Advice for first year students: Lessons from a graduate

It is an exciting time to start university or college. For most of us, it is a rewarding yet challenging chapter in our lives. Reflecting on my time at university, there are several lessons I learned. Below I share my advice for first-year students. My goal is to help you make the most of your experience by using your time efficiently and balancing productivity with fun!

Don’t wait until you feel motivated

Something I learned later in life is that you don’t have to be motivated before starting; motivation often increases once you actually start. How many times have you dreaded going to the gym or getting daily exercise? Most of us, however, experience increases in motivation to maintain habits that make us feel good or that we see a return on. The rewarding feeling that comes with completing activities you didn’t necessarily feel motivated to do makes it worth it! To get started on something I don’t feel motivated to do, I often use Mel Robbin’s “5-Second Rule” method. This method is simple yet very effective. It requires you to start or take action on a task within 5 seconds of thinking about it. This can remove the barriers to getting things done as it minimizes the amount of time between thinking and acting on an idea. Whether you are contemplating starting college, procrastinating on writing yet another paper, or deciding whether to go to the gym in between classes, you can use the 5-Second Rule to increase feelings of motivation.

Start before you're ready. Don't prepare, begin.


Focus mode on iPhone to limit distractions

Limit distractions to help you stay focused

The rise in technology has been coupled with an increase in what feels like unavoidable distractions. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by push notifications, text messages, and phone calls. These distractions inhibit our ability to stay focused and pull our attention away from the tasks we are working on. In addition, the devices used to complete school work often contain the same apps we use to keep up with friends. Minimizing distractions allows you to stay focused, be more efficient, and can help you get more done in shorter amounts of time. Balancing course loads requires you to use your time effectively. Make sure that you are being intentional about how you use your phone and other devices. To stay focused you can:

  • Silence notifications during focused work time by using the “Focus” setting on your phone
  • Keep unessential tabs to a minimum on your computer to ensure your attention isn’t being pulled in multiple directions
  • Use music and headphones to cut down the noise around you
  • Find your best studying location. Some people focus better in busy environments where others need silence. Try different study locations across campus or where you live to find the environment that works best for you

Prioritize and breakdown tasks

During college, I quickly realized the importance of prioritizing tasks. With a full course load, I would experience paralysis from looking at all the things I needed to complete. Prioritizing tasks at school is an essential skill you will use throughout the rest of your career. To ensure you work through your to-do list efficiently, you can:

  • Break down your work into smaller tasks. For example, instead of having “write a paper for Technology 101,” your tasks could be “write an outline for Technology 101, write the introduction for Technology 101”. By breaking down tasks, you can feel accomplished by completing each micro-task.
  • Prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency to identify what you need to complete first

Be curious and ask questions

Asking questions is not simply a means to gather information. Instead, by asking questions, you can identify your knowledge gaps and think critically about what you are learning, assess information from individuals and other sources of information, think creatively and divergently, and work constructively with others. Curiosity is essential because it makes our minds active and observant of new ideas, worlds, and possibilities. Warren Berger,  the author of Beautiful Questions in the Classroom,  says:

Asking questions can solve problems, create new things, help us understand and dig deeper, connect us with others, take us to new places, give us a voice, and change the world.


 Asking and answering questions is a part of how we learn and our social skills; we ask and answer questions to build and maintain relationships. In your courses, ask as many questions as you can!

Review what you learned daily

We remember things best immediately after we’ve read, heard, or watched them. But, as time passes, our memories begin to fade. Reviewing information regularly can help you retain what you learned. It helps to move what you learned from short-term memory to long-term memory. The more you review, the easier it is for you to recall the information. Completing a review every day while in college can help decrease the time it takes you to study at the end of the term.

Take time to enjoy things you love

When your to-list is long and midterms are approaching, it’s easy to forget to take time for yourself. However, taking time to do things you love is important for your short-term happiness, your mental, and emotional well-being. Throughout your post-secondary education, make sure you set time aside for yourself. Although your schoolwork may seem like the most important thing right now, it is crucial to take care of your mental health and well-being while in college. Additionally, even though it may seem counterintuitive to take a break, you’ll be better prepared to give more at work or school once you have first taken care of yourself.

Sometimes studying is not enough to become excellent in school or perform well at work. Attitude towards what you are doing also affects your performance. During the postsecondary experience, I advise first-year students to maintain a sense of balance. With some of the advice covered in this blog, I hope you can succeed in college and enjoy your time there!

Senior Recruitment Specialist

Amila Duranović

Amila Duranović is a Senior Recruitment Specialist at Jarvis - she hires Candidates for Jarvis's Technical Consulting Program.


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Jarvis is a global technology advisory and talent solutions firm. We partner with some of the world's most impactful companies to shape the future of tomorrow. Our focus on community engagement, diversity and values-based culture has enabled us to become one of Canada's fastest-growing companies.

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