Excelling at University: Six Quick Tips to Pass On
Heading off to university for the first time can be a thrilling and daunting experience (for the students and for the people who love them), but succeeding at university takes more than just a commitment to study. We’ve collected a few insights that we got from a former university professor that will make the college experience just a little more productive. So, here are our top six tips:
1. Get to know the subject librarian.
This sounds like unusual advice, maybe, but at any high-end university, the subject librarians have PhDs in their own right, and they’re really well networked. Which means that there is very little information on the planet that a serious librarian can’t find. If you get to know your subject librarian, and let them know what you’re researching, they’ll not only point you in the right direction, but they’ll proactively order materials that will facilitate your unique projects. More importantly, they’ll still be an invaluable resource for years after you’ve graduated. Have a question that you can’t answer? They’re the ultimate “phone a friend.”
2. Apply for all the extras.
Every department and every university has its own system of grants, fellowships, prizes, and awards. At universities like Harvard or Notre Dame, those come with substantial cash awards (usually funding specialized travel and research or honoring outstanding achievement). Students who consistently apply for these extra resources win a disproportionate amount of cash, because surprisingly few students know that they can and should be applying. But even if you’re at a smaller university with shallower pockets, winning these awards is a huge asset for your CV/Resume, especially if you’re planning to go for the masters or doctorate. Take a few minutes to look into the funding bodies at your institution; it’s definitely worth your time. And if you really want the gold star, spend an hour or two googling the national awards. “grant/fellowhip/prize/award” + “undergraduate” + “[your field of study]” is a good place to start.
3. Be smart about the writing center.
The writing center is staffed by a mix of exemplary undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. If all you need is a quick proofread, then any of these people can help you. But if you need help with something more important (like learning how to write winning grant applications or a stellar CV), then take the time to investigate the staff. You can specifically request time with a member of the English faculty, and they’ll be your best resource for more complex writing assists.
4. Be aware of the university’s full resources.
One of the fabulous things about being at a university is that they have intricate support systems for everything. And if you’re not shy about knocking on doors, you can find experts who can help with everything from nutrition advice and physical therapy to financial planning and formal counselling. Be bold about introducing yourself to all of the support staff. If you’re polite and strategic, you can use your university credentials to get free access to top-notch resources that will cost you thousands of dollars if you wait until after you’ve graduated. And you never know what might turn up—interested in law school? Ask the university’s legal department if they take interns. Valuable networking can happen in all sorts of unconventional ways.
5. Visit office hours before you sign up for classes.
Any student can pop in to any professor’s official office hours (usually listed on the department homepage) at any time. If you’re not sure which section of a course to sign up for, or whether you should take “Statistics” or “Differential Equations,” it’s a good idea to stop by and meet the professors. Just introduce yourself, tell them that you’re possibly interested in the course, and ask them for a little information. On average, it takes students less than 10 seconds to decide whether the professor is going to be a good fit, and if you sign up for courses with people that you actively like and respect…you’re setting yourself up for an excellent academic year.
6. Don’t forget to dress for success.
When you’re heading off to play a muddy game of ultimate frisbee on the quad, jean shorts and a university t-shirt are great. But when you interview for internships, formally present your work, or really want to make an impression, then you need to step up your game. Dressing well suggests to others that you’re self-aware and confident. More importantly, knowing that you look your best will make you feel awesome, and when you feel good about yourself, people take you more seriously. And that’s a feeling worth investing in.