Go to class
This is the first tip because it is the easiest one to follow. Go to class, even if you could only take in 20% of what the instructor says, even if you only learned one thing from that lecture, it could be the one that makes everything else make sense.
Don’t let problems linger
If there's a concept that you haven't understood, make a point of reviewing the material at the earliest opportunity.
Some failure is normal
Don't be discouraged if topics don't make immediate sense to you - struggling with course concepts or assignment problems is completely normal and we want students to learn to cope with the inevitable frustration that comes with being "stuck". Success requires perseverance.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you're really stuck (that is, you've spent time on a problem or assignment, discussed with friends, and made an honest effort) don't hesitate to meet with the instructor to discuss any difficulties as soon as possible. You can meet instructors before or after class, during office hours, or at another time that is agreeable to both you and the instructor. Remember, your instructors love the content as much as you do and are happy to discuss concepts with you. Have specific questions in mind when meeting an instructor. Don't let problems accumulate. This also applies to your health and wellbeing. If you need to access healthcare or personal counselling, please contact the University’s Campus Wellness services.
Sleep and eat
Build sleep into your schedule. Try to sleep at the same time each night. Eat breakfast. Even if you're rushing to get to class in the morning, take an apple or orange with you so your body has some nutrients to enable you to learn.
This is important not just for your physical health, but also for your mental health. Exercise is usually the first thing that gets dropped when students get busy even though regular exercise leads to higher productivity, happiness, and better cognitive function. Luckily for you, Waterloo students have easy access to many athletic and recreational options, including individual workouts, various intramural and pickup sports, and lots of trails in the city to go for leisurely walks, runs, or bike rides.
Make a schedule
It's up to you to efficiently use your time. Making a schedule can help you stay organized when the term gets busy. Establish a daily routine. Include lectures, study time, exercise, and social activities into your schedule. Your schedule may change and evolve as the term goes on, but it'll give you a good starting point. Your University of Waterloo email account runs on Office 365 and has a calendar built into it for your convenience.
If you have time, read ahead in the textbook. Don't worry about having to understand everything you read. In fact, students are encouraged to read ahead and find out which sections they find confusing, mark those sections down and pay close attention to those in lectures.
Read the course outline
The course outline is considered a contract between you and the instructor that outlines the responsibilities and expectations of both parties. It'll include a schedule of topics to be covered in the course, due dates for assignments, dates of tests, and how student performance will be evaluated. There may even be information provided which is related to academic integrity expectations. For example, in some classes, students are encouraged to discuss assignment questions with each other as long as they work on it separately. In other classes, instructors want you to show creativity and complete assignments entirely by yourself without discussing with peers. If this isn't made clear in the outline, ask your instructor.
Choose interesting electives
University is the only time when you can learn something you're curious about. Resist the urge to take the so called “bird courses” just to boost your GPA. Find something you're genuinely interested in. Take an elective course outside of your faculty. If you find a second subject you're interested in, it could be turned into a minor that could help your degree to stand out.
Adjust your expectations
Students who get into Waterloo are typically at the top of their class in high school. You may be used to getting high 90s in all your classes. If this is the case, you may feel discouraged to receive a 75% on a test. The best way to look at a university GPA is to view it as an exchange rate. A 90% in high school is maybe a 70% at university. If you adopt a realistic expectation you'll be able to build resiliency, which will help you do well at university in the long run.
When you go to your first class, you might see some of your classmates talking with each other and think that they already know each other. Don't feel intimidated - they're usually just introducing themselves. Be brave and talk to the people in your classes, it helps to have a friend to study with and who can fill you in if you happen to miss a lecture. Additionally, you can join clubs of your interest - there are over 250+ clubs to choose from. Some faculty programs will have student clubs and student societies, such as the Actuarial Science Club or the Accounting and Finance Student Association. A central part of your university experience will be the networks you build - take advantage of the opportunities.
You shouldn’t have to pay for help
The university has a lot of free and low-cost resources to help you succeed academically such as Tutor Connect, faculty specific resources and instructor office hours. Some students do benefit from independent tutoring, but check the course outline and talk to your instructor to see what help is available before you consider spending even more money on your education.
Communicate with your family
Speak to your family often and let them know how you're doing in Waterloo. Keep them updated on all of your experiences, both good and bad. If you did well on an exam, tell your family. If you did poorly on an exam, also tell your family. Very few students can navigate four or five years of university life without the support and advice of their families.
For families, remember that your student is living far from home, experiencing a new culture and taking challenging courses in a teaching style that may be new and in a language that is likely not their first. They're dealing with many new experiences both in and out school, so during this time of transition your student needs your support and encouragement.
Best of luck in your first year! - David and Ryan