Making the Most of Your University Education

university rulesA university-level education is expensive. Even if you get lucky enough to land a scholarship to help you pay for it, your time pursuing higher education is invaluable. So how do you maximize the benefits you get from your university? How do you make sure that you’re getting as much out of your education as possible, that your tuition money is being well spent? I’ve compiled eight of the most essential ways to make the most of your university education.

1. Go to class.

As an undergraduate, I never missed a class. (Okay, once I slept through a study session. But it was for a class taught by my thesis-reader, and I talked to him later that day to find out what I’d missed.) It always baffled me when people would skip university-level classes. Classes that they’d signed up for. Classes their tuition expenses were paying for them to attend. General education requirements, requirements for a major or a minor, electives—no matter the class, it was decided upon, paid for, and committed to at the beginning of the term.

Why make a commitment you’re not planning to keep? Why pay for an education you’re not going to pursue? If you don’t think it’s worth your time, drop the class. Otherwise, attend and give it your all.

2. Pay attention on the first day.

This piece of advice related to attendance in general. But it’s worth making a completely separate point for the recommendation that you treat your first day in a class with the attention it deserves.

Most first classes involve going over the syllabus, talking about what will be covered in that class and what will be expected of students. Take notes on your syllabus when your professor goes over it. This is your cheat-sheet for how to ace the class.

3. Participate in class.

Most professors will tell you how important participation is while they’re going over the class syllabus. Sometimes participation is a large percentage of your grade. Sometimes it doesn’t even factor into how you’re graded.

Whether or not you’re being graded for participation, it’s important that you speak up when you’re confused. You’re not the only one with questions. And if you have an answer to a question, or a relevant perspective that might help others understand a concept better, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your insights will help others learn.

3. Try to go to office hours.

Office hours are like bonus participation. You should take advantage of professors’ offers to be available for one-on-one consultation outside of the classroom. Especially if you have questions. Absolutely if you had to miss class.

Remember my confession about how I once missed a class? I was lucky enough to attend a small liberal arts college, where my professors knew me and would notice class attendance. But even if you’re not being held accountable like I was, it’s a good idea to be familiar enough with your professors that you can approach them outside of class. Not just so that you can take advantage of their professorship and get some one-on-one tutoring from an expert in the field. And not just so you can give bored professors a way to fill those under-utilized office hours (which many universities require that all professors set aside on the off chance that students will actually come to them, even though students seldom do). You should go to office hours so your professors can attach a face to a name; if and when you should ever need letters of reference for your pursuits beyond the university, a professor whose office hours you’ve attended is one of your best bets.

4. Do all your reading and assignments.

Like class attendance, this should go without saying. Assignments are an essential part of the learning process. Even if it seems like a waste of time to write up a summary of your reading, or to contribute to an online discussion board about it, or do whatever else your professor has decided you need to do to get credit in his or her class. Do your assignments. They’re assigned for good reason.

5. Schedule study time between classes.

You’re going to have quite a few awkward stretches of time between classes, which aren’t really conducive to eating or socializing or getting anything else productive done. So you might as well use that time to go over the material you’re studying. It’s a good idea to get a head start on your studying, and to reinforce new material sooner rather than later. Because cramming is bad.

6. Try to find connections between classes.

How does your math class connect to your writing class? What does your science class help you understand about history? Even if you’ve moved beyond the general education requirements and are starting to take more focused classes in the field of study you’re going to major in, it helps to think about topics that come up in class outside of the context of that particular class. If it seems too obvious to connect one literature class to another literature class, try finding ways that your class discussions are relevant to your life outside the classroom.

7. Back up your data. Save your drafts. Keep your notes.

Re-doing your work can solidify the information in your head. But it can also be a huge waste of time. So don’t give yourself more work than necessary by neglecting common sense backing-up of data.

8. Eat, drink (mostly water…), exercise, and stay socially active.

You’re not just at university to learn. You’re there to live and grow and be healthy. Don’t neglect your non-academic self. Remember to have fun.


photo credit: eflon via photopin cc

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