I spent 5.5 years in university and it took quite a few years before I really got the hang of starting a new, fresh, school year in September. This September, I will be going back to school again but this time, for part-time courses. This means I will be working full-time at my 8-5 and then doing homework/school in the evenings. This makes having a plan and working ahead all that more important.
1. Set A Reminder For Class Registration
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, set a reminder when you notified of your class registration time. I’m not exaggerating for very popular classes, they will fill up quick. And even if you do not have a full schedule planned out yet, if you are interested in a course, sign up for it. For most schools, you’re allowed to drop out of it with no penalty, especially because you haven’t even paid for it yet. Class registration usually takes place weeks (if not months) before tuition is due so there is no harm in signing up for as many classes you are interested in. Then, after you have a better idea of what you would like to take for the year, drop out of all the classes you are no longer interested in (but see points number 2 and 3 before you do this!). Once you know you are not interested in a class, be considerate to drop it, we’re all trying to get school together!
2. Plan Out Your Schedule and Campus Route
During my undergrad, I attended a really large university. Think 40,000 people and about 400 hectares large. It was like a small city in itself, and planning my class schedule had to account for the distance in between buildings. It was not uncommon
for one class to be in a building, and for another class to be scheduled an actual kilometer away. And while certain distances could have been do-able (and I know many people that tried), it usually meant having to either leave your first class early, or be late and have no/limited seating for your second class. If possible, go to your school and map out your school ahead of time – even if it’s just to the online website and map it out! It’s so helpful to know where the parking lots are (if you are driving) or where your classes are in relation to the bus loop. The first few days of school can be overwhelming enough as you are adjusting to a new routine, a new school workload, and making new friends. Running late and lost around campus can be avoided with just the littlest bit of planning.
3. Research Your Professors
I promise you, if there is anything that makes the biggest difference in your class attendance, your grades, and your interest in a course, it is your professor. No matter what the topic is, a good professor makes a world of difference. Even the driest courses can come to life with a good instructor and even the most interesting of topics can become dread with a bad professor.
Every year, before I even signed up for a course, I would look up the professor up at www.ratemyprofessor.com. However, while using this resource, it’s important to remember to take these ratings with a grain of salt. People who rate professors on these websites can come from all sorts of academic history with the course, and it’s important to remember to take the reviews at face value.
For example, I once had a psychology professor that had a poor rating on the website, but he was the only one that taught the course for a specific psychology topic. So, I enrolled in his class because I needed the credit and was really interested in the topic. To my surprise, he was actually great. He actually mentioned that he knew past students were not engaged for a number of reasons, and he’s made changes in the curriculum and his courses as a result of them. Some of the ratings were quite outdated on the website, so keep in mind that things can change.
That being said, I can usually tell whether or not I like a professor in the first few classes. Since many professors are teaching courses because they do research at the university, they are no doubt knowledgeable in their topic but that doesn’t translate to a good instructor.
When looking for a good instructor/professor, the most important thing to look for is passion and communication skills. I know there’s a stereotype that tenured professors are not good because their job has indefinitely secured, but I’ve met some really passionate professors who are able to really explain their topic well. On the other hand, I’ve encountered a lot of very intelligent professors, but cannot teach. Most universities allow students to drop a course within the first couple of weeks with no penalty. If you are really struggling with a professor, and it’s not a requirement course that has to be taught by that specific instructor, drop it. It will not only affect your grade but can severely affect your interest in the topic
4. Create Your Course Degree Plan
Once you have a general idea of the courses you want to take, take the time to look at the long term planning of courses. You don’t have to make a plan that is set in stone, but set up a meeting with your academic advisor to go through what courses you will need to fully complete your degree.
I used to work in academic advising and it would always floor me how many students did keep track of what courses they were taking in relation to their degree. Some students waited until their very last semester, in their very last year to take a required course for their degree. And then when they couldn’t get in because the class was full, they would have to take on an additional semester to finally graduate. Other students just took way too many courses that weren’t required and the credits didn’t really count for anything in their degree. Now, I’m all for education, but remember these extra courses are costing you hundreds more a semester and that adds up to thousands very quickly.
Especially with the rise of internet learning with sites like Udemy.com and edX.org, you can take classes you have an interest in online. These courses are often hundreds less, or mostly free. Don’t take courses you don’t need, it’s an expensive price to pay.
5. Buy Supplies, NOT Textbooks
Do. Not. Buy. New. Textbooks.
(Unless it’s absolutely required).
I cringe thinking back to how much I spent on textbooks in first year. Not only did I feel the need to buy all the books my courses listed, I also felt the need to buy the books that were listed as supplementary books. All in their first and newest editions. It was definitely a costly mistake.
The more I’ve learned about the education system, through many documentaries about student debt and loans because I’m obsessed, and after working for two large universities; I’ve learned more and more how universities, colleges, and all educational institutions are at their core, a business (at least in Western countries). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I did after all work for universities, and needed to make a living with my time, but it’s not just the institution itself, it’s the whole industry.
Textbook companies are continually updating and selling newer editions, even for topics where the material doesn’t change very much from year to year. For instance, I minored in psychology, and for the most part, it stays the same, Sure, new studies come out every year, but rarely is it anything ground-breaking. Plus, I was only minoring in psychology at an undergrad level, so we mostly studied past, established psychological theories. When you dive into the world of psychology, you learn there are core principles and ideas and there are lot of sensationalized studies by the media. However, every year they would update the book with a new introduction or add in a few notes on the side here or there. It was hardly anything very different and buying a second hand copy of an older edition is usually far, far cheaper.
Do not buy new textbooks unless your professor states that it contains very specific information they are referencing and it’s a 100% requirement. It not only wastes money, but also creates unnecessary waste.
6. Apply For A Part-Time Job
Work during your degree. I don’t care what it is, it’s so important to have a job during your degree. It not only helps pays for your expenses (cause school is hella expensive), it also creates a discipline and gives you work experience before you graduate. This is vital after you graduate because very few companies will hire new graduates with absolutely zero work experience, no matter how great your grades are, it is not enough. I wrote more on this in a few posts:
But, I can’t emphasize its importance enough. And if you are thinking that you do not have enough time in your schedule to work and go to school full-time, I would challenge you to write down how you spend your time day to day.
Personally, having a work schedule forced me to create a study schedule, and more importantly, it taught me to use that time effectively. Instead of casually studying for 3 hours, checking my phone and social media, and generally procrastinating, I would force myself to focus for 1 hour because that’s all my schedule allowed for. I found working part-time allowed me to create discipline in my study schedule. It also allows you to have a varied day-to-day experience. Studying all day, every day, can be burn out anyone very quickly. Having work allows you to be around other people and more importantly, learn different skills in the workplace that you can use further down your career. I started working part-time as a receptionist in my first year of university but prior to that I was working at a movie theater. Whatever the industry, just get started.
Well, I hope that was helpful. I know going to school is an overwhelming process (especially with work) but I’ve lived this life before and I promise you, after you are done, the results will make it all worth it if you are willing to put in the work.
Good luck and happy studying!