When my little sister was about to start university, I felt I had a duty as the older sibling to pass on some words of wisdom. I ended up writing her a book. It covered such topics as studying, partying and furnishing your apartment. I doled out pithy advice like: “Ban TV!” and “Stay awake in class.” Overall, they were not very realistic suggestions. Now I have a little more experience. After all, I was a post-secondary student for 5 years. I loved university so much that I took two majors (journalism and biology) and a minor (music). I feel like I can talk about the experience with more authority now.
Getting yourself through school is a bit like running a marathon. It takes stamina and good planning to succeed. You have to pace yourself to avoid burnout, and everyone is working towards the same goal: to finish (preferably not last).
I now share with you a few pearls of wisdom I have accumulated throughout the years.
Items you cannot live without:
• A USB key: Back up all your assignments, because you never know when the battery on your laptop will spontaneously die.
• Some sort of coffee maker: Life is too short for instant coffee and you can save up to $640 per school year by making your own instead of buying. Look at Coffee Cost Tips and check out financial planner Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s awesome site for more financial advice.
• A planner: I have always found it helpful to use a planner that shows the whole month at once—makes it harder to procrastinate.
• Noise-canceling headphones: Roommates, residences and those loud girls in the library. Need I say more?
• A fan: Trust me on this one. Most student apartments have ineffective cooling systems and poor air circulation. A fan could be the difference between a good night’s sleep and the night from hell.
• A whiteboard: It may seem a little “Big Bang Theory” but a whiteboard is actually useful. You can organize your thoughts, write notes to roommates, write equations, make drawings and much, much more. It is a fun and functional object.
Get a study buddy
The best studying I ever accomplished was when I had a study buddy who was much more driven and had a longer attention span than me. I studied longer and harder, and I got to socialize during breaks.
Make a plan
Have you ever panicked the day before an exam because you realized that you forgot to study one of the units covered in class? Yeah, me too. It’s okay, we all do. To avoid this situation, list each unit and estimate the amount of time you would like to spend studying it. Then schedule the study times into your handy new planner (see above)! You will never forget again.
If the prof posts notes online before the class, print them out and give them the once-over. Chances are that one day you are going to miss a class. Reading the notes ahead of time helps you to bounce back from an absence and follow the professor’s train of thought more easily. It also helps you plan out questions you may want to ask for those topics you don’t, which brings us to our next point…
If you don’t understand what the professor is talking about, it is likely there are other students in the same boat. Ask questions in class. If you are really shy or if you feel that the topic will take a while to explain, write down your questions as they come up and visit the prof during office hours—this is what office hours are for!
My first apartment was a beauty. The kitchen had no drawers, there were silverfish in the bathroom, and my room was the size of a postage stamp. My roommate and I made it work by getting creative with stuff from the dollar store (everything for a buck—glory be!). We used plant pots to hold our cutlery, took advantage of vertical space to store our stuff, and used magazines to kill the bugs. The point to this anecdote is this: your apartment may not be ideal, but it can always be improved without spending too much money. I recommend starting with some plastic drawer units to store clothes and supplies. You can never go wrong with a little extra storage space.
Food consumption is often a point of contention between roommates. If you share groceries, it’s a good idea to come up with a budget (about $50 per person per week should do it). Pin an envelope to the fridge with a magnet. All roommates should put their grocery money in the envelope on Sunday. If there is any leftover money from that week, it can be put in a communal pot to buy beer. If everyone’s willing to work together, this system works beautifully!
When shopping for groceries, stay to the outer edges of the store where all the meat, produce and dairy are located. This way, you won’t be tempted by the pre-packaged goodies in the aisles. I think we have all spontaneously bought double-stuffed Oreos because of an aimless wander through the cookie aisle.
That is all my advice for today. Obviously, this doesn’t even begin to cover the entirety of the university marathon, but maybe it will help you get a little bit closer to that finish line.