- List your most important personal values and relate them to a university education.
- Begin thinking about what kind of career will best match your interests, skills, and personality.
- Understand how university is different from high school in many ways.
- Develop a positive attitude about yourself as a university student.
Consider why you’re here in university, what matters to you, and what you expect to get out it. Even if you have already thought about these questions, it’s good to reaffirm your commitment to your plan. Thinking clearly about it will help you to focus your energies.
What’s Your Plan?
Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions in Activity 1, below. Be honest with yourself, and write down what you really feel.
Activity 1: Your University Plan
How long do you anticipate being in university?
How many courses will you need to take per term to finish university in your planned time period (Tip: talk to an academic advisor or look up your institution’s degree requirements)?
What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of completing university?
Are you confident you will be able to overcome any possible difficulties in completing university? Why or why not?
Answering these questions is a first step toward making a clear plan that includes anticipating obstacles.
What Matters to You?
A good place to start when pursuing a goal is to reflect on your values, or what you consider important and worthwhile.
Reflecting on your values can help you know what you want from life and from university. Take a moment and consider the list of things in Activity 2 that are valued by some people. For each value, rate how important that thing is to you.
Activity 2: Your Values
Following is a list of things that different people say they value. For each item on this list, indicate how important it is to you yourself by ranking it as very important (5), not important (0), or somewhere in between.
|Value||Not important||Very important|
|Making a good income||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Learning from Elders||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Learning new things about your interests||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Having intelligent conversations||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Staying current with the news||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Hanging out with friends||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Playing computer or video games||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Socializing (online or in person)||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Maintaining good mental health||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Reading a good book||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Engaging with activist causes||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Enjoying time alone||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Getting out in nature||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Playing a musical instrument||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Meeting new people||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Going to movies or other entertainment||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Eating nice meals out||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Exercising, being physically active||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Being your own boss||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Having a positive romantic relationship||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Engaging in your hobbies||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Setting your own schedule||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Volunteering your time for a good cause||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Maintaining your religious or spiritual practices||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Gaming (board games, etc.)||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Spending time with your children||0||1||2||3||4||5|
|Participating in clubs, organized activities||0||1||2||3||4||5|
Look back at the values and activities you rated highly (4 or 5) in Activity 2, which probably gave a good indication of how you enjoy spending your time. But now look at these things you value in a different way. Think about how each relates to how you think you need to manage your time effectively while in university.
Most university students feel they don’t have enough time for everything they like to do. If some of your highly-rated values seem antithetical to being a good student, try “flipping” them. For example, cleaning house means that you have an organized, clean and calm space for studying, or meeting new people will mean that you will form valuable networks and connections. Combining values can lead to some interesting plans, too: if you value gaming and volunteering for good causes, join a campus gaming club, many of which combine their activities with fundraising for charity. Actively ask around and search online for these types of opportunities; check poster walls, student’s union ratified club listings, and talk to orientation leaders or older students.
Students who enter university with their eyes open and who think about their own values and motivations will be more successful. If you have a good idea of what you want from life, the rest of it can be learned.
Thinking Ahead to a Major and Career
If you’ve just begun university, should you already know what career you seek in the future and what courses you should take or what you should major in?
Some students say they have known from an early age what they want to do after university, and are deliberate about the schools they apply to and the experiences they seek.
At the other extreme, some students have only a vague sense of direction before beginning university, take a wide variety of courses, select a major only when they reach the point that they must major in something (or perhaps change majors multiple times), and then after university choose to work in an entirely different field.
Neither approach is bad.
Stanford University theorist John Krumboldz’s Happenstance Learning Theory is that “the career destiny of each individual cannot be predicted in advance but is a function of countless planned and unplanned learning experiences beginning at birth” (Journal of Career Assessment, 2008). You can’t predict the people, experiences, opportunities, happy accidents, and connections that can steer you into a fulfilling, even unexpected career path.
Some students choose to major in an academic subject simply because they enjoy that subject, never concerned with what kind of job they may get afterward. The traditional idea of the liberal arts education is that you can go to university not to prepare for a specific career but to become a well-educated person who is then in a better position to work in any number of careers.
So where are you in this great variety of attitudes about career and major choices?
Help is available for discovering your interests, strengths, and personality factors related to careers. You can learn a lot about your options and what you would be good at by visiting your university’s advising or counseling department. Almost all universities have free tools to help you discover what careers you would most enjoy.
The Strong Interest Inventory (SII) is an assessment tool used by many universities and universities. This tool can suggest specific courses, jobs, internships, and extracurricular activities relevant to personal and career interests. Another widely-used tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) identifies you as one of sixteen distinct types. Each type correlates with preferred work tasks and work environments. The StrengthsFinder Inventory is more detailed and complex than the MBTI or SII, giving you five of 34 Talent Themes, prioritized in order of strength. It’s inexpensive to complete and you will get access to customized reports for many different aspects of your life: personal, professional, and academic.
For more career planning tools, check out the assessment options offered by the University of Saskatchewan’s Student Employment and Career Centre.
Although there’s nothing wrong with starting out without an intended major or career path, take care to avoid accidentally taking courses that do not count toward your program goal or degree. You could end up in university longer than needed and have to pay for additional courses. Be sure to read your university catalog carefully and talk to your academic advisor.
Your Past Educational Experience
Take time to appreciate how university is different from high school and how well your educational experiences have prepared you for what you will find in university.
In starting university, you are transitioning from one form of education to another, and it’s common for students to find this transition difficult. Don’t underestimate the strengths you have already, but be aware that the university experience is usually different from high school in some fundamental ways.
- Time management is more important in university because of varying class and work schedules and other time commitments. Your schedule will not be so structured, people won’t be giving you many reminders, and so it will be up to you to organize your time.
- University instructors seldom seek you out to offer extra help if you’re falling behind. You are on your own and expected to do the work, meet deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over your shoulder. Nonetheless, do not be afraid to ask your instructors for help.
- There may be no attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be mature enough to come to class without fear of penalties.
- Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
- Many instructors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which can be difficult for those whose high school teachers led more interactive classes.
- University courses require more study time and require you to do your own work.
- Your social and personal life in university is less supervised. Younger students may experience a sudden increase in freedom to do what they want.
- You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in university.
- All of these differences, along with a change in living situation for many students, can lead to emotional changes—both positive and negative.
What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and freedom can lead in negative directions: partying too much, sleeping late, skipping classes, missing deadlines, failing to study adequately for tests, and so on. Other students who are highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have difficulty transitioning to the higher academic standards of university; in fact, it’s not uncommon for a students with 90 averages in high school to have 70 averages by the end of their first university term.
A Positive Approach
Of all the factors that affect how well one does in university, attitude is probably the single most important. A positive attitude leads to high levels of motivation, and someone who is highly motivated to succeed can overcome obstacles that may occur.
If you’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, capable, and confident in your new life, that’s great! But if you’re less sure how well you’ll do in your new role, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
Once they begin experiencing the differences from high school, many students start having doubts. Some may start to feel “I’m not a good enough student” or “I can’t keep up with all this.” While these are natural responses to big life changes, continually repeating these messages to yourself can hinder your motivation and ability to succeed.
If you have these thoughts sometimes, why is that? Are you just reacting to a low grade on your first test? Are you just feeling this way because you see other students who look like they know what they’re doing and you’re feeling out of place? Can you put small failures into perspective?
Ask just about any senior student, and they will tell you that they, too, had moments like you’re having.
Why is it that some students need to work on strengthening their skills after beginning university, while others seem to waltz right in and do well from the start? Know that most students struggle at first, but once self-management skills are developed, experiences and performance improve in the workforce. What are the biggest changes you are experiencing now or anticipate experiencing this term?