1.1 Who Are You, Really?

Learning Objectives

  1. List your most important personal values and relate them to a university education.
  2. Begin thinking about what kind of career will best match your interests, skills, and personality.
  3. Understand how university is different from high school in many ways.
  4. Develop a positive attitude about yourself as a university student.
  5. Accept responsibility for your university experience and your life.

Succeeding in university is rather like succeeding in life. It’s really much more about you than it is about university. So the most important place to start is to consider why you’re here, 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 as we begin to consider what’s really involved in being a university student.

What’s Your Plan?

Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions in Activity 1. Be honest with yourself, and write down what you really feel. You are not writing for an instructor here—not what you think someone expects to hear—and you are not being graded on your answers!

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?


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?


Were you able to easily answer the questions in Activity 1? How confident do you feel about your plan?

These are important questions to think about for the simple reason that students who have a clear plan and who are prepared to overcome possible obstacles that may arise along the way are much more likely to succeed in university. In other words, just thinking in a positive way about your future can help that future come true!

What Matters to You?

The word values refers to “important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable”[1]. What makes you feel good? What things would you be doing if you had all the time, money, and opportunities in the world? Questions like these help us define our own values.

Thinking about your own 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
Having good friends 0 1 2 3 4 5
Learning new things about your interests 0 1 2 3 4 5
Having a nice car 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
Playing sports 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
Cooking 0 1 2 3 4 5
Online social networking 0 1 2 3 4 5
Sleeping 0 1 2 3 4 5
Reading a good book 0 1 2 3 4 5
Traveling to new places 0 1 2 3 4 5
Shopping 0 1 2 3 4 5
Being liked by others 0 1 2 3 4 5
Studying and reading textbooks 0 1 2 3 4 5
Having nice clothing 0 1 2 3 4 5
Watching television 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
Working your job 0 1 2 3 4 5
Looking good, personal hygiene 0 1 2 3 4 5
Meeting new people 0 1 2 3 4 5
Going to movies or entertainments 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
Cleaning house 0 1 2 3 4 5
Attending classes 0 1 2 3 4 5
Going to religious services 0 1 2 3 4 5
Talking on the telephone, texting, e-mail 0 1 2 3 4 5
Going to parties 0 1 2 3 4 5
Participating in clubs, organized activities 0 1 2 3 4 5
Other: __________________________ 0 1 2 3 4 5
Other: __________________________ 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. Do some of the activities you value most contribute to your university experience, or will they distract you from being a good student?

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. We’ll start right away in Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track” by helping you stay motivated and manage your time well. The following chapters will then lead you through learning how to study well and everything else.

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? Good question!

Some students say they have known from a very early age what they want to do after university, choose the university that is best for that plan, never waiver from the plan and choose each course with the one goal in mind, and then enter their chosen career after university or graduate school. 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.

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.

None of these different approaches to choosing a major and a career is better than others. All students receive the many benefits of university, and all are likely to find a more fulfilling career.

So where are you in this great variety of attitudes about career and major choices?

Assuming you are still early in your university program, the take-home message here is that you don’t need to make any decisions yet. Chances are, as you take courses in a variety of subjects and meet people in many different fields, you’ll naturally discover something about what you really enjoy doing and what career options you may choose to pursue.

On the other hand, 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 tools to help you discover what careers you would most enjoy.

academic advisor
Figure 1.2 – Talk with your advisor to learn more about what future careers you may be interested in.
Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment – Photo taken from Flickr – CC BY 2.0

The Strong Interest Inventory is such an assessment tool used by many universities and universities. You answer a series of simple questions, and the computer-scored tabulation provides information about your interests, strengths, and personality related to different types of careers. This tool can also suggest specific courses, jobs and internships, and extracurricular activities relevant to personal and career interests. Ask your university’s career counseling center if such a tool is available.

Another widely used tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a personality inventory that identifies you as one of sixteen distinct personality types. Each personality type correlates with happiness in certain careers. Ask your university’s career counselor to see if the MBTI is available for you.

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 not to accidentally take courses that end up not counting toward your program goal or degree. You could end up in university longer than needed or have to pay for additional courses. Be sure to read your university catalog carefully and to talk to your academic advisor.

Your Past Educational Experience

It is important to understand how university is different from high school and how well your own past educational experiences have prepared you for what you will find in university. This is another way in which entering university “with your eyes wide open” will prove beneficial.

University is a unique experience for all students—whether you just graduated from high school or are returning to education after years of working. You are transitioning from one form of education to another. Some students have difficulty because of the differences between university and high school.

Generally speaking, however, the university experience is usually different from high school in these ways:

  • Time management is more important in university because of varying class and work schedules and other time commitments.
  • 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.
  • 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 interacted a great deal with students.
  • University courses require more study time and require you to work on your own.
  • Your social and personal life in university may be 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: 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. Suddenly, you’re responsible for everything. That can be thrilling but also a challenge to get used to. All the chapters in this book will help you make this transition successfully.

Liking Yourself as a Student and Why That Matters

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.

In Chapter 2 “Staying Motivated, Organized, and On Track”, we’ll discuss things you can do to keep a positive attitude about university and stay motivated in your studies. But your attitude toward yourself as a student matters just as much. Now that you are in university, you are a new person, not just the same person who happens now to be a university student. What do you think of this new person?

If you’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, capable, and confident in your new life—great! Skip ahead to the next section. But if you’re less sure how well you’ll do in your new role, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. A lot of new university students, once they begin experiencing the differences from high school, start having doubts. Some may start to feel “I’m not a good enough student” or “I can’t keep up with all this.” Some may become fearful or apathetic.

These feelings, while a perfectly natural response to a big change in one’s life, can hinder one’s motivation and ability to succeed. If you think you can’t make it, that might become true. If you’re sure you’ll make it, you will.

Again, we’ll ask you to think honestly about this. 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? Most likely, if you have doubts about being able to do well, this is just a reaction to university being more difficult than what you’re used to. It’s mostly a matter of having the right skills for succeeding in university. This book will help you learn them—everything from how to study effectively, how to do better on tests, even how to read your textbooks more effectively.

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?

The answer sounds simple but is actually rather complex. There simply are many differences among people. There are differences among high schools as well as one’s past teachers, one’s peer group, one’s family, one’s cultural background, and many other factors. As a result of many different things, some students just need a little more help to succeed in university. No student is better or automatically more capable than another, however, and everyone can learn the skills to succeed.


To succeed in university, you need to take control of your life. Gone are the days when you could just “cruise” through school, or life, or let others motivate you or establish schedules to manage your time. This change presents an exciting opportunity. It’s your first step in your new life and the key to your future. Here are a few thoughts to get you started in the right direction:

  • Accept responsibility for your life. You are on equal footing with everyone else and have the same opportunities to succeed.
  • Decide what you want to do. Don’t let things just happen—make them happen by deciding that they should happen.
  • Realize you can change. You can change your habits to become a better student. You can change your attitudes and become a more positive, motivated student.
  • Develop a personal ethical code. Do what is right for you and for others. The university world demands ethical standards and rewards responsible, ethical behavior. Be proud of who you are and your good decisions.
  • Enjoy your life! Going to university might seem overwhelming at times, but no one is asking you to “give up your life” to succeed in university. Enjoy meeting new people, learning new things, and experiencing the diversity of the university experience. Most university graduates look back on their university years as one of the best periods in their whole lives!

Key Takeaways

  • A university education provides many intangible benefits as well as much better prospects for a career you will enjoy.
  • Thinking about your personal values and how they relate to your education can help you stay motivated to succeed in university.
  • Personality and skill inventories can help you discover the right career for your future and the best major in university.
  • Because university is a new and different life experience for most students, taking responsibility for new freedoms and managing time well are critical.

Checkpoint Exercises

  1. Which of the following are benefits of a university education?

    1. A better understanding of the world
    2. Developing problem-solving skills
    3. Meeting interesting people
    4. Making wiser financial decisions in the future
    5. All of the above
  2. What do you value that will be richer in your future life because you will have a university education?



    What do you value that will you likely have less time or money to spend on while in university?



  3. Life in university usually differs in many ways from one’s previous life in high school or in the workforce. What are the biggest changes you are experiencing now or anticipate experiencing this term?





  4. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:

    T F Attitude is one of the most important factors affecting university success.
    T F If you sit back, wait patiently, and stick it out long enough, success in university will inevitably come to you.
    T F To do well in university, you basically have to give up everything else in life for a while.
    T F Most university graduates later look back on their university years as one of the best times in their lives.

  1. What are Values? (2016). Business Dictionary. Retrieved from:  http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/values.html


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