Many students on the doorstep to university wonder if they have the intellectual horsepower to succeed in first year. While having great academic skills certainly helps, the reality is that first year students struggle more with coping in a new and different environment than they do with lack of brainpower. This, in itself, is a valuable lesson learned – people with a wide range of intellectual ability can succeed, but no matter how capable you are, you must be organized and work smart.
The main reason the transition can be a challenge is that in addition to managing an academic workload – often one that is more demanding than in high school – some students find themselves solely responsible for the first time in their lives for daily life tasks like finances, health care, laundry and grocery shopping. If they aren’t prepared, this can be daunting or even worse – it can amount to an unwelcome drain on their time when they can afford it least. Distractions from academic work can put a student discouragingly behind in just a few short weeks. How can students reduce the risk of this happening? The easiest thing to do is to spend some time in August beefing up a few simple life skills.
One of life’s little sink-holes of time is health care. Even the perfectly healthy spend time on it for prevention, and the mostly healthy end up spending time on the little health nuisances that life throws at them. If you aren’t particularly busy, and you have long standing health care relationships, this isn’t a problem, but at university you will be busy, and for those attending university away from home, those long standing health care relationships won’t be of much use.
There are a few things you can do in August to set yourself up to be efficient upon your arrival at university. The first is prevention: in the next few weeks make appointments to see your key health-care providers. This includes your physician for a comprehensive check-up, your dentist, and your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Of course, if you are seeing a specialist for one reason or another, see that physician as well. What they do for you and what they tell you may head off an inconvenient health issue in the first few weeks of term.
If you are taking prescription medicine, stock up to a safe level! See if your doctor will prescribe enough repeats to see you through until the next time you are at home. If this can’t be done, make a back-up plan that works for you. Place the doctor’s prescription with a pharmacy located near campus. Sometimes your local pharmacist can suggest an approach that works.
If you wear glasses, make a photo-copy of the prescription and keep it with you at university in a safe but accessible place. Leave a copy at home with your parents. You may even consider recording the model and size of your frames so they can be replaced easily. No one needs a week without proper note-taking in class because they can’t see the blackboard!
Check out campus health services to see what they offer. You won’t be in any mood to figure this out if you have the flu in the third week of term and have a pressing deadline looming.
Stock Up On Supplies
Every university student needs supplies. Whether you plan for this or not, you probably won’t go without a necessity for very long. And this is probably the case whether you are living at home while attending university or going away. This might lead you to conclude that planning ahead for supplies isn’t particularly important. Frankly, if you have the supplies, or if you don’t need them in a hurry, it isn’t. But if you need 20 pages of paper at 3AM to finish a paper that is due first thing in the morning, and you only have 19, IT IS! So the issue is really one of convenience and wasting time. If you want things to be conveniently at hand you will plan. If you want to avoid wasting time you will plan. Most of the time university life offers lots of things to do that are fun, interesting, or necessary – back to that paper due in the morning – so planning ahead for convenience is a good idea. It gets the tedious little things out of your way so you can enjoy the things you went to university for in the first place.
There is no better time to plan for arrival in September than right now. The more complete your list of things you need, and the more of them you get in August and take to university with you, the more you will enjoy the first few weeks of term. But how? Here are some ideas.
- Some universities will provide suggestion lists. Review them and make a shopping list.
- Keep a sheet of paper and pen in a convenient location in your home. Every time an idea strikes you – “I had better buy a box of erasers.” – write it down. If the list gets huge, you can always delete some items, but if you fail to write down something important, you will be making a trip to a store in the first few weeks of term, possibly when it is very inconvenient to do so.
- Find out if what your friends are stocking up on.
- Go to www.universitymatters.ca for a variety of helpful checklists.
Budget For School
At university, convenient access to money and making sure you don’t run out of it at an inopportune time are important. You have much better things to do with our time than sort out a cash shortage. There is always a paper to do or an upcoming social event to plan for that is more important, and usually pressing. Staying on track with money is, however, a learned skill. If you haven’t done it before, or done it without the back up of a parental wallet, you probably need some practise.
The first exercise you can do is to make a budget covering the next two or three weeks. Then, keep track of all – yes, I do mean ALL – expenditures to see how you do. Write them down in a small notepad. At the end of each week compare what you spent to your initial estimate. People who do this for the first time often learn two things. First, they learn that they weren’t very good estimators of future expenditures. This can be discouraging, but it also teaches a valuable lesson – that is, to be a good budgeter, you have to practice. Do it week in, week out for a while and you will get much better quickly. Second, people often find that their intuitive feel for what they actually spent can be way off. This is where keeping an informal written record can be very instructive. After you do this for a while, your intuition becomes much better, as will your ability to keep expenditures in line with available cash!
Running out of cash can waste a lot of time if you haven’t thought through your choice of bank branch. It can be especially painful if it happens on the same day that a paper or an assignment is due. Before you leave for university, use the internet to find the branch of your bank that is closest to campus, and make arrangements to move your banking to it. Even better, find out which bank services the campus – it is usually the bank that has an exclusive right to put cash machines right on campus. Consider switching your accounts to that bank.