While it is common to hear people say that high school will be the best years of your life, you can make your student years in university, in my opinion, even better. Here, I share my own five tips for making the most of your university experience.
1. Take a proactive role in your learning
This may be an obvious point, but we students have a tendency to forget the importance of learning during our university years – especially in the midst of managing deadlines, trying to moderate our caffeine intake, and dragging our heels and sleep-deprived selves to our morning classes.
During your university years, you have the chance to taste-test different programmes, learn from experts in diverse fields and explore your passions to tailor your academic and career paths. So keep track of your deadlines, don’t start that paper at 3am the day it is due; do attend classes and tutorials regularly, and take a proactive role in your education.
Learning during your university years doesn’t have to be restricted to your classroom, either. If that course on art history conflicts with your schedule, consider enrolling in a free digital course from online platforms such as Coursera or Harvard edX. I’ve taken a few courses on topics that I would not have otherwise been able to fit into my schedule or degree programme on campus. There is always a way if you look for one.
2. Get engaged
Despite what you may think, university isn’t all about hitting the books. Along with taking advantage of the numerous learning opportunities that are now accessible to you, enrich your student life by getting involved outside the classroom. These years represent one of the only times that you will have the chance to indulge freely in your hobbies and connect with people from a spectrum of diverse educational and cultural backgrounds – virtually at your front door. To make the most of student life, don’t be afraid to push your comfort zone, try new things and meet new people.
You’d be surprised at how many opportunities there are for students to get involved on campus. Your university’s students’ council is a great place to start looking. Students’ councils are a valuable resource for student-led associations and initiatives. Like soccer? Join an intramural soccer league. Enjoy playing music or singing? Consider becoming a member of your university’s band or choir. I also encourage you to not just restrict yourself to campus activities. Your local community is a great resource for opportunities to get engaged and contribute to a greater cause while doing something you love.
Personally, the activities I pursued outside lecture hall taught me valuable lessons and skills that I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to challenge and hone had I stayed holed up with my books on the fifth floor of my campus library.
3. Go abroad
Something that I regret not having done during my university years is going on exchange or volunteering internationally. The case of wanderlust hits all students at one time or another, and university can be one of those rare times that you can get paid to indulge it. This isn’t just about getting the chance to go on a glorified vacation, either (although that is an obvious attraction) – you can apply to gain experience on an international internship, go on exchange to take a course at a foreign university, learn a new language and so on, all of which are things that can make your professional portfolio more competitive in an increasingly global job market.
I have a few friends who performed summer research in HIV-stricken communities of sub-Saharan Africa in order to produce disease-fighting probiotic yoghurt for local villagers. Not only did the experience allow them the opportunity to explore and immerse themselves in a new culture, witnessing at first-hand the impact of their work among the locals broadened their perspectives on their own learning and showed them the practical value of their education.
4. Take care of your body
Just like point 1, this is an obvious tip but also one that we tend to give low priority. Sleep well, exercise and eat healthily. The bottom line is that you can’t do something well if you’re half-asleep, feeling lethargic or working on an empty stomach.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you ever feel overworked, stressed or just in need of advice or a friendly ear, your university likely has a plethora of resources on campus. Feel like you need help managing a heavy workload? Head to your university’s Student Success Centre or make an appointment with an academic guidance counsellor to search for help. Feel homesick and burned out? Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you trust or your university’s student health services for guidance.
Mental health issues in particular are becoming increasingly prominent among students, and nobody should feel afraid to speak up about them. Fortunately, society is gradually shedding its stigma against mental ill health and becoming increasingly aware of the importance of recognising mental health issues on campus. There is no shame in admitting that you are having a tough time and asking for help – all of us do at times and you’re not alone. Your health, physical and emotional, is so crucial for keeping you on your feet and moving forward so that you can enjoy your university years to the fullest.
My five tips for enriching your university life are not exhaustive and may not be feasible for every student at their respective school. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still find opportunities and ways to make the most of your university experience. Generally, I would recommend that you approach your university’s academic counsellors, talk with them about different opportunities available at your school, and ask them what you can do to get engaged on your campus or connect with other students.
To close, for many students, university is the first time they’ve moved away from their parents. That means nobody is going to tell you to wake up on time for class or do your reading. In other words, as a university student, you essentially have free rein over how you want to spend your day, every day. It can be challenging to manage things on your own but also exciting as you begin to figure out who you are or who you want to be. University is the time when you realise your independence, mature (a little), learn invaluable lessons and begin to identify your own personal values and beliefs.
Justine is a fourth-year medical sciences student at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. She fosters a passion for STEM, education, and youth engagement. She is also an avid reader and writer.