First-year pitfalls and how to avoid them

Hunter the Ridgeback


With all the assignments, exams and studying that are a part of the university workload, it's no surprise that it is a huge undertaking. It takes some time to learn all the tricks of university, but as someone about to enter their fourth year of Nuclear Engineering, I can share some of the wisdom that I have accumulated over the years.

Keep reading to learn about some of the common first-year pitfalls, and more importantly, how to avoid them:

1. There is strength in numbers

This took me a while to figure out (I’m not exactly a social butterfly), but odds are there is at least one other person in your program you can get along with. Once you find friends, you’ll find that school work gets a bit easier.

Sharing tips and tricks, reviewing notes together and hanging out after class can make the course load feel a bit lighter. This doesn’t condone academic misconduct, but friends help make your program more enjoyable.

2. Don't procrastinate

This one is as simple as it sounds. Regardless of how smart you are or how fast you can work, if you start something the day before it's due, you're in for quite a stressful day (and likely a disappointing mark). For better grades and less anxiety, try to start assignments and other work as soon as you get them. When given a task, open it that day; see what it is asking you to do and think of how you will approach it. 

deadline is coming Cramming might have worked in high school, but if you're aiming for high grades in university, the studying starts on day one. Skim over last week’s lecture notes before your next class if you can, and make sure you get help for something you don’t understand. Falling behind can happen fast, and it’s much easier to stay on top of things than to catch up on them. 

3. Pick your battles

While you may have the urge to work non-stop until your assignments are done, this is generally a bad idea. It will leave you exhausted and burnt out.  The best approach is to plan out your work and organize your time, leaving room to hydrate, eat and rest.

Spongebob frantically cleaning eight things at once

You don't want to burn yourself out (or make yourself sick) trying to get through your work all at once. But, of course, you still want to make sure it gets done. I recommend organizing your tasks by importance and weight so you can put in your extra hard work where it matters most. 

4. Find a hobby

Downtime is arguably just as important as study time. It is essential for your well-being to have time in your day to engage in something you enjoy. While you still want to ensure you stay on top of your homework, you also want to save time in your schedule to engage in the activities that bring you peace. 

a woman reading a book

Whether it's reading books, writing creatively, engaging in exercise, watching movies, listening to music or completing puzzles, make sure that you have time in your daily schedule to engage in a hobby (or hobbies). They allow you to destress and take care of yourself, which is crucial for your success and well-being—so don't feel guilty about making time for yourself!

5. Prioritize your health

Adding on to the one above; school is a huge responsibility that can be made harder if you are not feeling well. If you aren't taking care of yourself, it can make completing your assignments nearly impossible. So, it is essential to prioritize your health. 

drink waterThough it can feel like there isn't enough time in a single day, ensure you get enough sleep. I promise you that you will do better in school if you can consistently get seven to nine hours of sleep at night. Also, ensure you are drinking plenty of water and eating multiple meals daily. Your brain and your body need fuel.

Remember: you can't do well if you aren't feeling well. So if you need to take a break to catch a nap, go for a walk or make yourself some food, it is time well spent. 

6. Remember, you're human

One of the most significant issues I struggled with in my first year was accepting that I wouldn’t be getting 90 or 100 on all of my assignments. I spent much of my first year displeased with my grades, but I’ve since learned that the unrealistic expectations I placed on myself didn't have any positive outcomes.


All you, or anyone, can expect is that you try your best. And it's important to know that your best will look different over time. So, what you can accomplish one week may look different than the next—and that is ok!

It's ok to meet yourself where you currently are. You aren’t a machine, and nobody expects you to be one. Just get out there and try your best.

Hopefully, this list has given you an idea of how to avoid some of the common first-year pitfalls. And remember, you are never alone during your academic journey. There are so many people around who are ready and excited to support you along the way, so don't hesitate to reach out!

Blog written by: Keegan Post

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