How to Get a Strong Start at University

Congratulations! You got accepted to a university, and you'll start classes soon. It'll be different than high school, and probably a lot more challenging. Here are some ways to get off to a good start, and build momentum to get yourself through that first term.


  1. 1
    Attend orientation. Many schools have an orientation before classes begin. Even if it's only a couple of days, you should make every effort to attend. It is an opportunity to meet your future classmates and to become familiar with on- and off-campus resources of all sorts. Depending on the school, it might also be the right time to sign up for your first term's classes, take placement exams, register for student housing, or take care of other administrative details. Orientation may also be the time when you begin registering for classes.
    • If travel costs or schedule conflicts prevent you from attending your orientation, communicate with the school to find out what you are missing and how and when you may be able to make up whatever is required.
  2. 2
    Arrive before classes start. If you are moving out of your parents' home to live in or near the school, you'll have a household, or at least a dorm room, to set up. Even if you're commuting, you'll need to get your textbooks, and you may need a parking permit. In any case, you'll likely need a student ID. Identify and take care of as many basic details before classes begin as you can, so you can focus on your classes when the time comes.
  3. 3
    Pay attention to your course catalog. Watch for class timing and prerequisites. If the first course in a three-course series is only offered in fall, make sure you take it in fall of the appropriate year. Counselors and advisers in your department can help you identify such courses.
  4. 4
    Start out with a moderate course load. If you're required to take 12 units per term to be a full time student, take 12-15 your first term, not 18 or 20. Add on classes during subsequent terms as you feel you can reasonably do so. Add on reasonable extracurricular activities as you get the feel for managing your time.
  5. 5
    Choose a major or at least a direction that you like and that you're good at, and stick to it. This can be tough to do when you're still discovering who you are, but chances are that you already generally know whether you're better at math or writing. If you're still trying to decide, choose a general direction and see if your school has overview or introductory classes to start to explore different majors. In the meantime, begin taking the general classes needed for fields such as yours. For instance, if physiology, pre-med, and nursing all require biology and chemistry, those would be good classes to take while you zero in on your specific major.
    • If you are thinking of changing majors, be aware of what credits will carry over, and what classes you may have to start over. Talk with a councilor or other adviser to understand how much time your intended switch will add to your academic career. There's nothing wrong with changing majors, but make sure you go in with your eyes open and change for the right reasons.
  6. 6
    Apply yourself. Go to lectures. Read the syllabus. Take notes. Do your homework. Read or at least review the textbook. Ask questions. Go to office hours. Go to labs, TA sessions, and anything else the class requires or recommends.
  7. 7
    Get help. Form study groups with classmates. Make at least one acquaintance in each class and trade contact information so you can share notes if you must miss a lecture. Find out if the campus, or a club or the TA offer tutoring. Some professors and TAs will review your homework or paper with you if you bring it in ahead of the deadline.
    • You'll find video lectures, notes, and forums about most academic subjects online. They can be excellent supplements if something isn't making sense.
  8. 8
    Figure out what works for you, and what you need to do to succeed at your chosen curriculum with your natural study style. Are you a visual learner, auditory, or kinesthetic? Do you remember things you see on flashcards, or does it seem to work better to do the homework and repeat key items to yourself? There's no one right way to study, but chances are there are better and worse ways for your study style and your chosen field.
  9. 9
    Keep a calendar and a task list to make sure you don't miss assignments or forget deadlines. Learn what tools work best for you to manage your time.
  10. 10
    Get enough rest, eat well, and get some exercise. Yes, the occasional all-nighter may be needed, but it is worth the time you will spend to keep your life as balanced as possible.


  • While college is important to getting your life started, it should also be a safe place to experiment and get (some of) the mistakes out. Good grades may help you land that first job, but down the road, it will be your experience and skills you learn on the job that determine and guide your career. So don't be so intent on your studies that you fail to have fun or make friends.
  • If you can, put school ahead of work, especially as you begin. It's not impossible to work and study at the same time, but if you're able to give studying a good head start on the work, do so.


  • Don't plagiarize from online sources. Not only are the consequences severe in most institutions, but also you'll be cheating yourself out of learning what you are supposed to learn.
  • Similarly, make sure when studying or doing projects with a group that you personally understand the material.

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Categories: Campus Life