In response to my hugely popular post, 10 Important Life Lessons I Have Learned, I am writing a sister article on the 5 lessons learned in university:
1. Pick your battles wisely.
What do I mean by picking your battles wisely? It is the relationship with your Professors and TAs. You see, when we are students our focus is to get all A’s in university, right? Well, the most important thing besides getting great grades is the relationship you build with your professors and teaching assistants (the TAs).
When I was in university, I have never disputed any grades whatsoever with my professors or TAs (if they were grading my papers).
Even if I feel that I deserve a bit of a higher grade, instead of requesting a regrade of my tests, I went to my professor or TA office hours and ask for insight and feedback on how to improve and do better next time. Plus if there is time left and no other students is in his/her office, I’ll chat with my TA on his/her experience working on their PhD or anything related to their academic experience.
This strategy has worked wonders for me: my first year philosophy TA Tom was my reference for my part time job in second year and I keep good relations with my professors throughout university (especially the ones in my smaller classes).
Think about it, is the grade going to matter 10 years from now? Or is it the relationship you build that matters 10 years from now?
2. First year is the most important year.
My first year was the year that I got the highest GPA (among my four years) and gave me a spot on the Dean’s List. But in second year I changed major and I took a six course load for the next two years to manage to graduate on time.
My grades has dropped since then but due to my high GPA in first year, I manage to graduate with distinction after 4 years. Point: Ensure you study well and get the highest grades possible in freshman year because it is going to act like a grade buffer for you in case you have sudden changes in your course schedule, changing course majors and so on that is going to impact your grades.
3. Learn what study skills works or doesn’t work.
In my first year university, our classes are immensely huge. I was a life science major then and all most all our classes were held at Convocation Hall. I remember the first test I have in Introductory Chemistry: I couldn’t finish the test on time because there was so many questions and I was ill prepared on how to ace it properly.
The result was that I got a 65 (the course average was like around 60-67 among thousands of students). I was very disappointed and so are my friends. We were all A students in high school and getting a C especially on our first test is extremely demotivating.
University is definitely a whole new ball game but I am determined to ace my next test. Luckily the first test is worth around 25% while the final one was worth 50 % (the other 25% were quizzes and assignments). So if I manage to ace the final I will get my A back (hopefully).
My strategy then was to do all the problems assigned. The answers are listed at the back of the book so everyday I would do the problems and then compare my answers to 1) determine where I got wrong and 2)understanding the logic and principles behind solving the problem. I trained myself to recognize patterns among the problems we got assigned and train myself to recognize and solve it at the fastest rate possible.
Besides doing problem solving, I improve my speed to use the calculator (most of the chemistry problems involve lots of calculations) so I can save time to do reviews and check errors at the end of the test.
The result? I got a 98 on my final test leading to a A course grade. I don’t write this to brag but to illustrate my point: In university root learning (albeit useful for formula learning) is not enough. You need to understand how to apply that knowledge and what professors expect from you.
Also important is to do pattern recognition: what I did was to pay attention to what kind of questions I got assigned as homework and what questions were asked in past exams. Then keep practicing until you feel confident that you can solve them quickly and without errors.
4. Maintain good extracurricular activities in second year and beyond.
I recommend you to first focus on getting great marks in first year. Plus first year is the time you gauge for yourself how much time you need to devote to your studies. If you feel that getting A is a breeze, then go ahead and join some clubs in first year.
But do join clubs and other activities in university: besides meeting new people, it broaden your horizon and experience, it builds leadership and other skills you don’t learn in class and it looks good on a resume too.
5. Treat school like a job.
The fact is that universities and colleges prepare you for the “real world”: the work force. Professors expect professionalism in your work and results and if you want to ace university you need to act like a professional: be on time (attend lectures and classes), do your expected work (assignments, tests, quizzes, essays), network (with professors and classmates), be positive, and take responsibility for your own actions. If you are already acted like a professional as a student, after graduation won’t it be easy too to behave like a polished professional without effort?