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!

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