First Year Tips

Your first year at college or university will be full of new adventures and challenges. Take some advice from the students who have been where you’re headed.

Read on for some short pieces of advice. The best advice is be prepared, get involved, don’t blow all your money on poor choices and meet lots of new people.

Read the FAQ section at the bottom for the tips!


First Year Tips – See FAQ Section at bottom of page

Final thoughts

Have fun in first year, at no other time in your life will you be having so many new experiences with so many new people than at college or university!

For more tips on surviving first year, check these out:

25 Tips for Success                                  A Brock student’s tips                                   Surviving First Year


What is Ask NC?

Ask NC is an interactive question and answer platform that answers your questions in plain English.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Don’t get the newest, most expensive laptop

    First off, decide if you even want a laptop or a desktop or a tablet or a combination. If you have a tablet, you’re likely going to need a laptop or a desktop as well – typing essays or assignments on a tablet will leave you frustrated and give you sore eyes. You can kick it old school and only bring a notebook to class with you, especially if you will just be distracted by Facebook and Instagram on your computer. Most colleges and universities have computer commons where you can borrow a computer, just don’t be without a USB or be sure to e-mail yourself your work.

  • Get involved

    Make a goal to join a club, an intramural team, volunteer at campus events or attend a sporting event. You’ll meet new people, discover news interests and skills and let off some steam. While you may love your floor-mates or roommates, there will come a time when you need to get away from them for a bit – this is where having a social group outside of the people you live with/near is golden.

  • Actually go to class & Sit where you’re comfortable

    The first step towards success is attending class. Sure, it’s tempting to sleep through that 8am after a night out, but that’s not going to help you at exam time. The safest place to sit is usually near the middle, but close to the aisle. Near the middle means if your prof is the type who calls on people without their hand up, you’re safer, but if they aren’t a loud speaker you still have a chance of hearing them. Sitting close to the aisle means you can beat the rush to get coffee or go pee on a lecture break.

  • Don’t freak over your first bad grade – Learn from it

    When you inevitably receive a test, essay or assignment back with a grade much lower than you’re accustomed to, just take a breath. Post-secondary is a completely different world than high school and the grading is much tougher. Actually read the feedback/comments you were given, they are meant to be a guide to help you improve. If there isn’t much feedback or it’s illegible, GO ASK your professor or TA for feedback. Remember failure is part of the learning process, the key is to not let it discourage you. The only way to get better is to learn from your mistakes and not give up!

    As hard as it may be to hear, sometimes doing your best isn’t enough. Especially if you did your best but didn’t understand or follow the instructions for the assignment. So always read the instructions or marking scheme for an assignment/essay, it will often provide you with more details. If you have questions ask your TA – see Befriend your TA below. (Side note: an e-mail the night before it’s due doesn’t count and likely won’t get a response).

  • Get a calendar and USE IT

    Your first week of school is going to be overwhelming, there will be so much new information to take in, things to remember, friends to make, things to buy and readings to complete. Do yourself a favour and buy an agenda/planner. You’ll think, oh I have my phone and I’ll use it for all that. And that’s a great plan…until you’re on campus for 7 hours and you killed your battery playing Angry Birds at lunch and now your group is trying to set up a time to meet and you forget your work schedule for next week…and you guessed it, your phone is dead.

    Gather all your course syllabuses together and write down all your test, assignment and essay due dates. This will help you identify any times of heavy work and then you can plan ahead for them. You can also put any extra-curricular activities, family obligations, work shifts or plans with friends and keep yourself organized and not double booked.

  • Don’t write everything down

    We’ve already established that you shouldn’t skip class, while there however, don’t write everything down. A two-hour lecture can produce up to two pages of notes – three if the content is elaborate.  Writing down every word your prof says will give you hand cramps and brain cramps when you’re trying to study later. Some profs post lecture notes online before class, print those and bring them to class with you, that way you can add some details and save your hand.

    If your prof doesn’t post lecture notes or slides, try to complete the assigned reading before lecture – it will mean the lecture makes more sense and your brain can make connections between what you hear and what you read. When taking notes listen for the main idea or theme. Write the main point/theme, key information and 2-3 sub points.

  • Cite your sources, cite your sources, cite your sources, cite your sources

    Many post-secondary students find themselves in hot water after being accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you use some one else’s exact words/ideas or paraphrase them using your own words but you don’t give them any credit. Depending on your program of study, the way your professors and TA’s expect you to cite your sources can vary, as there are different styles.

    Visit this site or this site for the most common styles and examples.

  • Find a note buddy in each class and exchange e-mail addresses

    Wait until the second week of class to do this. People tend to sit in the same spot for class, and if they show up for the second class it’s a good sign they’re not a complete slacker. If they seem like a slacker, they’ll likely mooch notes off you all term, which can get irritating and means when you’re not in class, neither are they. Which means no notes. So pick (and be) someone who pays attention in class and takes notes instead of browsing Instagram. Having a friend in class will mean you can catch up when you have the flu, sleep in, forget about class altogether or are too hungover to go.

  • Befriend your TA

    They mark your work. They know what your assignment is supposed to look like. They mark your work. Visit your TA during office hours in the first week or two, and a few weeks before your first essay/assignment. Be friendly, ask them any questions you have about the assignment or life in post-secondary. TA’s are upper year students with knowledge about resources and hacks to succeeding at your campus. They are generally happy to share their knowledge with you. Very few people go to their office hours, which means if you go they’ll remember you and your name – which is a good thing. Remember – they mark your work and know what the expectations/standards are for the work.

  • Academic Advisors

    Find out who yours are. Make an appointment and visit them.

    They can help make sure you’re on the path to graduate and are meeting the requisite courses for your program. They can also advise you on any thoughts you have about switching programs and refer you to on campus resources if you’re struggling both academically or personally.

    Brock University        Niagara College

  • Visit the writing centre

    You may think you’re totally pro at essays, but what got you a 70-75% in high school likely isn’t going to cut it at college or university. If you are in a field that requires you to take math or stats courses, find out where the study groups, seminars or help centres are. Do this in the first week, so you know where to go when you start to feel lost. Find out where the writing centre is and go there with your first essay, they will help you ensure you have a thesis statement, help you support your points and ask clarifying questions. They can also check your citations for you so there’s no plagiarism in your work.

    Brock’s Writing Centre  Niagara College’s Writing Help

  • Learn to balance, compromise & prioritize

    Balance your fun time with learning and nights out with nights in writing essays. Learning to balance school, social life, extracurriculars, family and work is challenging. Compromising and prioritizing will help you to balance your life.

    Life isn’t fair and is full of times when it’s best to compromise. So compromise with your new roommate and on your group project, but make sure it’s actually a compromise and that someone isn’t getting railroaded.

    Prioritizing – you may have so much reading for all your classes that you can’t possibly complete it all. Read the texts that you have to be able to talk about in seminars or class and the ones that you’ll need to help you write your essays, skim the rest. With a little practice, you’ll soon be able to identify whether something is a full read or a skim for main points.

  • Have a support system

    You need to have your people in your life. At some point in college or university it’s all going to seem like too much. You need to have people in your life who listen to your 1am rants about Game of Thrones, your prof who mumbles and the crappy people in your group assignment. Your support system can include siblings, your best friend, your roommate, a friend down the hall, your don, a parent or a mentor.

    Sometimes you just need someone who will binge watch on Netflix and eat ice cream with you until your brain freezes

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