Getting a Bad Grade

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It’s happened. You failed a course, failed a semester, failed an exam, got a bad grade on a test, failed a course. We’ve all been there! It’s a terrible feeling. It can feel like your world is ending. Especially if you’ve always been a good student.

I have worked with probably hundreds of students who received their first “bad” grade. The system is rigged against you – you probably had to get an 80-something average or higher to get into uni, but so did everyone else. So once you get there, everyone is super-smart, and a lot of programs use a curved grading scheme.

Curved Grading

What does curved grading mean? It means that your professor may adjust grades in comparison to other students. Curved grading means, very roughly, that if the highest grade on a test is 60%, that person could get an A+ and you may have needed below 20% to fail. On the other hand, it may mean you needed 99% to get an A+ and that an 85% ended up being a C+. Your instructor should have let you know if this is how they are grading – check the syllabus or the program website for any grading criteria. Not all programs grade in this way. 

Is it okay to get a bad grade?

The not-so-helpful answer to this is “it depends.”

First, what is a “bad” grade? It will depend on your program and goals. Your program should have minimum grades and minimum GPAs (grade point averages) listed on their website. You may only need a D or C- in some courses, or you may need a higher grade. Make sure you know what the requirements are before you panic!

You will also want to check the impact of a low grade on your GPA. And remember that the GPA is an average, which means that as you take more courses, each grade matters less. This also means that when you only have a few courses, in your first semester or first year, each grade can impact your GPA more.

If you are planning to go to grad school or a professional program, you’ll want to check what their GPA and grade requirements are so that you can do your best to adhere to those. Their requirements may not be the same as your undergrad program, so you should be checking with both.

What happens next?

Explore your university’s options. Some universities have academic forgiveness policies, or course repeat policies, so you may be able to find a solution for bad grades. Review your university’s policies and speak to an academic advisor if you can. There may be some good options for you! It may or may not be possible to fix some low grades.

Academic Probation

Most universities have some form of academic probation – this is when your GPA falls below a certain requirement and you get a warning. After a certain number of warnings, if you have not brought your GPA up, you may have to leave the university. If you are worried that your grades are too low, you should find out what your university’s requirements are. Don’t wait to receive notification from your uni! Start working to bring your grades back up before you end up on academic probation.

How to Get Over a Bad Grade in University

Why Did It Happen

The first thing you want to do is figure out what happened. Why did you get that grade? And be honest. If you didn’t put in the effort, that may be the problem.

Understanding what happened means you will have to review your assignment or exam. For exams, this may involve going to see your instructor. Have a look at the feedback or marking so that you can figure out what to work on. If you don’t understand what you did wrong, speak to your instructor or TA. Once you have an idea of where you went wrong, then it’s time to figure out how to do better next time.

If you just didn’t put enough effort in, be honest with yourself about it. On the other hand, it may be time to try out some new study methods. If you studied a lot and aren’t sure why it didn’t help, then it’s definitely time for you to engage some new study skills.

Next Steps

You can talk to your professor and any TAs, and your university probably has staff who can help you assess and improve your study skills. Look for an academic or study centre through your library or student services areas. Your professor may be able to let you know where to find it!

You may also consider finding a tutor so you can get additional one-on-one help. Make sure you find a reputable tutoring company. Your university may have a tutoring service, or may be able to recommend one. Otherwise, ask around.

Are You Crying Over Bad Grades?

Of course, there is also the emotional aspect of getting a bad grade. This can have a big impact on you. A bad grade can impact your confidence and self-esteem. Remember that you are not your grades. Your grades don’t define who you are as a person. Grades don’t reflect your value as a person, or even your intelligence. Seriously, grading systems are flawed, and although a good grading system will measure how well you mastered the content of a course, that doesn’t necessarily indicate whether you’re smart or not. Many grading systems are set up so that not everyone can be successful, which obviously can feel very personal if you are the one getting the bad grade, but part of this is the result of the system.

Finding out what happened and taking steps to correct is also going to help you move forward. Don’t spend too much time being upset about your grades before you start to do something about them. One of the challenges at university is that nobody talks about their bad grades. There is a sense of shame about them, so students don’t tend to share their experiences with bad grades. It makes you feel like you’re the only one who is struggling!

So many students struggle, especially in the first year of university. Most of those students are able to recover and complete a degree. You can also find all sorts of examples of folks who either struggled in university or didn’t go, and yet had massive success. It can be inspiring to learn about folks who’ve been really successful without a degree. Although my work focuses on university, there are many other ways to be successful in life that don’t require you to go to university. Find some examples that you can learn about and look up to.

It might also help to talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be one of your classmates! If you’re not comfortable talking with them, you can talk to your other friends, family members, or someone else you know will support you. And don’t feel like you have to tell anyone you don’t want to! Just make sure you stay away from people who will make you feel worse. And if you find that your grade is dragging down your mental health, you should reach out for support from a professional. Check your university health centre for counselling services, they will be experienced in this topic.

Hopefully this has helped you get ready for a bad grade that will never come! If you have any questions or worries about your grades, please reach out at email@chooseyouruni.ca.

How to Ask for a Reference from your Professor

How to ask for a Reference or Letter of Recommendation

You’re applying for a scholarship, study abroad, grad school, or a job, and you need to submit a letter of reference (aka letter of recommendation, character reference, letter of support, or academic reference) from a professor. Now you have to ask your prof for the letter! How do you do that?

Which Professor Should I ask for My Reference?

You should definitely ask for the reference from a professor who will write something positive about you. How can you find this out? It’s simple! When you approach them for a reference, just ask if they would be willing to write a positive reference letter for you.

You also want to ask a professor who knows you and can write a detailed letter. A letter that says, “this student was in my class and got an A” is fine. But wouldn’t you rather have a letter that talks about you with specific details? Something more like, “this student was in my class and got an A because of their performance. Their term paper was clearly written and well-organized, as were all of their assignments. They scored in the top 10% of students on the final exam.”

You can also make (gentle) suggestions about what they can write about you. Remind your professor of the encouraging comments they wrote on your paper, or that you scored the highest grade on the midterm, or whatever else they can highlight in the letter.

General Information About Asking for a Reference

These are the basics: You are asking for a favour from your professor. Make sure you give them the time and information they need to help you with a minimum of effort. This post is really about how you can make this easier for them, so they will be happy to write you a positive letter of reference.

First, you’re going to choose how you will ask for the reference. Ideally, you will ask them in person and then follow up with an email. However, I recognize that’s not always possible, so you can also start with the email. Below, I’ve described how you can ask via email, but feel free to take this first step in-person and then write a follow-up email with all the details.

Professional Reference vs. Academic Reference

There are different types of references and letters of recommendation. A professional reference should be from a current or past employer or supervisor, whether it’s for paid or unpaid work.

Does an academic reference have to be from a professor? Yes, it should be! An academic reference needs to be from someone who can speak to your academic skills. Although a TA or other support person may be able to speak to your academic skills, the expectation is that you have a professor’s reference. This is why it’s so important to make sure you are attending office hours and getting to know a few of your professors!

Teaching Assistant Reference Letters

You should only get a reference from a TA (teaching assistant) if you have no other options. You should also consider checking if it will be accepted. For example, if you are applying for a scholarship, read all their requirements to see what it says. If it’s not clear from the requirements whether they’ll accept a TA’s recommendation, it is probably be a good idea to reach out to the scholarship provider to check.

When I was an academic advisor, students would request reference letters from me. Unfortunately, in that position I only had access to their transcripts and couldn’t speak to their academic skills beyond that. Make sure that you are requesting references from professors who have seen how good your work can be and can speak to your general awesomeness!

Writing an Email to ask for a Reference or Letter of Recommendation

You want to make sure that you are polite and professional in your request. Your professor may have been asked to write dozens of letters or provide multiple references, and a high-quality reference takes time to write. And of course, you want them to spend time on your reference so that it helps you in whatever you are competing for.

Your first question is whether the professor is willing and available to write a positive letter of reference. This is the part that you can easily do in person. Let your professor know what the reference is for, roughly what is required, and the deadline. Once they agree, then you can follow up with an email with all the details.

Think about what your professor needs to know to write the reference, and make sure to include that in the follow-up email:
*what the reference is for (ie scholarship, job, grad school, etc)
*requirements of the reference (there aren’t always requirements listed, but if there are make sure you include them)
*how to submit (ie email, online form, paper letter, PDF or Word doc, etc)
*deadline

What Will Be in the Letter of Recommendation or Reference?

Your professor can only speak to things they know about you – they are not able to speak to things that they haven’t seen you do. It is okay for you to remind them of who you are and what kind of student you are, especially if it has been a long time or even several years since you worked with them. If it has been some time, you can remind them in the body of the email and even attach one of your past papers and/or a transcript to remind them of who you were and how you performed in their class. If you went to office hours and got to know them a little, you should also remind them of that.

You can also (politely) ask them to talk about specific things in your reference if you think they are particularly relevant. For example, if you are applying for grad school, you may want them to speak more about your academic research and writing skills. On the other hand, if you are applying for a job, you may want them to speak to your ability to analyze and synthesize texts as well as meeting deadlines.

Letter of Recommendation/Reference Request Checklist

  • Did you remind them where they know you from?
  • Did you remind them what they know about you?
  • Provide details of reference (what’s needed)?
  • Purpose of reference?
  • Is your email polite and professional?
  • Is it clear from the first sentence of the email what you are asking for? 
  • Are you sure they will say positive things? 
  • Deadline/due date? 
  • Format and any other requirements (PDF/word, emai/mail, etc)?
  • How do they submit it?

What if Your Professor Says “No”?

Unfortunately, this happens. Your professor might not feel that they know you well enough to provide a reference. They may be too busy, or have too many upcoming deadlines, or maybe they need more time.

The best way to avoid this is prevention. Getting to know your professors and building those relationships ahead of time is the best way to make sure you can get references when you need them. This is something you should work on right from the start of the semester – read this post for more tips on how to start your semester off right!

But, if your professor does not want to give you a reference, it’s time to move on to the next person. Is there another professor or employer that you can ask? I have also worked with students who were not able to get references from their undergrad professors, so they ended up doing a post-grad diploma before they could apply to a Masters program. I was one of these students. It’s very frustrating to have to go back to school to be able to get an academic reference. That’s why you want to work on this now. Your bachelors degree is the best time to build those references in case you need them later.

Where can I learn more?

You may also find this post on The Top 5 People to Get to Know at University helpful as you navigate your university career.

Early Career Tips for University Students

Are you wondering what you should be doing as a student to prepare for your career? Today I’m sharing some early career tips for university students, so you can get ahead on your professional development planning.

Let’s take a look! Here is some top career guidance for students who are just starting their careers. You are probably working your first jobs now and starting to orient yourself towards your future career. As you set professional goals for yourself, you can start taking steps to build and develop your career.

Text reads: "early career tips for university students: Build your career foundation; start building your network; impress your boss; read more below."

Build Your Career Foundation

The first step in career management involves seeking out opportunities to develop a solid career foundation. That means you should be doing things that not only build your skills, but also provide recent examples of your aptitudes and expertise so that you can put them on your resume and highlight them in job interviews. This is not always about learning new skills, it is also about having concrete examples to speak about when you are applying for the jobs that will lead to your future career. This is an opportunity for you to begin building your professional network. Read on to find out how this will help your career development!

Start Building Your Network

Look for Mentors

You will encounter people who are willing to invest in helping you reach your career goals. They will help you build a network, support you, help you navigate your career. These can be official mentors, or just people you work with who are willing to help.

I have had numerous mentors, both official and unofficial. One of my previous bosses was a great mentor – she would help me find opportunities to expand my skillset and add new activities to my resume. Mentors outside your workplace can also provide neutral advice when you are dealing with complicated workplace situations.

Your university may offer mentorship programs where you can be connected with a mentor – possibly even someone in the industry you want to work in. You can also look into joining networking groups, particularly related to your future career. Think about reaching out directly to people whose careers you admire. Many folks are open to talking to students about their own careers. Finding out about the careers of others can help you build a career and explore your own options.

Get to Know Your Coworkers

Your coworkers are your current and future network. These folks can let you know about new job opportunities, connect you to future employers, and recommend you for upcoming opportunities. Additionally, people are happier when they have a “work best friend”. Wouldn’t you rather work with people you know and like?

Accept invitations to social events when you’re new – this will help you get to know the culture and your colleagues. Someone gave me this advice after I graduated, but I wish they had shared it earlier! It would have been really helpful when I was working on my Co-op term.

Impress Your Boss

Your early bosses are usually going to be your references, so you will want to impress them (exceptions can be made if they are terrible bosses – but then you need to find other references!). Your boss may also have the power to recommend you for a promotion or other position.

You can impress them by taking your new role seriously. This may involve taking notes, doing homework, and asking questions when necessary.

As you are learning your new role and going through any orientation, make sure you take notes. This will mean that you don’t have to ask questions that have already been answered. Review your notes and make sure you clarify any confusing points. You may also have to do some reviewing outside of work. Some “homework” may be necessary in the beginning because there may be a lot of new information. This should not continue into your actual work, but there may be some details in the beginning that you need to review.

In the past when I have started new roles, in order to disrupt my boss less, I would keep a running list all day of my questions for them. That way, if I saw them just once a day, I would get all my questions answered so I could get on with my work. In between getting the answers, I would just work on other tasks. This worked well to keep me moving forward on my projects, while also ensuring I didn’t have to disrupt my boss with questions all day.

Expand Your Skills

Make sure you’re building new skills. Keep an eye out for opporunities to do new things in your workplace, especially ones you can excel at. This also means that when you run out of opportunities to learn new things in one role, it may be time to move on.

When you go to a job interview, or you’re writing a cover letter, you can’t just include a list of your skills. You also have to give examples of when you’ve used those skills and show effective you were. In interviews, you’ll be asked to describe times that you exhibited certain skills, or dealt with certain situations, so you’ll want to keep track of these.

As you work and build your career, you should keep a running list of accomplishments. Put them in a spreadsheet or a Google doc, or a note in your phone. Write about projects that you completed successfully, compliments your boss gave you, and any other workplace successes. You can also use this list during performance reviews or when you are negotiating for a raise. You can start the list with things from your courses and add in more experiences as you bild them. If you want some ideas for skills to include, you can also look at this post on transferable skills. This will also benefit you when you have formal (or informal) reviews. You will have an opportunity to highlight accomplishments and indicate how much you deserve a raise!

If you’re looking for more information on doing career research, make sure you check out this post: How Can I Explore my Career Options and find out your different options for building work experience in this one: Work Experience For Students. But if you’re having trouble knowing where to start with your career research, sign up for the Beginning Career Research Webinar coming up soon!

If you’re thirsty for more career knowledge, you should also check out my recommendations of The Top Ten Career Podcasts for Students.

Work Experience for Students

Half of the students who graduated from university in 2021 had participated in some kind of practical experience in their program, whether it was a co-op, internship, or other arrangement (data from CUSC). And that doesn’t include external work experience! You want to remain competitive, so make sure you are building your resume now and not waiting until you graduate. The value of student work experience pays off when you graduate with a resume full of examples of your skills and experiences.

The Importance of Work Experience

Student work experience allows you to try out different jobs and see what you like and dislike. This will help you make decisions about your career. Another benefit of student work experience is that you can begin building your network and collecting references for future opportunities. You need to build and demonstrate your skills, both transferable and technical, for future job applications and interviews. If you are planning on (or even thinking about) going to grad school, it is probably better to have specific types of work experience for your application, so make sure you look at your desired grad programs ahead of time.

How to Choose Your Work Experiences

What are your decision criteria for your work experiences? First of all, you might want to think about the pay rate. If you are working to support yourself while you’re at university, you may want to look for roles with the highest pay rate. Unpaid internships may not be the best option for you.

You may also want to consider how the position fits into your future career. Are you still building new skills that will help you, or have you learned everything you can? Are you building your network so you can have access to future opportunities? One of my biggest regrets from undergrad is that I stayed in the same minimum-wage part-time cashier position pretty much until I graduated. I wasn’t able to articulate my skills well enough to understand how I qualified for more interesting or higher-paying roles. If only I had known more about transferable skills at that time, I could have sought out more valuable work experiences for myself! Below, you’ll find nine ideas for student work experience.

Nine Ways to Gain Work Experience as a University Student

  1. Co-operative Work Terms (Co-op)
  2. Internships
  3. Volunteering
  4. Practicum
  5. Service Learning
  6. Research Assistantships
  7. Teaching Assistantships
  8. Other On-Campus Work
  9. Off-Campus Work

Co-operative Work Terms (Co-op)

Co-op work terms are organized through your university, and you may receive credit for them. The university will likely have specific requirements for Co-ops. These may be around the type of work or employer, or the number of hours you have to complete.

If you know you want to do Co-op, make sure you do your research when you are selecting your program and university. It is not necessarily available for every program at every uni. Some programs may also require you to do Co-op, so keep an eye out for that when you’re applying.

Your university will typically have advisors or other staff to help you through the Co-op program. Co-op students represent their university, and if the employers aren’t happy with how the students do, they can stop hiring from that university. However, you will most likely still have to apply, compete, and be selected for hire by the employer. Students are not just assigned a job, but these employers know that they’re hiring students, so they know you probably don’t have tons of work experience when you apply.

Internships

Internships can be similar to Co-op jobs, but may not meet all the requirements. They may be part time, or less than a semester in duration, be unpaid, or have other differences. However, they are similar in that they know they are hiring a student, and that you may not have as much work experience as other employees. Some industries really focus on internships for their hiring pool. If you work in one of these industries, you may need to do an internship in order to access higher-level positions.

If you do an internship, make sure you check the labour laws in the province where you are working. Some provinces permit unpaid interships and some do not. If you’re considering an unpaid internship, check with the labour laws or your university’s career centre to see if that’s acceptable.

Volunteering

Volunteering is unpaid work at a non-profit or charitable organization. If you don’t have very much previous work experience, this can be a great way for you to build skills and find your first references. It can be very rewarding to support a charity or non-profit organization.

I have built a great deal of my work experience through volunteering. The network I built also connected me with people who offered me paying work later on.

Practicum

A practicum is a specific work experience where you have the opportunity to demonstrate the skills needed for the field you are studying. Applied fields (such as nursing, teaching, counselling, and others) often require practicums. A supervisor will usually assess your practicum and provide feedback in order for you to receive credit. If your program requires a practicum, it should be listed as one of the requirements, along with the courses.

Service Learning

Service learning is typically unpaid work that is done for a class that supports the community. It may be the whole class, or it may be one assignment. Students can support their community while also building their skills. If this is something you are interested in, you should ask around your department. If you have academic advisors, they may be able to connect you with these opportunities.

Research Assistantships

A research assistant works with a professor on an academic research project. Universities usually pay research assistants, but there may be exceptions. If you are planning on applying to grad school, this experience will probably be helpful, and will help you get academic references from your professors. Universities usually prioritize grad students for research assistant roles, making it difficult for undergrads to get into this work. Speak with professors and staff in your department or program to find out about opportunities.

Teaching Assistantships

A teaching assistant supports a professor’s teaching. That might mean grading assignments and exams, or teaching tutorials, or preparing slides, or a variety of other tasks. This will give you an opportunity to work with younger students and get a reference from your professor. Grad schools often value this experience, depending on the program. As with research assistantships, universities normally prioritize grad students for these positions, so they can be difficult or impossible for undergrads to get. If you are interested, ask around your department or program, and speak with your professors.

Other On-Campus Work

Most universities also hire students for a variety of on-campus work, from shelving books in the library to working in an administrative office. They will often pay higher than minimum wage, and these positions can be helpful because you don’t have to comute after class, since you are already on campus. Check with your university’s human resources office to see what’s available.

Off-Campus Work

This is the broadest category. Off-campus work is literally anything you can find off campus. Some students work at Starbucks, or as servers in restaurants, or cashiers… the options are extensive. My suggestion with this is that you make sure it contributes to your future career (through skills, networking, or references), and try to find what works best for you.

The Govenrment of Canada runs something called FSWEP – the Federal Student Work Experience Program. This is a hiring program for federal government jobs. They tend to post a high number of summer jobs, but there are positions posted all year, an the rates of pay are clearly published.

Getting Paid to Study

I wanted to add a note about this because I have met students who are very strategic with trying to find work that allows them to do homework. It might be worthwhile to find you a job where a lot of the work is just being present in case somebody needs you. That way you can study or do homework in between, and still get paid. The examples that I am aware of where this is possible are night receptionist at a hotel, an event technician, and a pet or house-sitter. If you know of others, I would love to share them here so please reach out – email@chooseyouruni.ca.

Do you have questions about work experience for students? Send me an email (email@chooseyouruni.ca) with your questions and I’ll get back to you!

You can also join the free Beginning Career Research webinar that’s coming up on November 29. Details and registration are on Eventbrite.

Seven Tips to Increase Study Motivation

It’s getting close to midterm time. You’re tired. You’re stressed. You have so much work ahead of you. It’s getting dark and cold out (or warm and sunny as we head toward summer). You’re tired of studying. You need to increase your motivation to study!

We’ve all been there. First, please don’t be hard on yourself. Being a student is hard. It’s stressful! A lot is being asked of you. Depending on where you are and when you’re reading this, you may still be dealing with a pandemic. But even at the best of times, student life can be overwhelming. What can you do when you’re not feeling inspired to study? How can you rebuild your motivation and get started again?

Here are my top 7 tips for increasing study motivation:

  1. Break it into pieces
  2. Make a ta-da! list instead of a to-do list
  3. Focus on the end goal
  4. Take time to celebrate
  5. Take a break
  6. Study with friends
  7. Find new ways to study

1. Break it into pieces

Break your homework/studying into the smallest, tiniest pieces and just do one tiny thing at a time. Each tiny thing can remind you that you are super-capable and smart, and encourage you to do the next tiny thing. And if not, at least your to-do list will be less overwhelming than one with items like “write a 20 page paper” and “study 17 chapters.”

What will this look like? When you have to write a paper, you’re going to build all the steps. This will also help you to plan out your time because you can map them out before the due date. If you have to write a paper for a history or English (or other social sciences course), it might look like this:

  • Pick a broad paper topic
  • Scan the research on that topic
  • Refine your topic (narrow it based on available research)
  • Do a literature review and organize it into an outline
  • Outline your conclusions from your research
  • Turn your outline into a paper (this may take multiple to-do list items)
  • Review and refine your paper (you can also do this in several steps)

Similarly, when you are studying for an exam, you can break it down into chapters or topics and then sections of each chapter or sub-topics.

Although this will give you a much longer to-do list, each item on that list will be much smaller and less overwhelming. Plus, this gives you a much clearer outline of what actually has to be done.

2. Make a ta-da! list instead of a to-do list

When I feel like I haven’t gotten anything done, I like to make a ta-da! list. This is the OPPOSITE of a to-do list: instead of writing down things you should do, write down EVERY SINGLE THING YOU ACCOMPLISHED TODAY.

  • made bed
  • showered
  • brushed teeth
  • walked dog
  • did laundry
  • emptied and reloaded dishwasher
  • ate a healthy breakfast
  • read one article for history class
  • reviewed two chapters for biology
  • made a dentist appointment

This helps to remind me that even if I’m not the best at studying today, I am doing great at life and I have clean laundry. As students, we have a lot on our plates outside of studying, too, and it’s important to remember that. 

3. Focus on the end goal

Remind yourself of your end-goal. At the end, you get a degree! I assume that degree will get you into your desired career! Think about that. Remind yourself why you’re at university – you are growing your brain so you can have an awesome career.

If you like to make art, you could build a vision board about your future life, including the career that you are working towards. This doesn’t have to be something specific, like “doctor” or “accountant.” You can look for images that capture the vibe of your ideal work place. Do you work with people or not? If so, are they adults or children? Do you have a big office, or work outdoors, or in some other setting?

If a vision board is not your jam, just use a sticky note or cue-card. Write something on it that reminds you of your end-goal. Something like “full-time work to move out of mom’s basement,” “$100K and 6 weeks vacation.”

One of the reasons I wanted to return to uni and do my PhD was so that I could do research and read and write all day, so I could write that out, or put a picture with a desk and a lot of books on my vision board. I like to make collages, so chose the vision-board option.

4. Take time to celebrate

Celebrate your wins.: The end of every semester (no matter your grades). Fnishing that paper or exam. Getting the good grades, or the times you passed when you weren’t sure you would. Celebrate alone or with friends and family. Celebrate with a treat, or a day off, or champagne and sparklers – whatever will help you acknowledge that you’re accomplishing things and making moves towards your big goal!

Getting a degree is a process of completing so many smaller things: semesters, courses, assignments, readings. You’re also building your career, so you’re gaining work experience, adding references to your resume, discovering what your skills are and how to best communicate them to employers. But doing all of this takes a long time, so it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere. This is why it’s so important to acknowldege and celebrate all of the mini-accomplishments within your degree. Seeing and celebrating all the steps you’ve taken so far can remind you how far you’ve come, which can also increase your motivation to study.

5. Take a break

I have posted a lot about this. Sometimes you just need a break! If you’re feeling tired and burnt out, you may just need a day off. I know it can be hard to justify a day off in the busiest times of the semester, but you need to weigh the impact of NOT taking a day off on your ability to learn. Not getting the rest you need is counter-productive – skipping your breaks will leave you tired and unfocused. It may be that a break is just what you need to increase your study motivation when you come back to it.

6. Study with friends

Accountability groups and study groups are wonderful for increasing study motivation, especially if you are an obliger like me, which means I tend to be more accountable to other people or external sources. When you are in a study group, you are very likely to show up and do work during that time because there are other folks there doing the same thing.

Your university may offer study groups. I have been in one writing group and one productivity group (both online) since I started my PhD and I find them really helpful for keeping me on track. I am also in a group with some other PhD students where we just send each other a WhatsApp message when we start working to see if anybody else wants to join the Zoom meeting. Sometimes this will prompt me to start studying, and having someone else there keeps me accountable.

You can organize these groups however you like, but at the ones I go to, we check-in every hour or so and set goals. At the end of the hour, we say what we accomplished on our goal and whether we’re going to continue or not. One of the groups I’m in does 40-minute pomodors with a break in the middle. You can find a group organized by your university, or you can organize one yourself, but studying together can definitely help increase study motiviation.

7. Find new ways to study

Finally, try to vary your study methods to increase your study motivation. If your study methods are effective and you know that you are learning and improving, you’ll be much more motivated to continue. I have shared some of my top recommended study methods in this post, and I regularly post and re-post study tips on my social (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Quora). You can also find other studygrams, or look for solutions on sites like Reddit and Quora, or just use Google to see how others study.

Your university is also very likely to offer supports for study skills, either through the library or student services. Make sure you see what they have to offer – they may be able to sit down with you and talk about the challenges you have and offer individualized solutions.

Other tips to increase study motivation

  • Eliminate distractions. Put your phone away so you can accomplish more during your study time.
  • Gamify your study time. There are loads of study apps where you can earn points for studying, or build things (growing trees, feeding digital pets, etc). Check out what’s out there and find something fun!
  • Manage your time well. If you want to learn how to manage your time and priorities as a university student, sign up for the upcoming Time & Priority Management webinar.

How do you increase study motivation?

I hope you found this helpful! I would love to know how you increase your own study motivation. Do the methods I’ve listed work for you, or do you have your own tip to add? Comment below, on social, or send me an email at email@chooseyouruni.ca – I’d love to hear from you!

Top Ten Career Podcasts for Students

As a student, you want to make sure you are exploring your career options so that you can align your education and experiences towards your career goals. I’ve found the top ten career podcasts for students and listed them below, along with some recommended episodes. These are in no particular order (this is not a ranking), so make sure you read right to number ten!

1. Happier in Hollywood

This podcast is a spin-off from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier, which she makes with her sister, Liz Craft. Happier is a great podcast, but it’s not specifically career-related so didn’t quite make the list. Liz Craft created Happier in Hollywood with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, to talk about how to be happier while living in Hollywood and working as tv and film writers.

This is in my top ten because I like to learn about different industries, and this podcast gives some behind-the-scenes details on what it’s like to work in the tv industry. Even though I work in a completely different field (education and academia), I find a lot of their lessons and tips relevant. They talk about how they work together, work-life balance, how to pitch, and – my favourite – when to swear in a meeting (which is industry-specific – in many industries, the answer is never).

They share about their own career paths and often interview others in their industry, to talk about career paths and goals. Whether you’re interested in pursuing those positions (tv and film writer, casting director, etc) or not, seeing the career paths of others can help you envision your own.

Picking a new work mantra is helpful for anyone! Even as a student you could use a good mantra! A phrase to remind you of why you’re doing this and why it’s worth it.

Climb the Wall and Enjoy the View talks about hitting the wall, but then finding the energy to celebrate your accomplishments (so important for students!).

In Make Your Own Relationships at Work, they talk about why building relationships at work is important, and also why it’s important to take time off.

2. Women at Work by Harvard Business Review

Although this podcast is aimed at women, so many of the topics are relevant to anyone who is starting, or even already has, a career. They cover topics from salary negotiations, leadership and work-life balance, to career planning and side gigs. It’s a good career podcast whether you’re a student or a mid-career professional, and you’ll find all sorts of great information here.

We Answer Questions from Early Career Listeners answers some excellent questions from early professionals, and I’m sure you’ve wondered about many of these. Questions are about career planning, dealing with weird work situations, and working well with your boss.

In Seeing Ourselves as Leaders, they talk about leadership – and not just for those in official leadership roles. As a student, you can start building many of the transferable skills required for good leadership, such as critical thinking, inspiring others and taking responsibility for decision-making.

Step into the Spotlight talks about how to be visible at work in a positive way – how to get noticed so you’ll get the promotion.

3. Ask a Manager

Unfortunately, this podcast recently ended. But I am keeping it on the list because the focus is on listener questions, and also because she includes some really hilarious questions and situations that will keep you entertained. This podcast generally focuses on useful questions, like how to deal with awkward work situations or how to figure out how to work best with your boss. But there are also episodes about lunch thieves, weird coworkers, and inappropriate bosses. Hopefully you’ll never encounter any of these, but if you listen to this podcast, you’d be prepared!

How to Say No to Your Boss is helpful for knowing how to set some boundaries with your boss. It can be hard to say no to your boss – and to know when you can and can’t do it, so having some guidance will be helpful for you.

You might like Help – I work for a Micromanager! because you might run into a micromanager at some point, and these can be difficult to deal with. This kind of manager probably got where they are by knowing everything that was going on and controlling it, but at some point that has a negative impact on their employees. What should you do in this situation?

How Do I Start a New Job on the Right Foot? will be helpful as you go into any internships, co-op positions or part-time jobs as a student, and then also when you are launching your career after graduation.

4. HerMoney with Jean Chatzky

Chatzky’s advice is really helpful when you’re starting out – she talks about paying of debt (student loans), starting to invest for your retirement, and maximizing your company’s benefits. There are also episodes about negotiating salaries and overcoming financial obstacles. What I like about this is that she is a realist – she gives advice and provides options depending on your situation.

An Insiders Guide to Cars: Buying and Selling will be helpful for anyone who is looking to purchase a new car.

Reinvent Your Career will be helpful, even if you’re inventing your career. This episode is really about figuring out what your career path should be, and will apply whether you’re chaning careers or just starting out. I’m very excited to read the book mentioned here, too! I’m sure I’ll post a review once I’ve finished it.

How to Earn Seven Figures is for the go-getters who have strong financial ambitions. This episode is an interview with Rachel Rodgers, who also has a wonderful podcast (I will give it an honourable mention, but I did not include it here because I consider it more of a level-two career podcast). Rodgers’ stance is that rather than having a restrictive budget, we should all figure out how to make more money, and I love that idea.

5. More Money

More Money is a Canadian personal finance podcast hosted by Jessica Moorhouse, and she’ll give you all the advice that’s specific to Canadians – which is helpful because so many personal finance podcasts and websites are US-based and not everything applies for us up here in Canada. Rather than learning about IRAs (American Retirement Funds), she talks about RRSPs and TFSAs, which you’ll find more useful here.

Why Getting Good with Money Doesn’t Have to be Complicated gives some great tips for having a healthy money mindset and simplifying your financial dilemmas.

How to Secure Your Dream Job During a Pandemic has lots of career-finding advice that will still be relevant outside of a pandy. I highly recommend this one when you’re beginning your career search.

How to Master the Art of Self-Promotion will help you brag about your accomplishments and show off your skills and achievements, without sounding braggy. This is such an important skill for networking and job interviews, and something all students should be working on.

6. TGIM

This is a podcast created by a Toronto-based networking group, Monday Girl, and they only have a few episodes so far but they are great. They interview women about career transitions and success tips, and about their career paths. It is so incredibly valuable for students to start exploring the career paths of others to see more possibilities for themselves and maybe even stumble on their dream career.

Stressed & Unemployed is an interview with a top recruiter, who shares her tips on how to stand out and get hired in a competitive environment.

Ryerson Grad to Raptors Reporter follows the career path of a sports reporter, and also talks about the discrimination she faced on her path. This is a good listen for POC and people who want to be better allies in the workplace.

7. Women With Cool Jobs

This podcast is exactly what the title sounds like! The host interviews women who have cool jobs, to find out more about their jobs and how they got there. This will help you see the millions of career options that exist out there and might open your eyes to your dream career! I have listed some recommended episodes, but honestly just look at the cool jobs in the titles and find ones you like!

Paleontologist Puts Dinosaur Fossil Puzzle Pieces Together interviews a paleontologist, which is fascinating becuase this is a job we all learn about in elementary school or on tv, but don’t actually know much about. The interviewee talks about her career path and what her work actually looks like.

VP of Casting at CBS Studios Finds Top-Tier Actors and Talent for TV Shows was fascinating because, as I mentioned above, I am fascinated by the film industry and always find takeaways in industries that are so different from my own. The interviewee talks about her own career journey and how she went from being an entry-level employee to a VP at a massive company.

Informational Interviews and How They Can Help You Find A Cool Job is exactly what the title says: a no-nonsense guide to why you should be exploring your career through informational interviews and how you should do it.

8. Career Contessa

I’ve put this podcast on the list becuase it will help you not just begin your career, but navigate it the whole way through. There are episodes for managers, aspiring managers, new employees – you name it, you can find advice here.

How Much Are You Worth And How to Ask for a Raise gives great advice on asking for a raise. This can be one of the more difficult topics for early-career professionals because we don’t tend to talk about salaries and wages in an open way in our culture.

The Dos and Don’ts of Making a Mistake at Work goes over how to handle making a workplace error. This is something none of us want to do, but handling a workplace error can mean the difference between getting fired or earning your boss’s respect.

5 Red Flags to Avoid in a Company tells us what to look for in our job-search to make sure we end up at the right company. The job-search process is not just about you finding a job – it’s also about screening the workplace and making sure you end up in an environment that you like, and that will support your career growth. This episode will help you find just that.

9. Frontburner

You might be wondering why I’m including a news podcast in this list. Some career advice that I received years ago was to keep on top of what’s happening in the world and in my industry. It’s helpful for making small talk, showing that you connect your job to the bigger picture (the whole company and the industry), and also for networking. Knowing what’s going on in the world can give you an advantage when you get the opportunity to spend some time with higher-ups.

I’m not going to recommend episodes, because you should just listen to some of the most recent ones. Frontburner takes a deep dive into a headline of the week and provides additional background information, so you can take 20-30 minutes to learn more about a story without spending a ton of time reading or watching the news.

10. Freakonomics

When I worked in a business setting, I was always finding ways to talk about these episodes at work, so I just kept listening to it. It’s kind of a random podcast, but if you sift through you’ll find ones that are either of personal interest to you, or relevant to your industry. These have helped me provide examples in business discussions, or start conversations, or just add some random facts in a networking situation. I’ve recommended my two favourites, but just take a look through them and find ones that are interesting to you!

I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Trader Joe’s episode. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve used the contrast of Trader Joe’s business model in conversations. They also talk about decision-making and how much trouble humans have making decisions when there are lots of options, which can help you in working with colleagues and communicating options (keep it limited).

This episode on American Individualism actually talked a lot about cultural difference and used Hofstede’s model of national culture to analyse American culture. This model can actually help you to understand cultural aspects of communication and working that you may encounter, which is why I recommend this one. While the American individualism factor is interesting, you will also learn about other categories of cultural difference in this model.

Where to find these podcasts?

I listen to all of these podcasts on the Spotify app on my iPhone or iPad, where I can download them and listen to them on or offline. I believe most of them are available on a variety of services, or you can listen online through the links I’ve provided.

Want more career-focused content?

Check out my posts on University Student Career Exploration, Understanding Your Skills and Interests, and How can I explore my career options?

You can also sign up for the upcoming Beginning Career Exploration webinar on Eventbrite.

Share your thoughts!

What do you think are the best career podcasts for students? Did I miss some important ones? Share them in the comments or send me a message at email@chooseyouruni.ca.

Best Methods for Dealing with Student Stress & Anxiety

Thanks to Inna from The Daily Sunlight for collaborating with me on this post! We connected on Twitter over how difficult student stress and anxiety can be to deal with, and thought we could share some of our best tips. 

Being a university student is hard! Don’t feel bad for being stressed out or feeling anxious – remind yourself that you’re in a stressful situation. Dealing with university stress is challenging! The main thing is to try to alleviate some of that stress and anxiety so you can enjoy your time and focus on learning.

A Few Tips on How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in University:

Blue marble background with a pink text box. Text reads: Reducing student stress & anxiety. 1. Use the available resources; 2. Organization is key; 3. Don't compare yourself to other students; 4. Be proud of your achievements (bit and small); 5. Everything does not need to be perfect; 6. Prioritize your health; 7. Eat well; 8. Don't be afraid to ask for help; 9. Explore your campus; 10. Take time to enjoy the experience. read more: chooseyouruni.ca."

1. Use the Available Resources 

Your campus is likely to have resources to help you deal with university stress, such as counsellors or student counsellors who may be able to support you. They may have tips for stress relief, or they may be able to talk you through some planning that could be calming, or they may know of other campus resources that may help. There is probably also a study skills centre to help you update your study skills so you feel more confident about your course materials.

Want more? Check out the post on The Top 5 People to Know at Your University to read about some university resources, and check out my Upcoming Workshops & Events for the next webinar on how to build confidence for university.

2. Organization is Key

Personally, I feel much less stressed out when I am organized, so having some good organizational systems can help. I work with a semesterly calendar and a weekly and daily to-do list. When I have a lot of deadlines (stressful!), I will go through my to-do list and figure out what can wait another day or longer.

The Eisenhower Matrix may also help – this is where you break your to-do list into four sections:
1) Urgent & Important (you have to get this done, it’s due soon);
2) important but not urgent (you need to start working on your final paper early, it’s important but you have time left);
3) urgent but not important (you have to fill out a form or do some admin work on a deadline);
4) not urgent or important (no deadline, not that important).
Go through your to-do list and categorize each of the tasks into the four categories. This may help you prioritize all of your tasks and focus attention on the ones that need to be done first.

I’ve also seen suggestions to only focus on the next most important task. Sometimes the urgent tasks take our time but actually aren’t very important, so make sure you think about what should be done next to reduce your academic anxiety.

If this particular method doesn’t work for you, the internet can provide a lot of advice. What do other students do? You can see how I stay organized, or go on any social media site to see more stress management techniques for students. Try looking for #studygram on Instagram for suggestions!

Want more? You can read about how I organize my time and priorities as a PhD student in my post on Time Managment and Prioritization for Students, or sign up for my online workshop on Time & Priority Management on Eventbrite.

3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Students

Another stress management tip for is: don’t compare yourself to others. You might look around at students around you and wonder “How are they all doing so well? Why aren’t they struggling, too?” But you don’t know. They might not be doing so well, and they could be struggling, too. Don’t worry about them. Worry about yourself. You got into the same program – you’re just as capable as everyone else. What’s that quote? “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

You can also try leveraging your jealousy – use it as a motivator. Do you see red when the girl you sit next to in bio tells you she got an A+? Ask her what study methods she uses, or ask her if she wants to study together. Maybe she has some techniques that would be helpful for you. Be open to learning from others and you might learn something helpful.

Beach scene with a pineapple and white text that reads, "Comparison is the thief of joy. Focus on your own progress. Chooseyouruni.ca"

4. Be Proud of Your Achievements (Big and Small)

Make sure you are practicing gratitude and celebrating wins, even small ones. Did you submit your payroll form today? High five! Did you brush your teeth today? Excellent work! Take some time each day or week to recognize what you’ve accomplished. You got into uni. You’ve survived X semesters and you’re still there. You aced that exam last year. Your final paper in that one course was great. Or, the final exam in that one class was horrible but you still passed. Acknowledge the successes you’ve had. If you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything today or this week, write a ta-da list and put everything on it: made bed, brushed teeth, showered, made breakfast for mom, walked the dog, studied for 20 minutes… whatever you’ve managed to do.

What’s a ta-da list? I learned about tha ta-da list from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier (episode 134 if you want to listen). Instead of making a to-do list where you write down what you haven’t done yet, on a ta-da list you write down what you already accomplished: ✅ made bed, ✅ brushed teeth, ✅ read newspaper, etc. This helps recognize what you managed to get done even though you might FEEL like you haven’t accomplished anything.

5. Everything Does Not Need To Be Perfect

Don’t be a perfectionist. Sometimes DONE is better than PERFECT. I feel that student stress and anxiety as I creeped closer to a deadline for an important assignment that I feel too intimidated to even start because I don’t think I could do it as well as I wanted to. But that procrastination doesn’t help – eventually you just have to act. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Sometimes just getting something done is better than being perfect. I would rather get 50% for a not-very-good paper than 0% for not handing in a paper at all!

The academic pressure of university is already quite high – when you add perfectionism to this, it can create additional stress. Focus on identifying your perfectionist tendencies so you can counterract them with logic.

6. Prioritize Your Health

Finally, don’t forget to prioritize your health, both mental and physical. Rest and breaks are super-important! I can’t stress this enough. I am often asked questions like, “How can I study for 23.5 hours a day?” Don’t do it – you need breaks, both short breaks between studying, and longer breaks to do something relaxing, get enough sleep, get some exercise, see friends and family, eat healthy food, etc. Which brings me to my next point…

7. Eat Well

As a student, you are busy and that could lead to bad nutrition. I know some people who eat a lot of junk food because they do not have time to cook. I understand if you do this once or twice a week but don’t eat junk food all day. It is not good for you. Take some time for yourself, cook and eat well. Eating well can also help you focus better with your studies and give you more energy than if you’re just fuelling with sugar-filled caffeinated drinks.

Taking care of your body will help you deal with all the student stress and anxiety that you have to face. Being well-rested, getting exercise, and eating nutritional food will help your body and mind stay sharp so you can focus on your courses.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

If you are new to the University, you might be shy to ask for directions or simply ask any question. Don’t be! Ask all the questions you have. No one is really going to help you unless you request help. The same goes for your professors. If you don’t understand something in the class, ask your professor during or after the lecture. 

If you need more information on how to deal with university anxiety, and feel that your stress has levelled up to anxiety, you may also need to speak to a mental health professional. If your stress or anxiety levels are so high that nothing works to help calm you, you should reach out to a professional for help. Sometimes just talking it through and coming up with a plan can help. Academic stress is a real challenge, and university students face very high levels of stress and anxiety. Make sure you take care of yourself by asking for help when needed.

9. Explore Your Campus

When you are on a lunch break or whenever you find yourself with extra time, explore around the University. Visit the library, check out the cafeteria, and go outside. Explore the beauty of the University on your own, you’ll get to see things and learn a lot of new things that might be helpful to you. 

Make sure you explore all the services that are available, too. You can join student clubs and associations to meet friends, access career and academic advisors, improve your research skills – universities have supports for all of these, but sometimes you might have to do some searching to find them.

10. Take Time to Enjoy the Experience

University is stressful but it is also a very enjoyable experience. You get to learn a lot of things but also get to meet a lot of new people. Some of them can even become good friends. It is important to enjoy the process. 

We all want to achieve our goals. Having good grades as well as maintaining them are usually a student’s main goal. But, we shouldn’t forget to take care of ourselves and take a break once in a while if we need to. We need to care about both our mental and physical health in order to perform well at school and deal with the stress and anxiety of being a student. University can help students achieve their dreams but we have to use the right resources that it offers and set timely, achievable goals in order for that to happen. Hopefully, we are able to focus on the right things and achieve our dreams. 

Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety can be a very real challenge. You’re stuck in an environment that may create additional exam tension (due to distractions, temperature, one of those tiny desks that folds into the arm of the chair…). Additional exam pressure is created by the time limit.

So what can you do about exam stress? When you’re preparing, practice working under time limits, so that the day of the exam can feel less stressful. Get plenty of rest the night before your exam, so you can stay focused and finish in the time left. Start studying early, far ahead of time, so you don’t feel like you have to cram. These steps can all help you be more prepared and feel calmer as you go into an exam.

Let Me Know:

Are you a University student? If yes, how do you reduce your stress and anxiety? If you were a University student, how did you manage to focus on your studies and alleviate some of your student stress and anxiety? Let me know in the comments! 

Thank You to Inna from The Daily Sunlight!

Thanks again to Inna for working on this post with me! Her blog The Daily Sunlight is great – she writes candidly about her life and is very active in the blogging community. If you want to know more about blogging, definitely check out her work!

These are my favourite posts from The Daily Sunlight:

If you’ve ever felt a little bit lost in your life or career, you’ll probably relate to her post The Lost Girl Who’s Living in Her Own World. She writes about feeling lost and the anxiety we face when we have to come up with our big plans for the future. 

Are you a fan of Friends? I mean the iconic 90s tv show with the NYC roommates. I think we’re all fans of having friends in our lives 😉 If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably love Inna’s Blogmas 2020 posts where she posts Friends quizzes, trivia, and updates from her Friends advent calendar.  

Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Time Managment and Prioritization for Students

How I Organize my Time and Priorities as a PhD student

This week I’m sharing how I manage my time and prioritize my work. I’m currently a PhD student and I have a couple of part-time jobs. I also used these same methods when I was a full-time undergrad with a part-time job, and then working full-time and doing my Master’s part-time. As with study skills, each person has to find what works for them. Take what helps you from this and discard the rest. Take some time to experiment and figure out what time management and prioritization methods will work for you.

What is Time Management?

Time management is about how you organize your tasks and your time. It’s about how you plan and organize yourself in order to get everything done. Organization and prioritization are key time management strategies, so we’ll look at all of these together. Undergraduate students, like you, have a lot of competing priorities and demands on your time. The biggest benefit of effective time management will be accomplishing more and meeting your deadlines. Time management skills benefit students not just during your time at university, but also into your career. Gaining a reputation for being an effective worker who can meet all their deadlines and get all their work done pust you ahead of your colleagues. Especially if they have to ask for extensions on their work.

Organization & Prioritization

One of my top time management tips is taking some time at the beginning of each day, week, month, and semester to get organized and determine your priorities. I love to make lists and organize myself. I could easily spend more time on list-making than actually completing the tasks on my list. But that would be really ineffective!

Regularly checking in on what you have left to do will help you avoid missing any tasks or deadlines. Following my plan below, you’ll have a master list of everything you need to do. Then you will always know what the next most important thing to work on is.

Another great time management tip is not to get caught up in unimportant tasks. I’m sure you could easily spend hours making pretty cue cards for your upcoming exam. But is that the best use of your time? If it helps you learn the material, or helps you relax, then maybe it is. Otherwise, make your cue cards quickly and get on with more important work.

Semester Schedule

I create a semester schedule with all my deadlines on it so I can monitor them. My semesters have always been four months long, so I use four monthly calendars. I’ve used whiteboard calendars in the past. Right now I use a paper calendar. You could also use a digital calendar (Google, iCal, Outlook, etc). The reason I do not use a digital calendar for this is because it can be difficult to find a view that easily shows the level of detail I like. On a paper calendar, i colour-code all of my commitments and deadlines so it’s easy to glance at it.

I use this semester calendar to manage my priorities so I can allot the correct amount of time to them. At least once a week, look through and see what deadlines are coming up so you can get the tasks done. Look a few weeks ahead, too. That way, you can start any big projects ahead of time and have more than a week to finish them.

At the beginning of the semester, add all your course and project deadlines to this calendar so they are easy for you to review. That way you can always see what’s on your plate.

Weekly To-Do List

I also make a weekly to-do list, which is organized by topic (these are my courses and jobs: for example, EDUC 100, EDUC 200, research assistantship, bookstore job, personal, blog – whatever you have on the go). See how I do this in the image below. Each page in my planner is broken into four sections so I have eight boxes, and then each box is a category and I list everything I have to do underneath it. Normally, I have a lot more things on my lists – I took the picture before I finished populating it so it would look tidy for the picture, but hopefully it gives you the idea of how I organize myself.

I always note any upcoming deadlines beside the to-do item in brackets, just as a reminder. The most important items or biggest projects are usually at the top of the list because they are the first ones I add. I use my semester calendar and my course syllabi to fill this in, and then add more items as the week goes on. By the end of the week, most boxes are pretty full!

Anything that doesn’t get done carries over to the next week’s list or gets de-prioritized (which means it wasn’t very important). If you have items that are continuously not getting done, it is time to ask yourself whether they are actually important. It may be time to just delete those items, or save them for the semester break if you’re not getting to them.

Prioritization of my work each week. 
Picture of a notebook with a two-page spread broken into eight boxes. Each box has a title: Personal, Courses, Scholarships, CYU, Etsy, GA-Ship, PhD and a blank. Under each headline is a weekly to-do list for that topic. This helps me manage my time & priorities.
my weekly priority list by topic

Time Management

I like to organize my day the night before, but if I’m really busy I’ll do it first thing in the morning. Many people have different preferences for this! I use deadlines to set my priorities and review these and update my priorities when I make my daily list, so I don’t miss any deadlines.

Weekly/Daily To-Do List

As you can see below, I create another 8-box spread for my weekly to-do list and then have a list for each day. If I have a lot of meetings, I’ll list them at the top or bottom of that day’s box so I dont have to keep looking back at my calendar. I fill out the week as I go – although I will often plan ahead to future days. As you can see below, I have a lot of meetings that day so I don’t have very many tasks on the list.

How I organize my weekly/daily to-do list for time management and prioritization. A two-page spread broken into 8 boxes with the days of the week listed in them. The eighth box says "Whenever." Only the first box is filled in. At the top, there are three taskss listed, and at the bottom all my meetings are listed in a different colour.
my weekly to-do list

I also sometimes have days that are full of meetings – this year it has usually been Thursdays. I have to remind myself that on these days, it’s okay to get less work done and I need to lighten up my to-do list so I can go to my meetings without stressing.

Time Management Each Day

I look at my meetings, classes, or appointments each day and organize my day around those. Making sure to book some breaks and also find the blocks of time when I can get work done are really important each day. I usually aim to have a couple of study blocks that are 2–3 hours long uninterrupted. If I’m really busy, I might go up to 4 hours, but it’s very tiring and I can’t always focus that long, so I prefer 2 or 3 hour spots.

I take fairly long breaks between the study blocks and meetings. I usually work for a couple hours each morning, then I might have a noon or 1pm meeting, and then I’d take a one hour break before going back for another 2–3 hours. Then I might take a longer break and work in the evening, or take a shorter break and just work a little bit more before taking the evening off.

I have a dog and I dog-sit as well, so I often spend those breaks walking one or more dogs. I find this really relaxing, and it forces me to get up and out of my house, which has been particularly helpful during the lockdowns of 2020/2021, and on days when the weather is cold or rainy and I might not otherwise motivate myself to go outside. Leaving the house and moving around also make it feel more like a break.

More Pro Tips for Time Management & Prioritization

My Pro Tips

When I have days with no meetings or very few meetings, I will have more focused study sessions. I try to book new meetings on days that already have meetings so that I can have more days without interruptions.

I am also in a few study/productivity groups each week, and I have a group of fellow students I can message on Whatsapp to set up new ad-hoc (as needed) study groups. We meet in Zoom, set a goal and an amount of time we will work, and then check in at the end to see if we’ve met our goals. Some of the groups do timed pomodoros and tell you when to take a break – one that I’m in does 40-minute work sessions and then a 5-minute break, another one just works for 2 hours solid.

I am not strict with times. I often sleep late, so if I get up at 10am, I just have a bit longer day and will probably study in the evening. Some people function better by having a start-time that they stick to, but that hasn’t worked for me.

If I am having a lot of trouble focusing or getting started, I will start with an easier task, or use pomodoros so that I can just focus for 25 minutes or so.

Pro Tips from Others

Monotasking

It turns out that humans are not actually good multitaskers. Are you surprised? I’m not! Monotasking is the opposite of multitasking – it’s the act of focusing on only one thing at a time. There’s a whole book about this, called Monotasking by Staffan Noteberg, and I think the concept is helpful. Basically, you pick your most important task and you focus on it. Close your email, hide your phone, set an alarm and work for a set amount of time. When your timer goes off, take a moment to re-prioritize your work, and then either do another period of monotasking on that task, or switch to another task, whichever is most important.

The Golden Triangle

I read about this one in The Pie Life by Samantha Ettus. This book is not specifically about time management, it’s more about life management and trying to find balance when you have multiple commitments, like a career, a family, friends, and other extracurriculars you care about. Instead of using a scale metaphor for balance, she talks about life being a pie, which we can slice into the sizes we want. We just can’t add more pie. So if you are spending more time in one category, it will have to come from somewhere else.

But she describes the golden triangle for efficiency: most of the places you have to go should be in the area between the places you go most. So, if you are a university student, maybe the three places you go most are home, the university campus, and your part-time job. This means that your grocery store, bank, dry cleaner, dentist, and wherever else you have to go, should be in between those three places. This means that your commute should almost always be within the triangle, and you should be able to go one place on the way to another. This will save you commute time because you can stop somewhere on your way to somewhere else.

(And yes, I know there are numerous other meanings of the Golden Triangle, but this is what she calls it in the book so it’s the phrase I’m using here).

Conclusion – Try Something New

Like studying, you will have to experiment and find what works for you. I have tried less planning and also more structured time management, and I find that this is what works best for me. It may help you more to start at the same time every day – this is something I am still working on! You may find that you are a morning or evening person and have more focus at certain times of the day. Take some time to try different methods to manage your time and priorities and please reach out to let me know what works for you!

Workshop: Time Management and Prioritization for Students

I host an online workshop to help undergraduate (bachelors degree) students learn how to effectively manage their time and priorities. We go through all the tips above and more! It’s a short time management course that will help you get organized and get everything done. You can find all the details here and see when it will be offered next.

More Resources

My previous posts on Study Skills, How to Read Your Course Syllabus and Tips for the first Week of the Semester will also help as you plan your time and priorities over the semester.

You can also take a look at my Quora responses to see the other advice I’ve offered to students’ specific questions. And if you want to ask me something specific, please submit it through the Contact page.

sheCareer blog shares “16 Work-Life Balance Tips for Students” that may be useful. We all know students have to balance so many priorities, it’s a juggling act! Check out their post to learn more.

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How to Read Your University Course Syllabus

The university course syllabus is almost like an agreement between the professor and their students, so you want to make sure you know how to read it. It spells out the expectations for the course. It will usually tell you what you are expected to do (assignments, exams, deliverables, readings) and how you will be evaluated (grading breakdown). The course syllabus may also provide additional resources, information on deadlines and extentions, and other course policies.

How to read your university course syllabus: 1) review all the details; 2) read the whole thing; 3) read it again; 4) follow any instructions. Chooseyouruni.ca
How to read your university course syllabus

How to read your university course syllabus

  1. Review all the details at the start of the term so you can plan ahead.
  2. Read the whole syllabus! Don’t skip anything – it could be important.
  3. Review it again when you are working on important assignments during the semester. There may be information in it that you forgot about since the semester started.
  4. Follow any instructions listed. If your professor wants to be contacted in a specific way, make sure you do that.

Grading Breakdown

How will you be evaluated in the course? Here’s the grading information to look for when you read your university course syllabus:

How many deliverables are there?

Fewer deliverables means you will have fewer opportunities to earn your grade. If you are nervous about a course, this may mean more pressure. On the other hand, like many other students, I don’t like taking exams, so if a course was just one midterm and one final exam, I would try to search for a replacement.

But of course, more deliverables means you will have more due dates. This is a different kind of pressure! Weekly discussion posts or short papers can really add up and take a lot of time, so make sure you’re prepared to devote more time to this course.

How is the grade weighted?

I would evaluate this similarly to the number of deliverables. Some courses only have a final exam, and it makes up 100% of the grade. Or you might see a course that’s 50% midterm and 50% final exam. You might also see a certain proportion of the grade for participation, or presentations, papers, quizzes, etc.

The main thing that you should look for here is whether the grading scheme plays to your strengths. If you don’t like to speak up in class, participation or presentation marks might be harder for you. If you are not as strong at research papers as exams, you might be able to find an exam-based course instead.

Assignment Details (Deliverables)

What kinds of assignments will you have to do in the class? How many are there?

When you have choices between courses, this can be really helpful. If the types of assignments are ones you are strong at, then you will probably find the course less stressful. You may also not have to spend as much time working on them. I really enjoy research papers, but I don’t like exams very much, so I would try to find courses with final papers instead of exams. If you work well under pressure and prefer to have exams, you can look for that, too.

You should also take a look at how many assignments there are. If the grade is broken down into 10 assignments worth 10% each, you might spend a great deal of time on low-stakes assignments. If you want to spread your work over the semester evenly, you might prefer this. But if you would rather just have a couple of big assignments, you could look for that instead.

Readings

When I was advising first-years, I would warn them about this because sometimes, you have to read the whole book! Yes, you might even be expected to read multiple whole books during the semester. I have seen this happen in undergraduate English and Humanities courses before, and I’m sure it happens in many arts, humanities and social sciences courses. I have also definitely seen this at the graduate level, although it hasn’t happened in any of my courses (yet!).

If you are a slow reader, or if you’re really not into reading, you may want to try and avoid these courses. But I will also say that just because a syllabus does not have a bunch of books listed, doesn’t mean you won’t be reading a ton in that course! You are going to university, so you should always be ready to read a lot for all of your classes!

Weekly Schedule

Your university course syllabus will probably tell you what will be covered each week. When I teach, I include a table in my syllabus with the date, readings to be done that week, topics or activities in-class, and any deliverables. I use this to plan my own schedule and block off time for marking papers. As a student, I use this to plan my semester schedule, so that I know when I have to block of time for multiple deliverables. It’s also helpful if you have to miss class for some reason, because you will know exactly what you missed.

Instructor Information

The syllabus will likely contain your instructor and TA’s office hours and preferred contact info. If your instructor lists a preferred contact method, make sure you use it. If you are not available during office hours, do not be afraid to reach out to the instructor or TA to try to find an alternate time. They are typically on campus more often than just their office hours, and now everyone knows how to use video conferencing software (like Zoom of Microsoft Teams), so they can probably set up an appointment, either in-person or remotely, to meet with you.

Important Policies

The course syllabus is kind of like an agreement between the professor and their class. This means that your prof will usually include any important policies that you need to know about. This might include policies for late assignments (such as: can they be late, how can you get an extension, what are acceptable reasons for extensions, how many marks will be taken off…), academic honesty (what is acceptable and what is not), missing class, and information about classroom conduct. Even if the syllabus is long, make sure you read it so you are aware of any requirements or policies. If you ask your instructor something, one of their first responses will be “It’s in the syllabus!” so make sure you’ve checked.

Hints, Tips and Resources

Some instructors (but definitely not all) will include some hints, tips and resources in the syllabus. I have seen campus writing resources included for classes that require papers, or information on using specific style guides (such as APA or MLA), or even hints about what will be on the exams. Don’t ignore these tips when you read your university course syllabus! They can help you excel in your course!

Seven tips for reading your course syllabus: Policies: What do you need to know? Deliverables: What are the assignments? How many are there? Instructor: How can you contact them? Hints, Tips, Resources: Look carefully for these! Weekly Schedule: What will the semester look like? Readings: What are the readings? How many are there? Grading: How will you be graded? Chooseyouruni.ca
Seven tips for reading your university course syllabus

What would you look for in a university course syllabus?

I know that you don’t always have the option to change your courses, or find one that you’re better suited to. However, you can also use the information in the syllabus to help plan your semester. For courses that don’t play to your strengths, you will probably have to devote more time, and the assignment and deadline information can help you plan out your semester.

What is important to you when you are selecting and planning your courses? What do you look for (or what would you look for) when you’re reviewing a syllabus? Comment below!

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Tips for the First Week of University

Are you a soon-to-be university student starting in September? Or maybe you already started university but you are returning for the next semester? I recommend following these tips for the first week of university to get your courses started off right!

1. Make a Friend in Each Class
2. Attend Every Class
3. Meet Your Professor
4. Review the Course Syllabus
5. Do Your Homework
6. Update Your Study Skills
7. Organize Your Semester

Make a Friend in Each Class

Connect with at least one student in every class during the first week of each semester at university. They don’t need to be your best friend, but exchanging contact info with another student will be helpful if you don’t understand something, or if you end up having to miss a class for some reason.

If you’re an introvert, this can be especially difficult. I understand. But the benefits outweigh the awkwardness! Plus, as you go through the semester, that one person will probably help you meet other students (in a less awkward way), so this early investment will pay off. A lot of students don’t know anyone in the first class, so gather all your confidence and say hello to someone! They will probably be happy that you did.

Attend Every Class

In university, the first week is not a freebie! The first class is actually really important, so this is one of my top tips for the first week of university – you will get the course syllabus, which explains everything you need to know about the course: the assignments, the grading scheme, the readings or textbook, and often a week-by-week schedule for the course. The professor will probably also give details that are helpful but not included on the syllabus.

I’ll also highlight a significant difference between high school and university here: Your university semester only has about 12 weeks (depending on your university and schedule), so that’s only 12 classes. This is not like high school where you had classes more than once a week. University courses are packed, and even your very first lecture or seminar will be full of content. If you miss that first class, you could be missing some base knowledge that will be built on over the semester. Plus, if your professor reviews the syllabus, you might miss some hints or tips about how to get a high grade.

Meet Your Professor

Reach out and say hello to your professor! You can go to their office hours, or you can just go up and speak with them at the end of class.

Your professors are human, too, and don’t always get to know every student – especially in large lecture halls. Putting a face to a name will help you make a connection with them, so that if you do have questions later on, they will have a good impression and know that you have been showing up.

Are you shy or nervous to talk to your prof? Here are some things you could talk to them about: What made you choose the course? What are you most interested in learning? You can also ask questions about the course, but make sure they weren’t previously covered because it will seem like you weren’t paying attention. You can also ask if the prof recommends any particular study methods or resources that weren’t in the syllabus, or if they think there are campus resources you should check out (but, again, make sure you don’t ask something they already mentioned).

Review the Course Syllabus

This is one of the most important tips for the first week of university. Make sure you review the whole course syllabus. Key points to look for:

What is the grading scheme?

How will you be graded? This will help you determine what you will have to focus on over the semester. For example, if the course is 50% midterm and 50% final exam, you will be spending a lot of time studying before these exams and should allocate time appropriately. But if the professor requires many small submissions each week, you will have to make sure your time is distributed over the semester.

What types of assignments will you be doing?

What are the types of assignments that are required in a course? If the assignments rely on your strengths, then that will give you a smoother semester, but if not, you may want to start looking for resources early on.

For example, I am not great at memorization but I am very strong at essay-writing. I know that I will struggle in a course that is entirely exam-based and relies on memorizing dates, names, vocabulary or formulas, and I will need to spend more time reviewing and studying each week, and before exams. But if a course has research papers, I will be more comfortable completing it.

When you’re starting university, I would recommend connecting with resources for your early assignments. University essays are usually quite different and more complicated than what you’ve done in high school, readings are harder, and exams typically require you to direct your studies more. One of my top tips for the first week of university (or even earlier) is to research the resources available to you on campus. There are probably workshops and offices that can support you as you upgrade your research, writing and study skills, as well as your professor and TA’s office hours, so take some time to seek out these resources and arrange to make use of them for all your early assignments. See Update your study skills below for more information.

What are the important course policies?

Your professor may have information on assignment extensions, office hours, classroom expectations and more in the syllabus. They may indicate their preferred contact method, information about extensions or late assignments, as well as linking to important resources (like your university’s academic integrity policy).

What does the semester schedule look like?

If you know the types of assignments you’ll be working on, you can plan for the semester. At many universities you may still be able to change your schedule during the first week, so if you look at all the details above and find that a course is not a good fit you may be able to take it later or find an alternative. Be sure to check the policies for your program and university before you change your courses, though – you may have to pay a fee or receive a transcript notation for doing this.

Do Your Homework

Week one is not a freebie! You might think showing up is all you have to do, but you need to keep up on your homework as well, even during the first week of university.

I have heard that the first week is optional, but this is not the case. The professor usually reviews the syllabus and provides information about the course. The professor may also provide tips or hints about what you will be graded on. You wouldn’t want to miss that! Missing the first class has always made me feel like I’m starting out already behind, and I don’t recommend it.

Update Your Study Skills

Every semester, actually every day, is a chance for you to improve your study skills. You will naturally improve over time, but experimenting with different methods and finding out what works for others. I have a post on study skills, and your university will have resources for you as well.

Many universities run study skills workshops at the start (or even throughout) the semester. I highly recommend making time for these. You will think you already know everything, but there are still more skills for you to pick up.

Additionally, many universities offer one-on-one support where you can get feedback on your paper writing and other study skills. University is not the same as high school, so I do suggest looking these up and making time for them.

Organize Your Semester

I maintain several calendars for each semester.

Monthly/Semester Calendar

I use 4 monthly calendars to map out my semester. You can use what will work for you – I prefer to use paper ones. I add all my classes, regular appointments, and deadlines on this calendar. This calendar gets posted beside my desk for easy viewing, so I can always see my upcoming deadlines.

Weekly/Bi-Weekly To-do List

I have a smallish notebook that I use for my planner. I use a ruler to break each page into four boxes, for a total of eight boxes on each two-page spread. The 8 boxes on the first two pages are my weekly to-do list. I put each subject at the top of a box: Each course gets a box, my research assistantship gets a box, my part-time teaching job gets a box, personal items get a box, etc. Then, I write down everything I have to complete or work on that week in the box, with a little square next to it so I can tick it off once it’s done. I like to do this in pen and colour-code it but I realize that’s not everybody’s jam!

This means I might have a box with a title of English 101. Then, under that title for this week, I have empty boxes with tasks next to them. For example, the tasks might be: Read chapter 1 of text, post discussion online, start paper outline. If there are any upcoming deadlines, I note them next to the item like this: Read chapter 1 (Sept 10).

When I am in multiple courses, I update this list weekly because the tasks change so quickly. However, in quieter semesters, I will only update it every couple of weeks because I am continually working on long projects. As an undergraduate, you will probably need to update it weekly if you’re in courses.

Daily To-Do Lists

In the next two pages, where I also have 8 boxes, I put the days and dates of the week at the top of each box. In the 8th box, I write Whenever. These are my daily to-do lists.

Each day, before I start working, I plan what I would like to get done that day and plot it in that day’s box. If I don’t have time to work on something today, I might put it in another box this week. If I am really busy, I might put something on Friday so that I know I can ignore it fore a few days.

I find this system of a semester, weekly, and daily organization (calendars and to-do lists) works well for me. It helps me keep track of short-term deadlines, like weekly readings, as well as long-term projects that I need to start early.

What do you think are the most important tips for the first week of university?

Here are some additional resources and lists from other students and professionals. Please let me know if you find other resources that have been helpful for you, or if you have other tips! I am always looking for more. You can comment below or find my contact information here.

The sheCareer blog has a good list of the 5 Tips for your Start to University Life that you might like.

The Olden Chapters post on How to Prepare for a Successful College Semester, which is US-based but still helpful.

Another older post, but these things never go out of style, Chloe Burroughs posts on 7 things I wish I knew before I started University.

Gabby in the City has a rather old post, and US-based, but it’s still relevant. Check out 100 Things to Know Before College.

Let me know what you wish you knew when you started at university!