Tips for surviving your first year at University

Go to class

This one goes without saying, right?

Unlike high school, attendance isn’t mandatory for most university courses and with that comes the temptation to skip a class here and there. We get it. You’re stressed, 8:00 AM classes are a subtle form of torture, you worked late last night, and you have to cram for a mid-term.

But thing is, there are huge benefits in attending every class – period. Actively listening to lectures, participating in discussions, and making connections with other students and professors can substantially increase your chances of success (Southern Methodist University, “Tips for Academic Success”; Serebin, “10 Secrets to University Success”).

Plus, it’s no surprise that students who regularly attend their classes indicate that they need to spend less time reviewing course materials for exams as they have less material to learn independently (Lobdell, “Study Smart, Study Less”). Going to class will ultimately aid in balancing your time, reducing stress, and making your experience as student that much better!

Put your phone away

Of all the tips in this post, ignoring your phone is likely going to be the most difficult behaviour to implement. By the time most students leave high school their phones are seen as an extension of the self, are the sole facilitators of social interaction, and are the primary means of accessing the internet for personal and academic needs (Roberts, Yaya, & Manolis, pp. 245-256).

However, frequent phone use – especially during class and while working on assignments – has been directly linked with decreased academic performance and higher drop-out rates in university students worldwide (Lepp, Barkley & Karpinski, 344). Disconnecting from your phone during class and study times is one of the most effective ways of training your focus, studying more efficiently, and achieving better results.

So, turn your phone to silent and place it out of sight. It will still be there when the lecture is over.

Block your time

The general rule of thumb is that you should be studying 2-3 hours each week for every credit hour you are enrolled in. So, if you are taking a full course load (15 credits), you should plan on spending 30-45 hours each week on your courses outside of class time. This might sound like a lot, but when study time is broken down into smaller chunks throughout the week, it’s not only more manageable but more effective than cramming (Bennett, 1).

Once you’re enrolled in your courses, work out a weekly schedule that includes study blocks for each course. Be sure to plan these times for when you are most productive – you’re not likely to be very engaged after a 3 hour lecture or an 8 hour shift at work! Figure out how many hours you can reasonably work, and resist the temptation to pick up extra shifts unless you absolutely have to. Remember, regularly reviewing notes and lectures throughout a semester has proven to be more effective than cramming (Bennett, 2), so plan carefully and stick to the schedule.

Take time for you

I know, I know… we just told you it’s essential to block your time and stick to it. But guess what? It’s not healthy to focus on your course work and employment all of the time. It’s important to build time into your schedule for social activities, exercise, and even sleep (Southern Methodist University, “Tips for Academic Success”).

Even during marathon study sessions it’s important to take breaks as they provide the opportunity to step back and regroup. Alternating periods of intense focus with going for a short walk, chatting with friends, or even integrating 10-15 minute bursts of physical activity has proven to be highly effective in increasing productivity and decreasing anxiety (Barr-Anderson et al., 77).

The key here is balance. Taking time to take care of your mental and physical well-being helps prevent burn out, reduces your chances of getting sick, and will actually help you perform better on tests and assignments (Lobdell, “Study Smart, Study Less”).

Find your space

Study space is at a premium on any campus, so it’s important to identify how and where you work best early on. Some work best in a bustling café with steady background noise, while others prefer the focused environments of libraries and study halls. The important thing is that you know where, and how you work best to maximize your study sessions. Try a number of different settings early in the semester and stick with the ones where you are most productive.

We will share computer lab and study space availability in the library daily on our Twitter Feed. So if the library is your preferred study space, be sure to follow us to stay up to date.

Additional study spaces are available on campus near the Bistro, in the basement of Le Fort Centre, and in the Learning Centre. Also, the Fish Creek and Shawnessy Public Libraries are both short train rides away and offer a variety of differentiated spaces and atmospheres.

Blog Post Written By: Jessica Macaulay, Acquisition & Circulation Specialist

Jessica joined the StMU Library team in May 2018. Prior to joining StMU she worked with the Calgary Catholic School District, the University of Calgary Doucette Library, and interned with the University of Edinburgh Special Collections & Digital Imaging Units. Her research interests lie in Middle English literature, Medieval and Early Modern reading networks, and the history of the book as material object.


Barr-Anderson, Daheia J., et al. “Integration of Short Bouts of Physical Activity Into Organizational Routine: A Systematic Review of the Literature”. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 40, no. 1, 2011, pp. 76 – 93.

Bennett, Jeff. “Hints on how to succeed in college classes”. Simon Fraser University. 2000.

Lepp, Andrew, Jacob E. Barkley, & Aryn C. Karpinski. “The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students”. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 31, 2014, pp. 343 – 350.

Lobdell, Marty. “Study Less, Study Smart”. YouTube, uploaded by PierceCollegeDist11, 22 July 2011.

Roberts, James A., Luc Honore Petnji Yaya & Chris Manolis. “The invisible addiction: Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students”. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, vol. 3, no. 4, 2014, pp. 254-265.

Serebin, Jacob. “10 Secrets to University Success: Advice from an upper-year student.”McLeans. 8 Jan. 2011.

Southern Methodist University. “Tips for Academic Success”. SMU: Student Affairs

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