Your first week at University. It’s more important than you realize. It’s important because you have the opportunity in that first week to put in place the habits that will lead to success or failure for your university experience.
Starting strong helps you to feel on top, in control and ready to succeed at university life. Falling behind makes you feel like you’re always playing catch up.
You need to feel in Control.
There’s a concept called ‘locus of control’. Your locus of control contains all the elements of your life that you feel in control of. Make sure you feel in control of your university life by the end of Freshers week.
Do you feel like you can confidently navigate your way to class? Do you feel you can confidently talk to your classmates, your teacher and your academic tutor? Do you feel like you can access books, journal articles and resources that you need to succeed? These are the sorts of things you need to start focusing on in your first week at university.
Success with all these things – finding books and journal articles, knowing teachers and classmates – is within your grasp. You need to be confident about accessing them.
To feel confident about accessing your resources and your community of support, you need to make the effort to actually use them. Use and build your social network in your first week at university in order to get off on the right foot.
Below are seven essential things you need to do in your first week at university to make sure you feel in control, capable and ready to succeed.
If you’re well past your first week of university or even your first semester of university, that’s okay. Set yourself this seven-day challenge to set yourself back on the path to success.
In seven days, you can be ready to succeed at university.
Check out the seven steps for succeeding in “Freshers Week” below:
1. First Day at University: Walk Around Campus
Monday. 9am. It’s your first day at university. Now’s the time to get started. Get ahead. Get going on your path to success.
As soon as you’ve gotten your timetable, map out your path to your classes. Start where you enter university: the parking lot, the bus stop, or the front gate.
From there, walk out the exact routes to each class.
Here, you’re going to have to muster up some courage to ask around for where different buildings and rooms are. I usually try to spot out someone wearing a student ambassador t-shirt. They’re usually everywhere during orientation weeks.
Universities have this bad habit of poorly signposting room names and numbers. So, don’t just know what building the room is. Know exactly what room you’re heading to. Walk right up to the door.
You’ll find it was harder than you thought. Especially when buildings and rooms are given abbreviations and codes. You’ll find your timetable has a very unclear code like “Room CL1.07”, which means nothing to a new student.
It’ll take you a good half hour of wandering around aimlessly before you realise CL1.07 means the 7th room on your left on the first floor of the Clarendon Building, etc.
There is nothing worse than feeling lost on your way to class on your first day at university. On the first day of Freshers week when you’re nervous and feeling overwhelmed, you don’t need this added stress.
Once you’ve mapped out your path to each of your classes in your first day at university, you might also want to spend some more time walking around campus to get familiar with it.
Do you know how to walk to the bathrooms? The cafeteria? The library? Give yourself the afternoon to walk around, get to know the place, and soak it all in.
2. Second Day at University: Borrow a Book from the Library
One very important place to check out at some point between the drinking and socialising (or hiding from strangers) in Freshers week is the library.
The top students make the library their best friend from Day 1 at university. The library is your lifeline for so much more than getting books. The library is:
- The place to hang out when you’ve got an hour of dead time between classes;
- The place where you’re guaranteed to find a university employee sitting behind a desk, there to help;
- A safe spot to disappear when you’re wanting to hide from a professor, classmate or the world;
- The home of dozens of resources for success, including books, computers, rentable video cameras, and additional classes
In your first week at university, the number one strategy for success is to make sure you borrow a book from the library.
It doesn’t matter what the book is. The point is to make sure you know how to do it.
It is remarkable how many of my students in their third year at a university still don’t know how to borrow a book. Most of them feel like it’s too late now to borrow a book. They feel embarrassed about admitting that they don’t know how to do it.
By borrowing a book in your first week at university, you’re familiarising yourself with the process. It makes using the library resources more familiar and easier to do. By doing this, you’ll be more likely to use the library to borrow textbooks for your future assignments. It’ll improve your university experience.
The more you use the library, the more useful it will become. Getting in the habit of using the library resources should start Day 1.
After all, if you don’t use the library, then you paid a heck of a lot of money to not borrow books!
3. Third Day at University: Find your Favorite Spot
You need a place where you feel comfortable. One specific spot where you can retreat to for a moment to study, eat lunch or hide out between classes.
I recommend to my students to find one spot in the library and one spot in a public open space.
- The library spot is where you feel comfortable to sit and study. Walk around each floor of the library and soak up the atmosphere. Libraries tend to have different areas that have different feels. Some areas are noisy, others dead quiet. Some areas have lots of wide-open spaces, others have nooks in which you can bury yourself away.
When I was doing my PhD I loved my nook in the library. It was buried in behind the books that I used the most, and it was almost always free. There was a window looking out over a grassy area where students would walk between classes.
I grabbed a comfortable chair from another area of the library and dragged it over to the desk in the corner, and that chair stayed by that desk – my desk – for the next few years.
A comfortable library spot will increase your productivity and your comfort on campus. Make yourself feel at home somewhere in the library and you’re more likely to keep returning there. Before you know it, you’ll be craving those quiet moments in the library where you can feel like you’re getting all your work done.
- The social spot is your spot to go when you’re not studying. It’s under a tree, at your favourite picnic table or your preferred table in the cafeteria. The purpose of a spot that you prefer away from the library is to make sure you’ve got somewhere to retreat to between classes for lunch, a coffee, or a chat with friends.
One nice thing about the social spot is it can be a space where you can meet up with friends. When you start making friends in classes, they’ll come to know where you hang out, and they’ll join you. Making these routine places to sit and eat, drink coffee and talk with classmates will improve your experience at university and make you more likely to get through the degree feeling fresh and happy.
My challenge to you is to find two spots on campus in your first week at university. Know these exact spots, make sure they’re ones that make you feel comfortable, and return to them whenever you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself on campus.
Even if you’re part-way through your first semester at university or even three years into your degree, it’s not too late. Find your comfy spots immediately.
4. Fourth Day at University: Book into a Library Workshop Seminar
This is the secret weapon of top students.
Workshop seminars are attended by very few students. I find that it tends to be the same students who make use of these seminars. They’ll churn through all of them, and they’ll do very well in their degree as a result.
The first year of university is the key time to make use of the library workshop seminar. In fact, Tanguay and Hanratty (2017) show that the first year is when the most students use the Library Workshops.
This would indicate that there are likely also a lot of workshops tailored specifically for you – the first year student!
So, I strongly recommend making use of the library seminar workshops.
The first thing you need to do is go on to your university’s library website and look up and down the sidebars for the Workshops link. 95% of university libraries will have a link like this. In fact, librarians are usually falling all over themselves to promote these workshops.
Peruse the list of workshops that are available and choose one that you think will be most useful to you. Here’s a list of common Workshops that libraries offer:
Once you’ve chosen one, follow the website’s instructions for booking yourself into the workshop.
Library Study Skills Workshops
Don’t be intimidated by library workshops. They’re usually quite relaxed compared to class seminars. The librarians are usually the most helpful people on campus and they’ll make you feel right at home.
You paid good money for these services. Make use of them, and don’t fall behind. Attend the library seminar workshops.
5. Fifth Day at University: Join a Club
I was always very nervous about joining clubs at university. It’s intimidating at first.
But as with most of the points in this post, the idea is to get the anxiety-inducing stuff out of the way in the first week of university. Once you’ve joined the club and attended its first event, you’ll find you didn’t regret joining in.
There are two big benefits of joining a club at university:
- Developing a support network. This is the most obvious and useful reason for joining a club. If you know names and faces walking past you at university, you’re less likely to feel alone and out of place. A small amount of awkwardness at the start of university will pay big dividends down the track when you start to feel excited about going to university to be a part of your community.
- Building contacts. Contacts really do matter at university. One of the biggest payoffs of a university degree is getting to know people in your industry. These people who you get to know in your club will one day be the people who recommend you for the next job that opens up in your industry. Getting to know people at university pays off for your future.
Most universities have a thriving club network. You can choose one that works for you. Usually universities have clubs in at least these few areas:
- Mature-age students club
- International students club
If you don’t join a club in your first week at university, you’ll be less and less likely to join up in your second, third and fourth weeks. In other words, do it now and don’t delay!
If you’re not sure where to go to get information about clubs, go to the student union building. The person behind the desk there will be able to point you in the right direction.
Alternatively, keep an eye out for club members handing out flyers or sitting behind makeshift desks in the main square of the campus. They’re all over the place on Freshers week!
6. Sixth Day at University: Join a Facebook Group
Joining Facebook groups is a great way to build social contacts, feel more comfortable in your classes and get valuable inside advice.
There are two Facebook groups that you’ll want to join. We can classify these as ‘class-specific’ and ‘degree- / major specific’ groups.
1. Class-specific Facebook Groups
Every single class I’ve taught in the last few years has had active Facebook networks directly linked to the class they were studying.
The benefit of joining a class-specific Facebook group is that you get insider information on your class. You’ll find out what other students are struggling with, you’ll pick up on information other students heard from your teacher, and you’ll learn how other students are going about completing the same assignments as you.
However, bear in mind that a class Facebook group should never replace direct contact with your teacher. Facebook groups are gossip mills.
You can’t fully trust what’s said on college Facebook groups.
Furthermore, directly contacting your teacher makes sure they know your name and gives them a sense that you really care about your mark. This pays big dividends in growing your marks.
I’ve written elsewhere on this website about the benefits of emailing your teacher which goes into detail on how and when you should contact your teacher in order to build your marks.
To find the class-specific Facebook group, run some Facebook searches that include:
- Your university name;
- The course title; and
- The year / semester of study.
Class Facebook groups are usually closed groups, so you’ll need to click the link to request access.
2. Degree- or Major- specific Facebook Groups
If you’re in a cohort-based degree or have already declared your major there’s a good chance there’s a degree-specific Facebook page set up for you to be part of.
Facebook pages are very beneficial for learning about the quirks of your various teachers, what they expect out of you, and what to look out for in upcoming classes.
When I was studying my undergraduate degree, we all knew that our upcoming Teaching the Science Curriculum course was going to be an absolute nightmare. All over Facebook our older friends were telling us about what tiny things our teacher would nit-pick about in our assignments.
Learning these little insider tips from Facebook groups saved me a lot of time and helped me keep my grades up, especially in the super hard subjects.
Degree- and Major- specific Facebook groups also allow you to get in contact with other students who are about to, or have just, graduated. These students are important social networks for you. They will develop industry knowledge a few steps ahead of you and will have their ear to the ground when job offers come knocking.
Therefore, you should aim to add the regular posters on these Facebook groups as friends. Reply to their comments in the group page, and make sure they know who you are.
7. Seventh Day at University: Introduce yourself to your Teachers
This can be the hardest step. The ideal is to introduce yourself to your teacher in a way that’s organic. You don’t want to simply email your teacher and say “Hi, I’m super excited to meet you!”
Instead, wait until you have a pressing question to ask. Instead of asking it on the Facebook groups, get directly in touch with your teacher.
Introducing yourself to your teacher is useful because it will actually improve your mark.
If the teacher can put a face to the name when marking your assignment, they will think twice about your mark. If you’ve shown them you’re a diligent, engaged student, that might help tip them over the edge to giving you a higher mark.
Try to make your teacher fond of you!
Breaking the Ice with your Teacher:
My recommendation is to make sure you talk to your teacher before or after class about a piece of information in the course that you found interesting. Ask them for clarification about a point in one of the readings they set you or ask for their opinion on the issue.
In this way, you’ll show them not only who you are and that you care about the topic, but also that you are genuinely interested in the work they’re assigning. This goes a long way towards ingratiating yourself with a teacher.
Your first week at university matters. Doing it right puts you on the path to success. The key to the first week at university is setting in motion the peer social networks, activities and teacher relationships that you will need to succeed. It will significantly improve your university experience.
If your first week at university has passed (maybe you’re in your first semester at university, or even your third year!) these tips will still help. Get yourself back on track.
Once you’ve gotten into the right habits of joining the right groups and knowing where to go and what to do on campus, your university experience will be easier and less anxiety-inducing. You’ll feel in control.
I recommend these seven steps in Week 1:
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.