Best Side Hustles for University Students

Back when I was an undergrad, I had NO IDEA what a side hustle was. But now we are living in this amazing time where you can create your own part-time jobs that work around your schedule. Let’s talk about some of the ideal side gigs for university students. I’ll start by talking about my own side hustles, and go on to highlight some others that I think would be great for students!

My Side Hustles

Rover Pet Care

I became a dog sitter in July 2021 and I love it so much! I provide dog boarding and daycare services in my home, and you can also sign up to walk dogs, to play with dogs, or look after cats. You can also house and pet sit, which allows you to stay in the pet owner’s house while you watch their pet.

I have a couple of dogs that I look after during the week while their owners are at work, and I board dogs occasionally when their owners are out of town. Because I already have a dog, the time commitment is minimal, and I enjoy it. Because my classes and work are all from home, I just build my schedule around meetings and dog walks!

I have always enjoyed looking after my friends’ dogs, but this way I get paid for it! You can sign up at Rover.com (if you use this link, I get a referral fee). You just have to do a criminal record check, which costs $20, but in my experience, I made that back quickly.

The amount of money you can make really depends on how often you take on pets, and what services you provide, but if you are in a city you can generate a consistent income.

In terms of risks, you are working with pets, so there are some challenges. My own dog had to spend one night on the kitchen counter because I took on a big puppy that was very energetic and didn’t understand that she didn’t want to play, but we sorted it out and now I don’t take on puppies very often.

If you’re bringing your dogs into your home, make sure it’s okay with your family or landlord. I am grateful to be in a pet-friendly building, and I look after a lot of the neighbours’ dogs when they are away, so nobody seems to mind.

I also just listened to this podcast episode from the Side-Hustle School about a woman who travels by booking Rover house & pet-sitting gigs in her destination cities. So she gets paid for her vacations AND gets free accommodation, and just has to look after dogs and house-sit.

Etsy Store

I started an Etsy store in 2021 and it has been fun! I make adult colouring pages. I draw them by hand and then scan them to make PDF colouring pages to print at home. I also created a vision-boarding guide, which has been slightly more successful than my colouring pages.

If you have a creative passion, you can definitely set up an Etsy store. But make sure you have a look at products similar to yours to see what others are charging, and determine whether that’s worth it for you. Also, Etsy takes fees from each listing and sale, so make sure you familiarize yourself with those.

You also need to think about how you’ll market your products, no matter what they are. Although a few exceptional folks get all the traffic they need through the Etsy platform, that may not be enough. Many people have additional websites, blogs, or social media accounts to sell their Etsy products. I created an Instagram account for my colouring pages, and it has actually been a lot of fun connecting to other artists that way.

Online University Advisor

I created ChooseYourUni.ca in 2021 after thinking about the idea for ages. I host webinars and online courses, as well as publishing this blog and posting on social, all with a goal of helping current and soon-to-be university students.

You can read more about why I started this here, but basically I know a lot about university and thought it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned.

I earn money when students sign up for my webinars and online courses. My goal has been to keep everything affordable for students, but to be compensated for the work I put in.

What skills or knowledge do you have that not everybody does? Is there something you could help people with? You may be able to build an online course or do some online coaching around that topic!

Blogging

I started the ChooseYourUni blog almost a year ago, and up to this point I have not actually monetized it. But that’s a choice I made – it is definitely possible to monetize a blog! You can do advertising or affiliate marketing.

You can add ads to your blog, and then you get paid from the advertising companies when people view your ads.

Affiliate marketing is basically when you promote a product or service and receive a commission. When you have a blog or website, you can sign up for different affiliate programs depending on the type of products or services you want to promote. There are some, like being an Amazon affiliate, that will earn you a small commission for a broad range and number of products. You could also arrange a very specific affiliate program with a partner and get a larger commission. It really varies depending on the agreement.

Contract Work

Since I worked full-time before I went back to uni to do my PhD, I had a number of connections in my industry. They are mostly familiar with my expertise and will reach out when they need someone to work on a project, and I can also reach out to them to see if they have any work.

This is kind of like starting an online course – think about what skills you have that might be in-demand, and then work through your network to see if there is anyone who needs that work.

Side Hustle Ideas

These are side hustles that seem well-suited to university students. I’ve thought about doing a few of these, and I think that university students are likely to have the skills needed for some of these.

Proofreader

Are you the one your friends turn to for help crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s in their papers? If so, then proofreading may be a good choice for you. You can set yourself up on a number of freelancing websites (like Fiverr) to find paying clients. Until you get some good reviews, you may have to charge less. But once you have had a few happy clients, you can increase your prices. There are also a number of online courses and resources to help you learn how to do this.

Copywriter

Copywriting is about writing text for websites or other forms of communication. If you have some knowledge of marketing and sales as well as communication, this could be a good side gig for you! As with proofreading, there are a number of online courses and certifications you could take, and then you can become a freelancer, either through your existing connections or through a freelancing website.

Tutor

If you made it to university, you were probably pretty good in a few high school subjects, right? Why not tutor high school students or even early-year university students?

You can sign up with a tutoring agency, but of course they will take a cut of your earnings. You could also work through your networks! Get in touch with your high school teachers to see if they can help promote you, or reach out to younger students you know. Have a look at how much other tutors are charging – you can actually charge quite a bit!

Social Media Manager

If you grew up with social media, you have a gift that the generation before you may not have. I’ll speak for myself – trying to figure out how to use social for ChooseYourUni was a huge learning curve for me, and I’m still not getting A+ grades. But you probably already know more than me! And I know I am not the only one who feels like this.

If you have skills in design, communication, and marketing, you could manage an organization’s social media for them. You can organize photos, create graphics, and plan a social strategy with them. Reach out to smaller organizations, post your offer on a freelancing site, and look for part-time job postings.

Transcription

If you can type really fast, you can be paid to transcribe audio recordings. This work can be done through a transcription agency or on a freelancing site. Basically, you would receive an audio file and you would have to type up what’s in it.

What Should You Look for in a Student Side Hustle?

The criteria for your side hustle will be up to you. One of the benefits of these types of side gigs is that they are flexible, and you can do a lot of them in your spare time, between all your other commitments. When you have limited time, it might be ideal to find something that pays the most in the least amount of time.

You may also want to consider how the side hustle will contribute to your resume and future employability. Dog sitting may be helpful for illustrating your transferable skills, like making a commitment and showing up, if you have very little other work experience. However, something with more applicable skills may be more helpful. For example, freelancing work shows your ability to work independently and manage a project, or managing an Etsy store can help you gain experience in marketing and customer service.

There are loads of side hustle and freelancing opportunities for students that I haven’t listed here. You can turn all sorts of skills into freelancing gigs: from drawing and design to programming and writing. Think about what you are good at, and what you can help people with.

You may also be interested in these posts on student work experience and career exploration:

Myths About University

What are the myths you’ve heard about university? You might not even know they’re not true!

Well-meaning teachers, guidance counsellors, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances may all share what they know about university with you. But it may be very subjective, or opinion-based, or just plain incorrect!

Below, I’m sharing two of the beliefs that I have heard from students over the years, and deconstructing them. These are both about post-bachelor’s degree employment: Will you make enough money, and will you find a job?

Myth #1: You’ll never make any money if you study something you like

Your degree and major will impact how much you earn after graduation, this is true. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t make any money studying something you enjoy! I’ve pulled some information from Statistics Canada (StatsCan) below showing median salaries for different types of degree a few years after graduation. The amounts vary quite a bit so I encourage you to do specific research for your area of study (you can use the links in the Resources section at the bottom of the page).

My purpose here is just really to show that you have options, and that it’s necessary to do some research. You might want to think about what “any” money means. Yes, there are certain degrees that make more money. But if you hate studying those subjects, is it worth it to struggle through your degree and then end up working in that area for many years? Maybe it is for you, but maybe it’s not.

We make lots of assumptions about what majors will result in the highest income. If you look below, the sciences are not that far ahead of social sciences, and there are other fields like business and management that earn more than the sciences. Yes, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees are the highest paid, but the social sciences are not that far behind, comparatively. Also, health subjects are way up there, even for an undergraduate degree.

Check out how much students are earning five years after getting their undergraduate degree (these numbers median incomes for students who graduated in 2014, how much they were earning in 2019, according to StatsCan). Remember that these are median salaries, so that means they are just the mid-range (not the average).

Field of StudyAnnual Salary
Humanities$48,800
Social & Behavioural Sciences & Law$52,600
Physical and Life Sciences & Technologies$58,800
Business, Management & Public Administration$63,200
Mathematics, Computer & Information Sciences$74,200
Architecture, Engineering & Related Technologies$76,800
Info from StatsCan – see Resource #1 below for full details.

StatsCan actually has a really cool tool where you can see the comparative median incomes of the class of 2014 both two and five years after graduation. Click the image to head the website, and you can filter more specifically. If you’re looking for more detail on a particular area of study, click the image below to visit the site and use the filters to see different subjects.

You can also filter by province to get the most accurate information for where you plan to live and work.

Screenshot from Statistics Canada dashboard showing the salaries of students who graduated in 2014, 2 and 5 years after graduation.
StatsCan Interactive Tool: click image to visit site.

So now when somebody tells you that you’ll never make any money with a Bachelor of Arts or Education, you can give them an actual number of the amount previous grads are earning!

Remember, you should also be doing your own career research before and throughout university so you have the most up-to-date information.

Myth #2: You’re never going to get a job with a degree in THAT!

Again, the best way around this is doing career research before you start university and then while you’re a student. You can read more about this here:

But if you’re looking for some general data about post-degree employability, once again we can turn to the 2016 census. This table shows the employment rates of people aged 25-34 with bachelors degrees at that time. You can also head to the link in the Resources section below to see more specific information.

DegreeTotal in WorkforceEmployed (%)Unemployed (%)
Any1,018,275960,565 (94.3%)57,710 (5.7%)
STEM240,510225,215 (93.6%)15,290 (6.4%)
non-STEM777,765735,350 (94.5%)42,415 (5.5%)
Info from StatsCan – see Resource #3 below.

Additionally, those numbers are from 2016. However, the national unemployment rate in 2016 was 7%, and in 2021 it was 7.5%, so we can assume the numbers might be similar while we wait for the 2021 census data to be published.

Unfortunately, the table above only shows those who were participating in the workforce, and it doesn’t show how much they are working or whether they are working in a field related to their studies. This data can be found for British Columbia (resource #4 below) where they indicate that 75% of those with bachelor’s degrees are working in an area related to their studies, but there is not a lot of detail on how far out from graduation these folks are. I’ll keep searching and update this page if I find more information.

What should you do with this information?

My goal with providing this information is to arm students against some of the myths about university degrees that are out there. We hear things that are stated as facts by people we trust: parents, teachers, counsellors, but we need to check that they really are facts before we believe them.

You should still be researching specific jobs and careers that may be of interest to you after graduation, because the statistics above are very broad and don’t give a lot of information about the types of jobs these students end up with or the salary ranges.

But hopefully deconstructing these myths about university has been helpful for you to see how necessary it is to do your research!

Resources

  1. Statistics Canada Median Salary Info by field of study, bachelor’s degree.
  2. Statistics Canada 2016 Salary Info for particular careers.
  3. Statistics Canada 2016 employment rates.
  4. BC Student Outcomes Data.

The ChooseYourUni.ca Origin Story

Have you ever wondered why I started Choose Your Uni? Below, I’m sharing my origin story, from lost undergrad to confident professional and PhD student!

TL;DR

I had every advantage possible when I did my undergrad, but I still struggled to understand what I was doing there and then couldn’t figure out how to leverage my degree into a career. It took me many years to figure it out, and now I want to take everything I’ve learned since then to help other students have a better undergrad experience.

My Undergraduate Experience

If you look at student success research (which I have), there are certain things that are connected with student success:
✅parents who got university degrees
✅going to a high school that informs students about university choices
✅getting involved on campus
✅feeling a sense of belonging at the university

I met all of these but still felt lost when I went to university. My parents had gone to university and expected me to go (this was not optional for them), and I also had friends from my high school who went to the same uni. After I picked my major, I got involved in my departmental student union, holding positions of secretary, student society rep and president, so I was quite connected on campus. My program was small, so I got to know my professors and could go to them for help, plus I saw the same people in a lot of my classes for my major. I studied a subject I really enjoyed, and even though it was challenging, I managed to get good grades.

And of course, there were challenges. I remember going to the academic advising office to ask about selecting my major, because I thought an advisor would give me… well, advice! But she told me that if I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, she couldn’t help me. It turns out her job was just to tell me the technical requirements to declare after I had chosen – not to help me figure out what I wanted to study. My mom’s advice was to “study something you enjoy,” so I did that and declared a major in French and signed up for a Spanish proficiency certificate instead of a minor. I did get to go to Quebec and France, and I eventually finished my BA after about 5 years (because I was also working part-time).

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts

Now, here’s the embarrassing part: When I graduated, I thought everyone would want to hire me. Everyone said that if I went to university, I’d get a good job! Since I finished university, I thought someone was just going to hire me and start paying me $50K/year. I had no idea what the job was, or how I would get it, but I still expected to get it. And I say it’s embarrassing because now I can see the privilege and naïvité associated with that. Part of the reason I thought this was because my parents both had good careers after going to university. But part of the reason I thought this was a combination of my lack of experience and that constant messaging from family and high school about how “going to university gets you a good job,” without any actual tangible information about career planning. So although I’m embarrassed, at that age and with the very little (zero!) career experience I had, it also kind of makes sense.

Student Affairs Professional

After a couple of years working in a call centre, which paid very well but wasn’t very fulfilling, I found my way back to my Alma Mater and into the field of student affairs. Student affairs professionals are the university and college staff who support students but generally are not professors: they work in residence, orientation, academic advising, career development, leadership, etc.

In this field I had the opportunity to work in academic advising, student recruitment, admissions, curriculum development, course scheduling, and more. It was through these roles that I discovered that many students were just as lost as I had been. I thought I had been the only one, but it turns out that lots of students are just as lost.

I also had the opportunity to learn about career development in these roles, and through my own experiences I was able to get on my own path and figure out what I wanted to do. It was through this planning that I explored different options through volunteering and continuing my education, and also getting to do a Masters degree that was covered by my workplace.

Becoming a Full-Time Student Again

In 2020, I was admitted to a full-time PhD program studying higher education at OISE, University of Toronto, which was a dream come true. I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and was now spending most of my time reading and writing papers, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

I also collaborated with a colleague on a research project that involved student interviews, and listening to these students’ stories also really inspired me. Many of them were first-in-family to go to university, or first in Canada, and they didn’t all get help from their guidance counsellors in high school. Their parents were supportive but didn’t have experience navigating university systems here. I was reminded of my own experience, and so many students I had worked with in the past who had questions or challenges starting university, and I knew I could do something to help.

After completing most of my course work, I finally had some space in my schedule to launch something I had been thinking about for a long time: Chooseyouruni.ca, a resource to help students feel less lost by providing some of the information that high schools and universities don’t necessarily share with you. Because of my own experiences as a student, in student affairs, and studying higher education, I have some expertise to offer to help other students!

ChooseYourUni.ca

I built this resource to provide information to students who were lost like I was: how to pick your program and university, start your career planning, and excel in your studies. As I received more student questions, I added more: time management, motivation, organization… and I am still building!

So now, here I am, almost a year after launching! I have students regularly checking out my blog for study tips and university navigation info, and I’m offering live webinars and will be launching my first online courses in the next few weeks!

More About Me

If you’re wondering what else I do, I also work as a research assistant with my PhD supervisor, have a communications internship with a professional association, volunteer with another professional association, and am a dog-sitter through the Rover app, in addition to various part-time contract work in higher education. My PhD research is on equity policy and how universities implement change as they take up new institutional level policies at different levels.

I hope you are finding Choose Your Uni helpful, and I always love hearing from other students, so please feel free to email me with your questions: email@chooseyouruni.ca.

If you want to stay in touch on social, I’m on these channels. I post study tips, career tips, announcements, and scholarship info.

If you’re wondering where to head to next, these are my most popular blog posts:

You can find my webinars, courses and events here:

I also have an email newsletter called Wednesday Wisdom. I share study tips, new blog posts, and information and announcement on upcoming events. You can sign up here:

How to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination is something we all face at some point, even though we know we should just get our work done. I am always so amazed by students who finish assignments before the deadline – I’m one of those people submitting at 11:59pm. So how can we beat procrastination? The first step is figuring out the cause, and then how to overcome it.

I was working quite a bit when I did my undergrad and masters, so it was less about procrastinating and more about trying to get my work done in the limited time I had. I didn’t necessarily start my work early – I was just constantly trying to make room on my to-do list to get onto my upcoming assignments.

When I became a full-time PhD student, this totally changed. My first year was coursework, which is not that different from other levels of courses. But now I was not working very much, and had all the time to dedicate to studying. And I procrastinated more than I ever thought possible!

To resolve this, I had to figure out what the problem was. Why was I procrastinating? Why wasn’t I motivated to study (when I was definitely interested in learning)? How could I turn myself from an unmotivated university student into a thriving, A+ studier?

Why are you procrastinating?

Procrastination doesn’t always have the same cause, so in order to overcome procrastination, try to figure out why you are doing it. This takes some soul-searching and can be challenging. If you are having trouble figuring out why you aren’t motivated to get your work done, try talking to a trusted friend, family member, or counsellor about it. Sometimes other people who know us well can see our blind spots!

Perfectionism Procrastination

This was my problem, but I had a lot of trouble seeing it. I thought I just didn’t know where to start. In reality, I just had to sit down and start ANYTHING, but because I wanted my papers to be perfect, I was waiting until I had the perfect idea or knew how to start perfectly.

All of this was just a fear of not producing a “perfect” paper. But this is counter-productive, because by not starting my papers earlier, ultimately I had less time to work on them.

This could be you if you spend more time envisioning that A+ or the gold star from your professor, but have yet to put pen to paper. This could also be you if you’re waiting for inspiration or a good idea to get started.

Beating Perfectionism Procrastination

Doing something is always more helpful than doing nothing, so my way of moving through this was just starting with small pieces. If a 30-page paper is too intimidating, take 15 minutes to review the instructions and brainstorm ideas; Take 20 minutes to read one article on your topic; Take 30 minutes to start outlining your paper.

The pomodoro method may also be useful for you in this case. You can read more about pomodoros in this post, but essentially this is where you study for a short period, and then take a short break. You can adjust the lengths of the study periods and breaks so they work for you – if I’m not very motivated, I’ll study for 20 minutes and then take a 20 minute break.

Breaking your project into the smallest steps possible may also be useful. It’s intimidating to write a 30-page paper, or review an entire semester of content! Take 15-20 minutes to organize your project or study plan and break it into the smallest pieces possible. This is much less scary and helps you to see that you can and are making progress as time goes on.

Taking a small step is better than taking no step, and is much less intimidating.

“I Work Better Under Pressure” Procrastination

When I hear this from somebody, I always think to myself “Really???” I’m a bit skeptical. Yes, I believe that you work better with a deadline. But I don’t think that’s because of the “pressure.” I think it’s because you are better at being accountable to external influences than to yourself.

I am this way, too! A lot of us are. For example, it took me a couple of years of thinking about this blog to start it. Now that it’s there, I keep working on it because I am accountable to my audience .

Building Accountability to Defeat Procrastination

If you are better at working with deadlines that are put on you by others, you can leverage this to procrastinate less by building in some external accountability yourself. This may mean organizing a study group and building a schedule together. It could mean setting a date to exchange your draft paper with a friend and give each other feedback. It could even mean asking someone you trust, like a friend or even a parent, to check in with you on specific dates and remind you that you set yourself a goal. You could also book office hours with your professor or TA and set a goal to do a certain amount of work before you go.

How can you engage those around you to help you build external accountability into your work? Who are the folks you can work with to build some support for yourself?

Procrastination Due to Overwhelm

Are you procrastinating because your brain is going to explode? Does thinking about the work you have to do make you want to throw up or cry? Does it all just feel like too much?

Sometimes we procrastinate because we need a break. As students, if we don’t plan properly for rest and breaks, our brains and bodies will take the breaks anyways.

It can seem counter-intuitive to take a break when your to-do list is a mile long. I get it! But what is the impact of not taking a break? If you’re heading into overwhelm territory, or even burnout, that’s going to make you less productive than taking an afternoon off.

Tackling Overwhelm to Stop Procrastinating

There are different solutions to this. The suggestions above may help: short periods of work with lots of breaks, breaking your work into small steps, just working for short periods, seeking support from your social group.

You might really just need a break! Think of an activity that helps you to feel rested and re-energized to keep studying. Plan that activity into your schedule – ASAP! Make sure that you are also taking enough breaks from studying to take care of yourself: eating properly, getting exercise, and socializing.

You might also feel better if you got some things off your to-do list. Are there any tasks that you can just power through and get done? Anything that isn’t important right now that you can postpone for later? Focus on the most important tasks and set other items aside for now.

More Tips for Students Who Procrastinate

Remember your end goals, whatever they are, and focus on those. What can you do today to move you towards your dream career, or towards graduation? Sometimes focusing on the bigger picture will help you remember why you’re studying at university and this may take some of the pressure off.

Take the time to figure out why you’re procrastinating. Procrastination is a symptom of other challenges, so in order to defeat it, you really need to figure out what’s going on for you. We’re all different, so although it can be helpful to look at what works for others, you will need to figure out the best solution for you.

Don’t beat yourself up. We all procrastinate at some point. I know it can feel like everyone around you has got it together and you’re the only one struggling, but I assure you this is not the case. I have it together, ut sometimes I struggle. That is totally okay!

Being a student is difficult. You are challenged regularly, whether it’s professionally, academically, or around studying skills and time management. University student life is hard. Be kind to yourself, and remember that it’s hard for almost everyone. And those people who find it easy are something else!

Check out these three posts to read more on motivating yourself to study:

How to Read Academic Articles Effectively

Reading and assessing academic articles can be challenging when you’re new to it. They’re not always clear, and they tend to be really long and complicated. If you set out to read every article from start to finish, you will never get your research done! It’s important to learn how to read academic articles effectively so that you can get through them efficiently, but still understand their content.

Below, I’ve reviewed the different sections you’ll find in academic articles, and then show you how to skim an article quickly. I’ll also highlight how to find the key points of an article, and then explain how to keep your research organized with a spreadsheet or reference manager (or both). Finally, I’ll add a little about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

This post is about reading and understanding academic articles. For more information on conducting research, including assessing the quality and relevance of an article for your research, you should also read this post:

Sections of Academic Articles

Title

The purpose of the title is to provide information about what is in the article. You won’t often see “fun” titles on articles. In fact, when you do see a unique title, you are much more likely to have to get into the abstract to find out what the article is about! Of course the title is the first thing you’ll read and assess to see if you want to read the rest of the article.

Abstract

The abstract is a short paragraph at the beginning of a paper that summarizes what it’s about. This is a great starting place before you get into the whole article because it will summarize the basics of the paper. What is it about, why did they do it, what kind of research did they do, and what did they find. This is the first thing you should read, to see if it’s even worth keeping the article and reading the rest of it.

Background/Introduction

This section provides the background for the research. What previous research has already been done on this topic? What has already been found? Reading this section can help you find other articles on similar topics for your own research. It can also help you understand what aspects of this topic have previously been studied and what has been said about it.

Methods

The methods section tells you more about the type of research and how it was done. What kind of data was used and where did it come from? It is important to understand how your researchers came to their conclusions, so you’ll want to take a look at this section.

Findings

This is where the researchers tell you what they discovered in their research, in detail. The findings are the detailed results of the study and will include a lot of information about what they learned.

Discussion

In the discussion, the authors highlight the most important findings from their research and connect them to the background information to highlight the relevancy and importance of their findings. Most researchers will also include information on areas in which further research is required.

Conclusion

The conclusion is a short summary of the research and the most important findings, including information about why these findings are the most relevant. It may also connect them to other research or next steps, such as further research or validation of their findings.

How to Skim an Academic Article Quickly

The first things you should read are the title, abstract, and then discussion and conclusion.

Title & Abstract

You should always start with the title and abstract, because these are going to give you the very basic information about the study. Once you’ve read the abstract, you should know whether you should keep going and whether the article is sufficiently related to your research topic to keep reading

Discussion & Conclusion

The discussion and conclusion will tell you what the ultimate findings of the article were, which will indicate whether it’s useful for your argument. Because these sections share the most relevant findings from the study and relate them to important contextual and background information, they will help you see how the research relates to your own research.

When Should I Read the Whole Paper?

You should read the whole paper if you are relying significantly on it to support your argument. Here is what you should be looking for in each section:

Introduction/Background

The introduction and background sections are really helpful when you are getting started on a topic, because they will cite other articles that might be helpful for you to look up, as well as providing the contextual information for the study. You can use this to understand the main arguments that have been made about your topic, as well as understanding how that topic has been approached in the past.

Methods

Read the methods section to understand how the researchers arrived at their findings and conclusions. If you are using an article to support your argument, you will need to understand how they conducted their study and why it is reliable, as well as how their methods may have impacted the findings. The methods will explain how the researchers came to their findings.

Findings

The findings section will explain everything the authors found through their research. Although the discussion and conclusion will highlight particularly relevant findings, this section will tell you everything they discovered, including anything that was unexpected or that was inconclusive. The findings section will help you understand why the discussion focuses on particular aspects of the findings and not others.

Reference Managers

Reference managers are programs and apps that will help you to manage your readings. There are free ones, and ones that cost money – but your university may have subscriptions so you don’t have to pay personally.

You can save all the papers you read in a reference manager so that you can refer back to them. Many of these also connect to Word and/or Google docs and can easily insert your citations (in-text and the reference list) already formatted for the appropriate style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc). This is more important if you plan to go to grad school, because you can keep track of all your research throughout your academic career. Check your university’s library website to find out if they support particular reference managers. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Zotero

Zotero is a free reference manager that also has search capabilities, meaning that it can help you find articles related to the ones you add to it.

Mendeley

Mendeley is another free reference manager. It has most of the same features as other reference managers and is easy to get to know.

EndNote

EndNote has a fee associated with it, but this is my preferred reference manager. You can save all your papers, as well as their info, as well as adding your own notes and keywords.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets (in Excel, Google sheets, or other) can also be helpful for collecting your research papers, because you can add columns that are specifically relevant to your own topic. These may be the country, or methods, or a comparison of the findings. A spreadsheet can be easier for making quick comparisons between different papers. You can use a spreadsheet in addition to one of the reference managers above, or to replace them entirely.

Plagiarism

When you are taking notes and adding the ideas of others in your papers, make sure you are giving them appropriate credit. This means, in your own notes, you need to make sure you’ve indicated that something is a direct quote, so that if you add it to your paper you can indicate this. And remember that whether it’s a direct quote, or a paraphrase, you need to attribute it to the original authors.

Using someone else’s ideas without crediting them is called plagiarism and you can get in trouble for this at university. An aspect of academic research is using others’ ideas to build and support your own arguments, but you have to give credit to those folks for their ideas. Make sure you know which citation style you are supposed to use, and that you are crediting the ideas of others properly so you can avoid plagiarism.

Check out this post to read more about how to do research for your university courses:

Online Learning Success

I think in these past few years we’ve all seen the positives and negatives of taking courses online. I started my program in September, 2020 and we actually never went back to on-campus learning. As of writing this, I’ve been in my “in-person” program for two years without setting foot on campus because my faculty’s building never re-opened. Now I’m sharing my best tips for online learning success.

There are a number of benefits to studying online, but they come with some extra challenges that students have to overcome. Let’s get more familiar with online learning and find out the best ways to succeed at it! In this article, I’m going to go through different types of online course content, the pros and cons of studying online, and then some tips for you to try.

Top tips for success in online courses: Manage your time carefully, Attend online courses actively, Eliminate or reduce distractions, Take mini-breaks regularly, Create or join a study group.

Different Types of Online Classes and Components:

Make sure to check your course syllabus for the details. Instructors may choose more than one of these options, and the requirements will vary. Online learning success comes from understanding the expectations of your specific course.

Synchronous Classes

Synchronous courses happen in real time, which means you will likely have a live online meeting (such as a scheduled lecture on Zoom or another online learning platform). Not all professors record these classes, so you should definitely check into that if you do not plan to attend. The expectation with these courses is that you will attend at the specified time. There may also be other asynchronous components to the course – online discussions, videos to watch, etc.

Asynchronous Classes

These courses don’t have scheduled components that you have to join at a specified time. This does not necessarily mean that you can learn at your own pace – there may still be weekly modules for you to complete in a specific order, with deadlines. An asynchronous online course might consist of recorded lectures and associated learning activities that you complete on your own, usually within a specified time frame (ie weekly).

Recorded or Live Lectures

Some instructors will pre-record their lectures, while some will do them live. Instructors who keep live lectures may also record them for any students who missed the class, or if you want to go back and review.

One benefit of recorded online courses is that you can speed it up or slow it down, and skip or rewatch different parts of the video. On the other hand, in live classes you may be able to ask questions or for further clarification.

Personally, I know I will be much more accountable to a live class that’s at a certain time. With the recorded class, I have to have the self-discipline to watch it at a set time each week, which is more challenging.

Online Discussion

Many university courses that had participation marks when they were in-person replaced in-class discussion with online discussion posts. This is where you have an online discussion by posting short written discussion pieces and responding to one another. Instructors may want you to post and respond a certain number of times each week, or to lead a discussion one week, or something similar.

I personally find that these are usually time-intensive and I don’t find them very valuable, so I try to take courses without them if I can. But if you’re the quiet type who doesn’t like speaking up in class, this may be a good way to get your participation marks in online courses.

Group Projects

Yes, you still have to do group projects in online courses! How annoying is that?

As if trying to organize regular group projects wasn’t hard enough, when you’re in an online course you could be working with much more difficult schedules: different time zones, diverse work schedules, very different time commitments.

The first things you’ll want to establish are your meetings and methods for communication. Are you going to use a group text? Email? Whatsapp? Discord? Make sure you pick something that all of you can commit to checking regularly.

Make sure you’re clear on the requirements for the group project. I know it can seem easiest to just do it all yourself, but if there are team evaluations or requirements for each person to do an equal amount of the project, you’ll want to make sure you divide it up properly.

Pros and Cons of Online University Courses

Advantages

No commute time! You don’t have to carry all your things on the bus and then around with you all day!

You don’t have to sit in a packed lecture hall during cold and flu season!

You can wear your pyjamas all day!

It is often easier to fit online courses around your schedule, so if you are a working student online courses could be a good choice. Make sure you check the requirements of the course and make sure you can meet any meetings or synchronous components.

Disadvantages

It’s much harder to get to know your classmates and professors in an online course. If you want to get to know them you will have to put in more effort. If you are going to need a reference letter from a professor, make sure you are wroking on this so they know who you are.

Some professors are not great at online teaching and don’t make it very engaging, which can lead to boring courses. Sometimes professors try to just shift their regular course online, which doesn’t always work well.

Challenges

I’ve tried to come up with some of the most common obstacles to success when you’re studying remotely.

First and foremost, I will mention time management. I have worked with so many students who think that an online course somehow requires less time than an in-person course. This is not true! Make sure you are planning to spend as much time on your online courses as you would any other course if you want to be a successful online student!

Many students do not have a dedicated study space at home. You may be surrounded by distractions and interruptions. It can be hard to focus if you live in a shared home with family or roommates.

Some students, probably the more extroverted ones, feel isolated in an online learning environment. You might miss connecting with your classmates and chatting on your class breaks. You have to put in more effort if you want to get to know your classmates, which can be challenging. University is a key place for you to build your network, and not having the same connections can be a disadvantage.

A lot of students find online courses less motivating. It can be harder to pay attention when you’re not in the lecture hall. If you feel disconnected from campus you can also feel disconnected from your degree. This lack of connection can make your courses feel pointless, and make it feel like you’re not actually moving towards your goals.

Best Tips for Online Learning Success

Online learning success requires you to take even more responsibility for your education. Here are my suggestions on how to take charge of and be successful in your online learning.

Time Management

Manage your time well. Block out the time you need to attend any synchronous components, or the time you need to complete asynchronous components. Don’t expect an online course to take less time than an in-person course. If anything, it will take more time because you are doing more active learning.

Attend Actively

Attend your classes with the same diligence you would on campus. Sit in a chair, at a desk or table. Sitting on the couch or bed is comfy, but can lead to distractions (or falling asleep). Sitting on the floor is also an option, if you can get comfortable enough. You have to be more active and put more effort into paying attention and not getting distracted. Wearing headphones, especially noise-cancelling ones, can be really helpful to block out other sounds so it’s easier to focus.

Eliminate Distractions

Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Put your phone away, in another room or in your backpack if possible. Turn off notifications on your computer. Don’t multitask – pick one task at a time to work on. Wear headphones to block out externa noise. If you get distracted at home, try studying on campus, in a library, or at a coffee shop.

Take Breaks

Take breaks between classes and study sessions. If you were on campus, you’d have a few minutes to at least walk to a new location, so use that time. Don’t spend the full day in front of your computer. Make sure you are taking breaks and getting up to move.

Study Groups

Even though you’re learning online, you can still join or create a study group. Study groups can meet online, or you may be able to meet in-person. See if anyone in your class wants to create a study group with you. Studying with others keeps you accountable to spending time working on the course, and you can work together to master the content.

Keep Up With the Course

Remember that many online university courses are not “work at your own pace.” They will usually still fit within your uni’s semester system, which means you won’t have any advantages in terms of how long the course will take or when you can work on it. Make sure you keep up with your courses!

Improve Your Study Skills

Having strong study skills will also help you have success in online learning. Read more about study skills for university students in this post:

How to do Academic Research: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is for university students who would like some guidance on doing academic research. Maybe you’re working on one of your first research papers, or you didn’t do so well on the last one and you want to level up. Below, I’ll focus on on how to do academic research, rather than writing up your paper – that post will be coming soon.

Here’s what we’ll look at in this post:

📕 How to evaluate information
📙 Where to find sources
📘 How to cite your sources

Blue background with a palm tree shadow and white text that reads: Beginner's guide to academic research: 1. Check sources for quality; 2. Use university resources; 3. Find related articles; 4. Cite your work properly.

You can also learn how to read journal articles effectively in this post:

How to Evaluate Information

You know you’re not supposed to use Wikipedia. But why not? When you find a website online, how can you know whether you can cite it or not? Can you trust the information that’s there? Here’s what you should be checking for when you’re doing academic research for your university courses: date, source, and authority.

Date

How recent is it? Can you find the publication date? While there’s no exact timeline for something to qualify as “recent,” you want to make sure that the information you’re using is the most up-to-date.

Using out-of-date sources will not impress your professors because they are experts in the field and they will probably know! A huge part of their job is just reading, so they’ll know what the most recent arguments and discoveries in their field are.

How can you tell if it’s recent? First, look for a publication date. If you’re using academic research journals, there will always be a publication date available. If you’re using online sources such as websites or blogs, there may not be a publication date. But can you find a copyright date? Last updated? These will also give you some idea of the age of the information.

When you’re doing your research, also make sure you are looking at a breadth of sources, as well. This means you’re not just looking at 1-2 sources, you’re finding as many as you can. Reviewing these will help you find what the most recent arguments or findings are, and then you can tell if your other source is in alignment or not.

If you are in doubt about the publication date, it’s probably not a great source for you to pull from. In this case, try to find another source that has similar information, but includes a date.

Source

The source is about where you find your information. Generally speaking, you will want to use academic resources, also known as research journals, scholarly journals, or just journals. These articles go through what is called a peer review process before they are published.

You can definitely ask your librarian, TA, or professor which are the prominent journals in your area of study. They will know which are the most reputable journals that are widely read. You may also be able to see this on your course reading list – the articles you have to read for class are chosen by your professor and probably from the journals they read.

The peer review process means that one expert (or a group of experts) wrote the paper, and then it was circulated anonymously to a number of other experts in the same field, who reviewed it before it could be published. These other experts make sure that the research is sound: the researcher(s) who wrote the paper has used effective methods and has represented their findings clearly and accurately, and has not made any unsubstantiated claims. These reviews are typically done anonymously, so that the researchers have to use what is in the article to decide, they can’t just look at who wrote it.

You will be able to see whether your source is peer-reviewed in your university’s research databases (I’ll explain this below).

Occasionally, you may use some non-peer reviewed sources. Depending on the topic of your research, you may want to use a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, a newscast, tv show, etc. You should only use these when they are needed – they cannot replace peer-reviewed sources. These sources are for when you want to talk about what was in a newspaper article, etc.

If you read about an academic study in a news article, then you should look up the original study rather than citing the news article. You would only use the news article if that was the topic of your paper – for example, if you were looking at how different news articles represented the same study differently, or wanted to analyze how news agencies represented a particular topic.

Generally speaking, though – stick with peer-reviewed journals so you can be sure your sources are reliable.

Authority

Authority is really about assessing the author’s (or authors’) credibility and ability to write knowledgeably on the topic. This is something that will be checked for already in a peer-reviewed publication, so you do not usually need to do a lot of research on authors in those.

However, if you are using a popular (non-academic) source like a news website or blog, you should definitely take a look at the author’s credentials. Are they someone you can trust on that topic? Are they an expert? If they are not, why would you use their source?

Again, if you just stick with your peer-reviewed scholarly publications, you do not have to do a lot of work at this step.

Where to Find Sources

Here’s the real how-to of doing academic research!

Now that you have some methods to analyze the sources you find, you will need to find some sources! It’s time to actually DO THE RESEARCH! How exciting. Here’s how you can use research databases and Google scholar to conduct research for your university papers.

Research Databases

Each university subscribes to a number of research databases. Typically, the larger your university is, the more databases you will have access to. You will access these through your university’s library website. If you cannot find the “databases” tab, just do a web search for your university’s name and “research databases” and you should find it.

Here are two examples of database pages. The one on the left is from Memorial University’s library site, and the one on the right is from the University of Toronto’s library website. You can see that you can access the popular databases, or you can search for them by name or topic/subject.

If you’re not sure what database to use, you can definitely search by subject. Just put in the topic of your course: history, sociology, etc – whatever it is, and have a look at the databases there. Once you click on one, you will have to sign in through your university account, and then it will take you to the database page.

Once you’re in a database, you’ll have a variety of search options. You can limit your search to peer-reviewed articles, search by date, publication (journal) title, article title, keyword, etc.

When you’re starting your research, I recommend starting with a few keywords and expanding from there. Once you’ve done some keyword searches, you will probably see which are the journals that are showing up the most in your results, and this will give you some idea of which are the top journals for your topic specifically.

Google Scholar

Google scholar is a massive research database that is open to everyone – so you don’t need to log in to your university website to do searches. You just have to go to scholar.google.com and then it’s like doing a regular Google search! So easy, right?

Not quite. Because Google Scholar is much more open than your research databases (and contains way more sources), you will have to be more careful when you are finding the sources. Make sure you are checking the source and authority according to the criteria I explained above.

Another way to very easily check the authority is to look the items up in your library’s database when you find them on Google Scholar. I do this by simply copying & pasting the article name in myuniversity’s library’s website search bar. If it’s available at my library, the listing will indicate whether it is peer-reviewed or not. Then I can access it through my library’s website, where I can usually find the correct copy of it online.

Adding Your Library in Google Scholar

You can connect Google Scholar with your university’s catalogue so that you can easily access any sources you find with just one click from Google Scholar. Just click on the hamburger menu in the top left of the Google Scholar page, and then click Settings and then Library Links. From there, search for your university library and follow the steps to connect it.

Now, when you find ssomething on Google Scholar that is available at your university’s library, it will have an icon next to the listing that you can click to access it.

One caution with Google Scholar – it does not always provide the final published version of an article. This is another reason that I will usually go back to my uni’s library site to access the article! Then I know i have the official publication. Sometimes the ones on Google Scholar are a pre-print or a conference paper, and they appear as word documents. If this happens, make sure you search for the official article through your university’s site.

Setting Up Google Scholar Alerts

These are basically the same as Google Alerts, but they tell you when articles are published that fit a particular search term. You’ll get an email with a list of new articls that meet your search criteria. You can set these up by going to Google Scholar and then accessing the hamburger menu on the top left, and then clicking Alerts.

From there, click Create Alert and follow the steps to save your alert. Now you’ll get an email every time a new article shows up on your topic!

Research Tips

Search Terms

If you are having trouble finding research on your topics, try playing around with different keywords and search terms.

For example, in researching higher education, I know there is a topic called “college choice” that I can search for. However, when I want Canadian research specifically, it won’t work becuase we don’t call universities “college” like they do in the US, so I know that searching for “college” will only show me American publications. Instead, I might try “Canadian college choice” or “university choice” or “Canadian university choice” or “student choice university.” If those don’t work, I will just keep trying!

How to Get Started

Before you start reading articles all the way through, pop in your search terms, restrict to the last 1-2 years, and find some articles that look relevent, and just read the abstracts. The abstract is a short summary of the paper that is placed at the beginning that will tell you what the paper is about and what their conclusions were. You may also head to the end of the paper and read the conclusion or discussion section. The discussion section of the paper talks about how or why the findings of the paper are relevant, and how they might be applied.

Once you have read a handful of recent article abstracts, you will likely have some idea what the themes are. This will help you to narrow down your paper topic and do further research.

Use the Reference List

When you find a useful journal article, you can go through its reference list to see all the articles that were cited and find more useful information and sources.

The reference list shows you where the journal article authors got their information from, and you can get your information from the same sources.

Find Articles That Cited The First Article

When you find a useful article, you can also look up who has cited it. This will help you find more related articles. There are different tools you can use to do this – there is an option in many of the research databases (it would say something like “cited this” or “cited in”). You can also use Google Scholar or Connected Papers.

Google Scholar

To find out where your article has been cited, look it up on Google Scholar (search by article title) and then click “Cited by” underneath the listing. This will take you to a list of articles that cited the first one and are likely to be on the same or similar topic.

Connected Papers

You can also go to ConnectedPapers.com and put your article title in to see all of its citations (the reference list) plus all the articles that cited it in a graph and list format. This is a little bit more overwhelming to decipher than Google Scholar, but combines all of this information, which you may prefer.

On the left, it will show you a list of all the papers, including both the ones cited by your paper and those that cited your paper. In the middle, it shows the connections between these papers in a chart, and then on the right it shows you the first paper (the one you searched for) with its abstract.

One really cool thing with Connected Papers is that you can click on any of the dots in the graph and it will show you the citation and abstract for that paper, as well as several direct links to find more information, including one to Google Scholar.

But, honestly, if you find this a little overwhelming it’s totally fine to just use Google Scholar and your university’s databases – I think Connected Papers might be level 2, so try it out when and if you’re ready.

Citation Styles

One more thing that is really important is that you cite your work. This means that you have to give credit for any ideas in your paper that weren’t yours. As an undergrad student and new researcher, this will be most of the ideas in your paper.

Essentially, the citation information ensures that someone reading your paper can see where you got your information from. This means another reader can evaluate your sources and make judgments about the quality of your paper – the same way academics do during the peer review process.

Not citing your work properly can be a form of plagiarism, and you can get in trouble for it at most institutions, so make sure you learn how to do this. Not a lot of professors will teach you how, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how to do it.

Each discipline or area of study will typically use one citation style. It might be APA, MLA, Vancouver, Chicago, or something else. Your professor will usually tell you which style is preferred, but if they did not, make sure to ask. Some instructors are very strict and will take marks off if you do not format your citations correctly.

Your university library will have a page dedicated to citation styles that will explain more about how to do it, and if you have questions you can reach out to your librarian for more information.

How Can You Learn More About How to Do Academic Research?

Your university’s library is there to assist you with your research, so that is the best place to start. If you go to a smaller university, there may be fewer resources. In this case, you can definitely have a look at larger universities’ library websites, in Canada or the US, and search online for more information.

Your professors and TAs are also likely to be helpful. Since TAs are usually graduate students, they have already been where you are now and can share what they’ve learned. Additionally, your professor is a professional researcher and can provide further information.

For more information on how to level-up your study skills, check out this post:

Motivation to Study

After working with so many students around study and time management skills, I have realized that these two topics actually encompass numerous other skills that often overlap. So I can’t talk about study skills without talking about time management, and I can’t talk about time management without talking about motivation.

What is Motivation?

Motivation refers to your desire to do something. It refers to being able to get to work on something in order to meet a larger goal, even if you don’t feel like working on that exact task at the moment.

How Can I Feel More Motivation to Study?

There are ways to do this. First, remind yourself of your end goal. Visualize it and think about why you want it. What will it feel like to increase your grade in a particular course? What will it feel like to show up at your graduation ceremony and walk across the stage? What will it feel like to start your career? What will it feel like to have a regular paycheque and no homework?

You can also try to motivate yourself extrinsicly – this means finding a way to celebreate completing something. It could be a snack, or a social event, or a tv show. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation will only get you so far, so you will want to find other ways to get yourself studying.

I have previously written on motivating yourself to study here:

Your studies will consist of tasks you enjoy and tasks you do not enjoy. You can try sandwiching the ones you dislike in between the ones that you like more. That way, you do something more enjoyable, and then you do an awful activity, and then you go back to something you like more. One challenge with this is that you may not always have enough tasks in the “more fun” category to balance the “less fun” things.

You can also “eat the frog,” a concept taken from a quote from 19th-century author Mark Twain. The idea with this is that if you have to do some task you consider horrible, like eating a frog, you get it done first thing in the morning so it’s over. Then you can move onto more pleasant tasks once you’re done eating the frog.

But sometimes, you just won’t be motivated, and you might not be able to change that. Sometimes you have to get it done even though you don’t want to. This is where self-management comes in.

Self-Management

Self-management is about leveraging several skills in order to get things done – and this includes doing things you don’t necessarily have a lot of interest in doing.

Self-Managment vs. Self-Discipline

I prefer the term self-management over self-discipline for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, it refers a set of skills – and self-discipline is just one of those skills. Self-discipline is narrower. Secondly, self-discipline conjures thoughts of militaristic rule-following and unnecessarily unpleasant and pointless tasks. It also makes me think that there’s punishment if you don’t do it. I don’t think anybody should set themselves up for pointless tasks, unpleasantness, or punishment!

Skills of Self-Management

  • Time management: The ability to get work done on time.
  • Organization: Knowing what you need to do, and when you need to do it.
  • Prioritization: Understanding what is most important and adjusting your workload to get it all done on time.
  • Self-discipline: Doing things you’re not interested in at the moment because you see the bigger picture of how they are important.
  • Motivation: Finding a reason to do something and bringing energy to it even when you don’t feel like it.

These are all transferable skills, which you can learn more about in this post.

I have also previously written about time and priority management, so make sure you check out that post for more information, too.

Building Habits

Sometimes your motivation will fail you, and in that situation, self-discipline and habits can help you out.

For example, let’s look at teeth-brushing. Most kids aren’t very interested in brushing their teeth. they also don’t really have a concept of the future benefit. They don’t care about dental bills, and don’t really understand what it will be like to have dental problems. They can’t imagine the discomfort of a dental procedure. There’s not much motivation for them. But we all grow up to brush our teeth a couple times a day (well, for the most part). How? Becuase we built the habit of doing it. Our parents made us brush twice a day as a child, and eventually when it becomes habit, we just keep doing it.

You can create habits around studying, too – just like your parents got you to do when you were learning to brush your teeth.

How to Build Habits

There are loads of different ways to build habits, so I’ll just cover a couple here that have worked for me:

You can pair a new habit with an existing habit. So, if you like to listen to podcasts while you’re at the gym, maybe you could listen to an audio recording of a textbook instead. Or if you’re like me and you like to have a coffee and read or write in the morning, you can switch that reading and writing over to class material.

You can also pair a habit with a cue. So, for example, set an alarm for an hour after you get home from your part-time job on Saturdays. Then you can take that hour to relax, go on social, read a book, watch tv, whatever, but when the alarm goes off, you get back to studying.

It can also help to have the same time and location for studying. If you know that on Tuesdays, you get up early and head to the library to study before class, then that can become a habit in a few weeks.

Conclusions on Study Motivation

Motivation to study is great, and you should study when you feel motivated to.

But when you don’t feel motivated to study, you need to be able to study anyways.

Building habits around studying is a great way to get work done when you don’t feel motivated.

Why You Should Get Involved on Campus

This week’s blog post on getting involved on campus is in collaboration with Nicole from Behind the Classroom, where she shares tips and information for students, teachers, and parents. She is a high school teacher in Washington State, near Seattle and teaches English and Social Studies. While many of her posts are geared towards parents and teachers, she also shares info for students, like this post on why you need to cite your work. Make sure to check her website out!

Today we’re sharing more information about campus involvement, including:
👉 What is campus involvement?
👉 What are the benfits of campus involvement?
👉 How can you get involved?
👉 What can you do in high school to prepare?

What is Campus Involvement?

Also known as student involvement or extracurricular activities (because they are in addition to the curricular activities – your courses), campus involvement is a broad term to describe some of the ways that students can be connected to their university and fellow students. I’ve provided some examples below, so keep reading!

What are the Benefits of Getting Involved on Campus?

Why is it so important to get involved on your university campus? There are so many benefits to being involved on your campus:
✅ fostering a sense of belonging
✅ building your resume
✅ making new friends
✅ enhancing your life skills (aka “adulting”)

There is research that indicates students who feel a stronger sense of belonging on campus are more likely to finish their degrees. Being involved typically results in students feeling as though they belong and have a place on campus as it gives them more connection with others in the community. You may have the chance to work with higher-year students who may become official or unofficial mentors or friends, and you could connect with different staff or professors on campus who can support you.

You can also build your resume through campus involvement, whether that’s through the experiences you gain or the colleagues you work with becoming references. Depending on your level of involvement, you can gain hands-on experience working on team or being a leader, organizing events, managing finances and budgets, overseeing volunteers, and more.

Of course getting more engaged on your campus also means working with other students, so this is a great opportunity to meet people and make friends. You have the chance to meet some very diverse people on campus and build your circle of friends.

Being engaged on your campus is also a great way to build some life skills and feel more like an adult. Of course you’ll have to have good time management skills to fit things into your schedule, but you can also push yourself to speak to more people that you might not have met, or take on tasks as part of a team even if you’ve never done them before. These opportunities can give you enormous personal and professional growth during your student years.

Examples of Campus Involvement Opportunities

Most universities will have an office for student engagement or involvement that will support many of these activities. If you haven’t come across this office yet, have a look for it on your university’s website and see what services they offer to support you as you navigate your journey in campus involvement!

Student Clubs

What are some common student clubs and organizations?

There are student clubs and organizations for almost anything. I have broken them into four categories here: based on culture, interest, discipline and career. Each university will have a different set of clubs and organizations. While some might be more common or be connected outside of the university, many of them will be unique to your university.

Culture-based clubs and organizations are focused around particular backgrounds. Examples of these might be: a Taiwanese student club, the Organization of Latin American Students, a Black Student Association, etc. These clubs are for students to connect and build community with those who may have similar cultural backgrounds and therefore have some experiences in common. They may also hold events for themselves, or to share or educate other students.

Other clubs are based around interests, which could be sports or other activities. Examples would include things like a Ski Club, Chess Club, Knitting Club, Gamers Club, Manga Club, etc.

Discipline-based organizations are those related to the areas of study. These might be clubs, organizations, associations, or student unions, and examples could include the Psychology Club, a departmental student organization, the English Students Union, and much more.

There are also what I would call career-based clubs, which are similar to interest-based clubs in that they are for students who are interested in learning more about a particular career. This might include an Consulting Club, Entrepreneurship Club, or Pre-Med club (which could also be considered discipline-based).

Basically, there are clubs and organizations for everything! You have no excuse to not find something that interests you on campus. Additionally, many universities will allow you to propose and launch a new club, which means you can get funding for something that doesn’t exist!

What does a student club do?

What a student club or organization does will really depend on what its purpose is! Generally speaking, though, they organize events and opportunities for students. This could mean networking events, social events, interest-related outings, competitions, hiring speakers, or even pub nights and concerts.

Student Unions

Student Unions are run by students and are usually autonomous (not run by the university). They are an elected gropu of representatives of the students, whoc an be called upon to represent the university’s students. They may oversee the student clubs and organizations on campus.

Student Unions will often be responsible for social events for students, and they may be involved in the political life on campus as well. They may decide to take student issues to the university to try to make changes. For example, most recently, during the pandemic, many student unions have been advocating for students as they faced numerous challenges related to remote learning and evaluation.

This type of involvement may be of interest to you if you enjoy politics or want to learn more about how public organizations run, but also if you just want to be involved in the governance of your university.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs are great for students! You could be connected with a mentor who helps you navigate the campus, or helps your career take off. These programs might be run by your university, or they could be run by student groups, so make sure you keep an eye out for any mentorship programs that might be relevant to you.

In your later years, you may also have the opportuniy to become a mentor for younger or newer students! This is another way to expand your network, maybe make some friends, and get connected with other students.

Residence Life

There are a number of opportunities to be involved in residence. Typically, there are leadership positions available for students who want to take on a role where they support other students in the residence. These can be challenging positions where you support students through their personal and academic problems, but it can be very rewarding work.

Orientation Leaders

After your first year, you might decide you want to help new students feel at home and know their way around the university. If this is you, you might want to help with your uni’s orientation! Orientation leaders organize activities and serve as guides for new students who are just starting at the university. Sometimes these positions are for volunteers, and sometimes they are paid, but that will depend on how your university organizes orientation.

Volunteering

Universities always need volunteers for events on campus, so most unis have a website dedicated to this. These roles could be anything from holding a sign telling people where to park, to welcoming people to a reception or speaking event.

Campus Newspaper

You don’t have to be in a journalism program to work for the campus newspaper. If you like to do research and write, and care about issues that affect your university and/or your fellow students, this is a good option! You can build a writing portfolio for yourself as well.

Other On-Campus Work

While on-campus work is not all generally considered “involvement,” it works in the same way as the other opportunities I’m including here. There are numerous jobs available on-campus for students, from teaching or research assistantships, working at the library, co-op positions, and a variety of other positions. These often pay higher than minimum wage, and they are familiar with the restrictions of a student schedule and may be more accommodating. Plus, if you are already on campus you won’t have to commute any extra.

Intramurals & Sports

Joining a sports team can also be a great way to make connections on campus and have fun. Plus, being physically active tends to be one of the things students skip when they get busy. While you may not be gaining an academic reference, you can still connect with other students and build that sense of belonging on campus.

Tips for Getting Involved:

Go to everything in your first couple of terms. Don’t overburden yourself, but check out a few clubs and figure out which ones you would like to get involved with. Many universities have some kind of clubs event in the first couple of weeks of class where you can find out about many of the campus activities.

Keep a schedule so you know when meetings are and to ensure you have no conflicts. As a university student, you’ll have a lot of time commitments and studying to do, so you will need to stay organized in order to incorporate more activities into your schedule.

Take advantage of any mentorship programs available to you – not only will mentors help you get to know campus, they can let you know what opportunities exist, or you can be a mentor when you get to a higher year. 

Think about transferable skills & communicate these if you’re putting yourself forward for a club executive or organizing committee, or any other competitive role. 

Tips for Getting Involved When You’re Not on Campus

Since even our “on-campus” programs have been shifting on and off of campus recently due to COVID, you might be wondering how you can get involved if you aren’t on campus, or if you are in an entirely-online program.

Of course this makes it a little bit more difficult, but many of the opportunities for involvement discussed above will still be available in a remote environment. Just like the rest of the university (and everything else), most clubs and other spaces where you can get involved will have adapted to campus closures. You can track them down through your university’s website or on social and reach out to get involved.

Some club may be less active when campuses are not open, so you may have fewer options. But you should still take a look and see what’s there – it’s even more important to start building connections at your university when you are not able to attend on campus.

How to prepare in high school

Becoming involved on campus is much easier when you were already involved in high school. Make sure to branch out and join at least one extracurricular at the high school level. Not only does this give you an idea of what your interests are, but you can also develop skills that help you meet others and work through uncomfortable situations (like being new on campus!). You’ll also already have experience juggling a schedule of courses and extracurricular activities, which will make it easier to do this in university.

Working in Student Affairs

If you find that you really enjoy your involvement on campus and would like to continue this type of work, check out careers in student affairs! This is a rapidly growing career area in Canada, and for many of the roles you just need some work experience and an undergraduate degree. Student affairs careers include folks who work in student engagement, residence life, academic advising, career advising, and a variety of other positions that support students at universities and colleges. For more information on working in student affairs, check out CACUSS – the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, which is the professional association of student affairs folks in Canada.

Student Funding: Scholarships & Awards

How Can I Get Free Money as a Student?

Free money, you say? Bring it on!

As a soon-to-be or current university student, you should be applying for some of that free student money! Student loans are cool, but you have to pay them back at some point. Why not search for money that will just be given to you? It’s way better.

If you’re thinking “But I don’t have straight A’s,” keep reading, because there is most likely money available to you anyways! You should be looking for scholarships and awards anyways. You never know when you will be the most qualified applicant! Not all scholarships and awards have high grade requirements. 

Definitions

Student Funding

This is an umbrella term that can include all the different types of funding: scholarships, awards, bursaries, grants and loans. Your university’s student funding office can be called a funding office, or academic aid and awards, or financial aid and awards, or… any combination of these terms.

Scholarships

Scholarships are financial gifts for students who meet certain requirements. The requirements can vary a lot, and can include just about anything (see below in What Qualifies You for a Scholarship? for more information).

Awards

Awards are like scholarships in that they are financial gifts for students, and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but awards will typically have non-academic requirements. You might see awards for leadership, entrepreneurship, campus involvement, volunteering, etc. These are not academic requirements, but they are requirements for the award.

Bursaries

Bursaries are a financial gift typically based on financial need, so to receive one you will likely have to prove that you and your family earn below a certain threshhold of annual income.

Student Loans

Loans are money that you borrow to pay for education. In Canada, these are managed through your home province and each province administers them a little differently. If you go to university in a different province than you lived in previously, you have to apply through your home province (the one where you lived before going to university), not the province of your university. More information on student loans and grants in Canada is available here.

Grants

A grant is a portion of your student loan that is gifted to you or forgiven. This means that when you apply for a student loan, you’ll receive a loan and you might get some free money, too. The grants come from the federal government but are administered through your province. More information on student loans and grants in Canada is available here.

What Qualifies You for a Scholarship?

Honestly, just about anything can qualify you for a scholarship. I have made a list here, but I’m sure there are many other ways you can qualify for scholarships.

Grades

Really good grades are probably the best way to get the biggest scholarships. Universities offer thousands of dollars every year to high school students who have excelled in their studies, and then thousands of dollars to students who continue to get very high grades in university.

Each university wants to claim the smartest students as their own, and the main way they to do that is to entice students with really high grades with big scholarship packages. When you hear about “full-ride” scholarships, they refer to scholarships that pay for EVERYTHING (housing, tuition, textbooks, cost of living) or close to everything for your whole degree. These are extremely competitive and very difficult to get, but of course totally worth it.

Other Qualifications (Where to Find Scholarships)

You can find scholarships available for certain categories of students, for example international, Canadian, first generation (first generation means you are the first in your family to go to university).

You may find scholarships based on where you come from (in a very broad sense). For example, country of origin, elementary or high school, school district, municipality (city) or region, home province, etc. I know of an elementary school, for example, that has a scholarship for a student who goes on to university – but nobody knows about it so they have trouble giving that money away!

There are scholarships based on your heritage or culture. For example, there are scholarships for Black and indigenous students, Hungarian or Ukrainian heritage students, and students who are from or whose families are from specific countries.

Companies and organizations also create scholarships, so you can check your parents employers, your own employer (if you have one), and any unions you or your family members are affiliated with.

Universities, degrees and majors may also have specific scholarships, so make sure to check out your university’s financial support office and website, and also ask around in your program area (department or faculty) to see what’s there.

Who Can Help Me Find and Apply for Scholarships?

While you’re in high school, your guidance counsellor and/or teachers should be able to help you with this.

Universities all have an office dedicated to student financial support. Once you are applying to a university, you can reach out to them for more information. This office can have many different names, but searching by your university name and “financial aid” or “scholarships” should get you to their website. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, get in touch with them – don’t just give up! They probably have staff who can help you.

What is the Best Website to Apply for Scholarships?

There are a few websites that publish Canadian scholarship lists, but you have to comb through them because they will each have specific requirements, and a lot of them are for students at specific universities. Yes, you should go through these, but you should also be doing other research as well.

Use the lists above to check for specific scholarships you might qualify for based on your own unique qualifications and characteristics. This is the hard part – trying to find all the scholarships!

You should be going through your university’s website to find scholarships, and you can also look at similar programs at other universities. Some programs publish lists of scholarships students can apply for, and some do not. I have found some really good scholarships on a PDF list I got from another university’s website for a similar program to the one I am in. Perfect!

What is the Easiest Scholarship to Get?

This really depends! If you have really high grades, then you will probably qualify for more scholarships and awards. If you have middle-range grades, you are probably more likely to get an obscure scholarship with very specific requirements that not that many studetns meet. But you should be applying for everything you think you could qualify for, because you will never know who else is applying and when you could be the most qualified applicant.

How to Stay Organized and Apply for Scholarships

I use a spreadsheet to organize all the scholarships I find, so that I don’t have to search for them every year. You can get the spreadsheet template that I use here:

I organize mine by deadline, constantly shifting the next ones up to the top row so I know what to work on and when to ask for references. 

How Can I Apply for Student Funding?

Each scholarship or award application is going to be a little bit different, but here are some of the commonly-requested components:

Transcripts

Before they give you money, they are going to want to see that you’re a decent student and that you meet any grade or GPA requirements for the funding.

They will usually ask for a specific type of transcripts: official/unofficial, paper/electronic, emailed/mailed. Make sure you send the right kind and that you leave enough time for it to meet the deadline. Sometimes universities take some time to process transcript requests.

You should also be aware that official transcripts usually cost money to request, so you are very likely to have to pay for those.

References or Letters of Recommendation

Most scholarships and awards will ask for references or letters of recommendation from your professors. This means that you want to be getting to know at least a few of your profs well enough that they can write these for you.

These might be actual letters that your professors send in, or it could just be an online form where they answer some questions. You should provide information on the type of reference to your prof when you ask for the letter.

If you want some guidance on how to ask for a reference or letter of recommendation, I have one here:

Letter or Statement of Intent

You will sometimes be asked to write a letter or statement of intent to highlight how you qualify the award or why you would be a good choice for recipient. This is fairly similar to writing a cover letter, where you will have to tailor it to that award and audience specifically and focus on the things they are evaluating you on. Your university’s financial support office may be able to help with this or provide some supports. You should also get someone to read it over – if you have a professor who is willing to do that for you, that would be ideal, but a friend or family member can also help.

Questions?

Please reach out if you have further questions – you can reach me on any of my socials, or send me an email: email@chooseyouruni.ca – I read every message!