September 10, 2012 marks possibly the last first day ever of my undergraduate career. I am still trying to figure out if I’m happy about my university career coming to an end, or maybe a little sad about it. Perhaps it will remain a bittersweet moment for now.
Saying that I’m in fourth year sounds extremely weird. I feel old, to say the least. I feel scared, to say a little more. I still remember my first day – walking up the stairs of the Museum subway stop onto the sidewalk, walking timidly towards St. Michael’s College and smelling the polluted yet wonderful smell of my city, and hearing shouting, drums, chants, talking, and very loud music. As I walked my little 17-year-old, sheltered, private school self to my first day of Frosh not knowing what to expect, it is safe to say that I was scared – very scared. Now that I’m in fourth year, it is not the university environment that scares me, but the real world. It is so weird how the place that I once feared to enter has become the place I fear to leave.
Enough of my personal reflection.
The topic of this post first occurred to me on the third day of school this year when one of my professors asked each person in the class to turn to the person next to them and share his/her method of keeping up with school. The 2nd year female who I had just met turned to me and said, “Well since you’re in fourth year, tell me what you do.” At that moment it hit me: I’m in fourth year. I am an experienced university student. I GOT THIS. As the week continued, this thought stuck with me and, as I thought about it more, I thought it would be a great idea to make my first post an informative one about techniques for keeping up with school. This post is not only for the younger students but for everyone – maybe I can even teach the fourth and fifth years something new!
1. Keep up with readings.
Okay, so by now, whether you are first or fifth year, we have all experienced the INSANE amount of reading university includes. Being an English and Media student, you can only image the amount of reading I have per week. Yes, there are many times when a slight anxiety attack attempts to creep up and kill me, but I’ve figured out a few techniques to basically be the boss of my reading.
Doing your reading for the week on Saturday or Sunday is an amazing way to free up your week for assignments and free time. I mostly dedicate my weekends to finishing readings for the upcoming week – this way I can attend class and actually know what the professor is speaking about and I do not have to worry about cramming in a reading an hour before class. Also, doing readings well before your classes helps you think and absorb the material better than rushing through it the night or hour before. Now, as good as this plan sounds, it sometimes becomes difficult to get all of your readings done on the weekend, but try for at least a little more than half of your weekly readings and I PROMISE your weekly stress will decrease by… well, a lot!
Of course this may not work for everyone, especially those who have part-time jobs or other commitments on weekends. This leads me to my next point…
2. Make time for a job and extra-curricular activities.
For many students, a paying job is a significant part of university life because, well, let’s face it, someone has to pay for tuition and textbooks! Although we need money, our jobs should not be our first priority. I have had a part-time job since first year and, trust me, I know there is no worse feeling than being at work and knowing that you have 50 pages to read, 3 assignments to do, and a midterm to study for. My advice here would be to work 2 days per week. In my experience, I found 3 days to be too much, 1 day to be too little, but 2 days to be just right. This obviously depends on your type of schedule and the number of classes you have, though. Working 2 days a week will not give you a ton of income but will still keep your account afloat, which is always better than no income. My suggestion for dealing with less income is to lessen your costs. Try packing a lunch instead of buying, try buying less expensive coffees (Tim Hortons instead of Starbucks!), try narrowing your entertainment (having people over to watch a movie instead of buying a ticket to see one), and, most importantly, proiritize your wants and needs. Do you really need another pair of shoes or that video game? Or can you wait and save until you have a little bit more to spend? A helpful trick that I credit to my parents is weekly budgeting. Each week, take out an amount that you think is good. For example, $40. This will be used for food, entertainment, and various other NEEDS. Try to budget this amount for the week and you will see how easy it becomes to prioritize your spending. Also, make sure you take out cash and spend this cash only. It is much easier to see how much you’ve spent and how much you have when it’s cash versus a piece of plastic (your credit or debit card). This is a useful trick that has gotten me through my university years and has really taught me to be careful with my money.
3. Have a social life. Wait, what social life?
Ah yes, the much-wanted social life. As the weeks begin to pass, it becomes more and more difficult to see friends, hang out with family, and attend events. Of course, we always want to be at this Friday night’s dinner or Saturday night’s party, but sometimes these things get pushed aside due to the incredible build-up of schoolwork that evolves. My advice here is simply: B-A-L-A-N-C-E. Try and do a bit of both. At times you will have to make sacrifices and miss out but, if you keep up with work, budget your money and construct a work schedule that works with your schedule and balance should be simple. It’s all about prioritizing and making sure that assignment is edited, printed, stapled, and ready to go before you hit the club. The one thing I frown upon is those who are all school and no social. This will get you amazing grades, yes, but what are you going to remember most from your university career? Those hours you spent in the library or those hours you laughed and laughed, surrounded by great friends doing fun things? Having a social life and doing well in school is are both very important elements to your university career and achieving balance in your schedule will help you have a way better time.
5. Rest, relax, and breathe.
My last piece of advice is simply to just chill. Find a moment every day to just stop what you are doing, rest, relax, and breathe. Clear your mind of everything you have going on and just focus on something else. Pausing for a moment will help you gather your thoughts and think straight so that you can continue on another task more efficiently and more calmly. For me, I close my computer, my books, and my phone, and just think of nothing. Sounds a little weird, but try it – I promise positive results!
Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope you all can take something away from this and I wish you all the best for this school year!
Until next time!