Western University Political ScienceFaculty of Social Science

Tips for Your First Year

In September 2009, MacLeans.CA On Campus reported that students and professors felt high schools did not adequately prepare students for their first year of university. It is estimated that 1 in 6 students never complete their studies and that approximately 14% of first-year students drop out. Studies also suggest that those who are going to drop out, do so early on.

The decisions that you make and the actions you take during your first year of university will have a major impact on the rest of your university experience. Here are some tips on how to survive your first (and subsequent) year of university:

  1. Go to all orientations and tours. The faster you learn your way around campus, the more at ease you'll feel and the better prepared you'll be when issues arise.
    1. Western’s Orientation Week is designed to welcome new students to Western's campus community and orient them to the physical, social, and cultural environments. The Program is also about introducing new students to the academic community and to the educational ideals of The University of Western Ontario. In addition, the Orientation Program aims to provide a smooth transition for new students from their previous environment to university life, and to assist them with the adjustment to their new circumstances.

  2. Expect to do more work than you have ever done before - studies in the U.S. show that high school students spend an average of 2.5 hours per week doing homework, and university students spend an average of 3.8 hours per day on their homework. Plan to spend 2 to 3 hours studying for every hour of lecture.

  3. Organize your time - use some kind of time management system such as day timers, monthly schedules, weekly schedules, things-to-do lists, etc. Make sure that you look at the task before you decide how much time you'll need to accomplish it.

  4. Don't procrastinate. It may have been easy in high school to wait until the last minute to complete an assignment and still get a good grade, but that kind of stuff will not work for you in university. Give yourself deadlines, make a study schedule and try to stick to it.

  5. Develop good study habits:
    1. Do course work every day. Cramming is not conducive to understanding and retaining large amounts of information. Time on your courses each day is the best way to learn. Use the time between classes to stay on top of readings.
    2. Work in small chunks over time rather than leaving assignments until the last minute.
    3. Concentrate on assignments that count for more marks first.

  6. Find the ideal place to study. It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done - while avoiding as many distractions as possible.

  7. Go to class. Obvious, right? Maybe, but sleeping in and skipping that 8:30 AM class will be tempting at times. Avoid the temptation. Besides learning the material by attending classes, you'll also receive vital information from the professors about what to expect on tests, changes in due dates, etc. Also, sit near the front especially in large lectures.

  8. Download and read the course outline before the first class. Professors spend a lot of time preparing course syllabi so that you will know exactly what is expected of you -- and when. Visit departmental websites to access course outlines.

  9. Do your readings before you go to class - you'll get more out of the lecture and you'll actually be listening to the instructor versus trying to write down everything they say.

  10. Develop essay writing skills. Political Science is an essay-driven discipline. Students at Western can consult the Writing Support Centre for online advice and one-on-one appointments.
    The following books are good guides:
    1. Jr. William Strunk (2009). "The Elements of Style"
    2. Joanne Buckley (2009). "Checkmate: A Writing Reference for Canadians".

  11. Get involved on campus. Be careful not to go overboard but consider joining some student organization, club, or sports team. You'll make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected.
    1. Western is home to over 175 clubs for academic, religious, cultural, philanthropic and other pursuits, which are governed by the University Students' Council. Check out the list here.
    2. Some of these groups are the University of Western Ontario Debating Society, the oldest student association at the university and one of the largest debating societies in Canada, the largest undergraduate pre-medical club in Canada (UWO Pre-Med Society), and student political clubs such as the Political Science Association, UWO Tories, UWO Liberals, and UWO New Democrats. The UWO Liberals are the largest campus Liberal club in Ontario, and one of the largest in the country.
    3. One of the largest clubs on campus is the infamous Purple Spur Society, which has been ranked in Macleans Magazine as having the number one student ski trip in all of Canada

  12. Learn to say "no" and don't let others direct your time - set priorities and boundaries, and be selective, because you will not be able to do everything you want.

  13. Take responsibility for yourself and your actions. Don't look to place the blame on others for your mistakes; own up to them and move on. Being an adult means taking responsibility for everything that happens to you.

  14. Develop healthy lifestyle choices: Don't short-change yourself on sleep, healthy and relaxing meals, and exercise. Keep caffeine and sugar intake within usual levels, especially at exam time.

  15. Last and not least: Ask for help if you are having problems before the term ends and use the resources that the University makes available to you. We are all on your side. We want you to learn and succeed.

The Student Development Centre has a variety of services specially designed to meet the needs of undergraduate students. Staff members are highly trained and experienced professionals who know what campus life is all about. SDC offers services to students experiencing academic setbacks as well as students wanting to maintain exceptional academic standing. Students can sign up to receive helpful tips by email every two weeks and use online help for information on key academic skills, improving test performance, memory and thinking skills, preparing for and writing exams, and time management strategies.

If you're sick, go to Student Health Services. At Student Health Services, you will find physicians, nurses and counsellors who are available for all types of health problems.

If you're feeling isolated or depressed, the Student Development Centre provides professional, individual confidential psychological services free of charge to all Western students.

Remember: We are all on your side. We want you to learn and succeed!