobody knows you or your reputation, nor do they care. Your achievements in high school got you into the school and that’s where high school stopped being useful for you. Many students can be overwhelmed by the workload, especially in conjunction with all the other things that occupy your time, during the first semester of university. Your best bet is to do the work to the best of your ability. That means showing up for lecture and/or tutorial (every time!) prepared and ready to listen, understand, and contribute; doing the required assignments on time, unless you have a really damn good excuse (a rarity); and asking for help. Profs will not keep track of you like Mrs. Scofield did. It’s not that they don’t care about your education, on the contrary, they care deeply about your education, but you are a friggin’ adult and they’re too busy to track down each of their hundreds of students for a little feelings session. Your profs and TAs have office hours so that you can go and talk to them. The students who do this will, in my experience, generally be the ones who do better or improve throughout the term.
2. Get Involved. Or Don’t.
During the first week of university there are all sorts of ad hoc events, activities, and clubs for you to join. Chief among these, I’ve been told by movies, are fraternities and sororities. It’s up to you whether you want to join in with any of these things. Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes that sort of thing. I am not the kind of person who gets involved with things and I really didn’t during undergrad. I mean, I tried some things, but I just had zero interest in anything other than doing well in classes. This could have been due to my starting university a bit later than most of my friends (I was 22). It’s entirely up to you what you do and don’t join. The advice here is, though, if your extra-curricular activities are impacting your studies negatively, the choice of which one to let go should be easily apparent. If it’s not apparent, let me spell it out for you: drop the extra-curricular activities and focus on your coursework.
3. Enjoy it. It Won’t Last.
This is good advice from a recent grad of my alma mater. So, yeah, university is supposed to be fun as well as educational. It prolongs the period between you and the so-called real world while, ideally, making you a better person than you were before. That last bit about loving what you learn. Damn. Just, yes. This means that you’re allowed to switch majors if you hate what you started out doing. Don’t do a degree in something you hate just because someone told you to or you think it will guarantee you a job or whatever (note: no university degree comes with the guarantee of a job). Whatever you do, enjoy it and get the most out of it. There will likely never be another time in your life that affords you this much freedom to pursue your own interests. Go ahead, take that dinosaur class. You know you want to.
4. Attend Lectures
I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Also worthy of mention is this article of the 5 things you should never say to your professors, which segues into the next point.
5. Talk to Your Professors and TAs
Again, I mentioned this above and its importance cannot be overstated. These people are the gatekeepers to your doing well in your courses. They really care that you do well. What they really don’t care about, though, is your excuses for why you didn’t do something and they will not chase you around for missing assignments. They are (or should be) available to talk with you either during their allotted office hours or at another time. Most profs and TAs I know are usually happy to arrange other meeting times if their office hours don’t fit your schedule. But, please, give plenty of notice. Don’t email a prof or TA as if you are on instant messenger. They’re not your friend, keep a professional distance and tone. So, now that you’ve decided to meet with your prof or TA, what do you say to them? Well, that’s up to you. You might meet with them early on in the semester just to introduce yourself or to discuss some aspects of the syllabus that you foresee yourself having trouble with or need clarification on. I recommend a meeting early on before any real problems arise. That way you’ve established a bit of a rapport that will come in handy when you have a pressing issue so you can get straight to business and avoid awkward small talk when you next come. I can tell you from my many lonesome office hours that they are not utilized to their fullest extent by many students. When a student did come to discuss something with me, I usually saw an improvement in that student. Was it something I did? No, not really. It was mostly the students who improved themselves because now they saw concepts or course material a little more clearly than before. Here’s a not-catchy-at-all slogan I just invented: office hours help get A’s.
Check back for the exciting conclusion of this post. I’ll also be doing a tl;dr version because who has time to read anything anymore? Amirite?