My sister is staying over with me for Thanksgiving weekend because I’m the don on duty from Friday night to Monday morning in a building where most residents have gone to spend the long weekend off campus (she loves me after all!). Since she’s a grade 12 student, I thought I’d take the chance to pick her brain and find out what’s most worrying her and her peers about university. (Not so) surprisingly, I found out that it’s the same thing that I know worried my friends and I: the spike in difficulty between high school and university.
Some of my high school teachers did a great job of portraying university as this anxiety and stress-filled experience that had me dreading my future workload. As a student with grades solidly in the 90s, hearing a high school English teacher tell us she graduated with straight Bs and that it was “a miracle” for university was, frankly, terrifying, especially considering my plans even at that time involved law school.
So, the grade drop. Is it real? Yes and no. There’s definitely some truth to the point that your university professors will expect more from you than your high school teachers might have. You’ll also probably have more to worry about in university so it can be more challenging to keep your grades up if you’re not paying attention to them.
Personally, I’ve managed to maintain my grades pretty well since high school. Even nicer, my grades from second year were even better than first so hopefully I’m on the right track!
Let’s get to the good stuff. How do you avoid slipping grades?
1. Don’t let yourself fall behind. A student taking a full course load at Glendon typically has 15 hours of class a week. A week. If you’re thinking that’s not a lot of time, you’re right.
Don’t make the mistake of wasting all of your “free” time!! Your classes may only be 3 hours a week but your readings and assignments will take up a lot more time than you’re expecting, especially later in the semester. Build a study schedule from the get-go so that you’re not scrambling to catch up when the semester is at its busiest. You’ll probably also want to fill your schedule with extracurriculars, friends & family time, and maybe even a part-time job, so budget your time wisely.
2. Know what’s expected. This is so key, I cannot stress it enough. If you don’t do well on an assignment, always feel free to (respectfully) ask your professor or TA what you can do to improve on future assignments. Before all this though, read the requirements. On the first day of every class, you’ll receive a syllabus (aka a course outline) that will have EVERYTHING on it. This syllabus is your new BFF… or at least until the next semester comes around. A lot of the times you’ll also receive a handout specifically for a given assignment (and if not, the instructions are probably clearly outlined in the syllabus).
Read over these guidelines before, during and after writing and submitting an assignment. Important things like what you should actually do (vs. the hazy memory you have of your professor mentioning the essay in the first week), format rules, referencing style to use, submission details, etc. will all be contained in the document. Give yourself enough time before starting the assignment to check it over so that anything not covered can be clarified in class.
It’s also a good idea, for me anyway, to write down specific things your professor mentions when going over the assignment in class. For example, looking at an assignment handout I have on my desk, I’ve added in *make arguments that integrate all readings around single hypothesis which is probably a direct quote from my lecture and will help me know exactly how to go about completing my assignment.
Leslie Knope: making organization fun, always
3. Be present. Your time is valuable. The truth about university and academia is that sometimes it’s BORING. This is coming from someone who was too excited to sleep the night before the first day of class (in my 3rd year!) because of how much I love learning. It’s way too easy to zone out during a 3 hour lecture or midway through a 50 page reading. Sometimes you can control when you take a break – and when you can and would benefit from one, please take it! – but other times you’ve just got to refocus as best as you can and concentrate. I save myself a lot of catch-up time when I’m present and attentive during my lectures and readings. This way, instead of having to relearn concepts when it comes time for a test or exam, I already have a foundation because of how much better I’ve absorbed the material.
I’m an expert at daydreaming about irrelevant things at the worst times but paying attention in the moment will save you SO much valuable time
4. Get ready to work. I won’t do you the disservice of lying and saying that university’s a breeze and that no matter what, you’ll ace it. Your teachers weren’t lying; things get tough sometimes, especially when you’re balancing what feels like 100 different things. You can track down a never-ending list of tips to make university that little bit more manageable but when it comes down to it, your readings will only get done by you clearing your schedule and opening up that book. To get the grades, you have to put in the work. Work hard, work smart, and remember why you decided to go to university in the first place.
The sacrifices we make for our GPAs…
5. Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay. You can do this. You got into this program (go YOU!!) and you’re surrounded by people who both a) want to help you and b) have the skills and resources to do so.
Don’t know who to ask? Here are some of the many resources available to you on campus: your don (don’t live in residence? you can still talk to us!), your peer mentor, your professor, Counselling Services, etc. University can be a challenge but no one is expecting you to have it all figured out. Speaking from personal experience, asking for help when you need it can be difficult, but it will save you a lot of unnecessary stress to reach out. Everyone is here to help you, take advantage of it! And most importantly, believe in yourself. You’ve got this.
Future students: do you have any other questions or worries about university life? Current students: do you have any other tips to add? Drop me a comment below or come talk to me on Twitter @soniapGL!