I know you think you don’t have a job—you’re a student. However, you are mistaken. Especially if your primary purpose in university is to get a job, your job in university is to be the best student you can be. This is an important mind-shift because it helps you make decisions about how you spend your time. No one works 24/7 so your student “job” shouldn’t be completely consuming. At the same time, you are neglecting your job if 7 days pass without doing some work (unless you’re on vacation!) So what are some of the attributes of your new job?
Most occupations have “tools of the trade”. As a student these tools typically include a computer and necessary software, textbooks, writing implements, and sometimes specialized tools for specialized programs. Think hard hats, lab coats, etc. If you start thinking about school as your job it may change your thinking about some of the expenses you might otherwise like to avoid. As we mentioned before textbooks are one of the things that many students would like to avoid purchasing. While I can appreciate that many of them are extremely over-priced there are strategies that could substantially mitigate the cost. Do you think forming a study group with someone else in the class where you also share a copy of the text might make sense? Maybe even two other people if you think you might be able to share a book amongst three people. This might work if you live in the same residence or close by each other. You might also be able to convince the prof to place the book on Reserve in the library. Most profs are not unaware at the high cost of books and many are trying to adopt what is called Open Educational Resources that include textbooks that are free or at very low cost. However, until we are able to find texts that meet our needs and cost nothing we will continue to pay money for books. However, I encourage you to look at them as a necessary evil, a basic tool you will need in many of your courses. If they are really expensive, make the time to sell them after the course is over! Another tool is software such as MS Word or Excel or PowerPoint. Make sure you understand the required file format of your essays and assignments. It might be the best assignment ever but if your TA or prof cannot open it to read it you might be paying the price.
In North America today the average number of working hours is 42 hours per week. While that is the mean, there are many who work much more—60, 70+-- as well as others who work much less. As an undergraduate student no one is expecting you to work that much, particularly if like many you have a part-time job that may occupy an average of about 20 hours per week. However, the very top students may put in 70 hours per week. How far from the top (and therefore, how much less than 70 hours) do you want to put in? As we discussed earlier your university success is based on your smarts + resources + opportunity + motivation. Since three of these four ingredients are unchangeable the only one you really have control over is your motivation: How hard do you want to work? Your program may be more difficult or easier than others but unless you put in at least 3 or 4 hours per week per course plus your class time, do not expect to be at the top of the class. Do not expect to earn the grades that you might be capable of earning.
Sleeping & Intoxication
Ask around, talk to a few people who are doing well in their full-time jobs how often they show up on the job intoxicated or how often they sleep on the job. If your job is to do well in school, how often do you think you should fall asleep in class? How often should you be high or intoxicated in class? Enough said.
McJob versus Career
Do you know what I mean by “McJob”? It might be your current part-time job or perhaps one you had in high school: a job that you thought about as little as possible, requiring little in the way of skills and demanding an absolute minimum of interest or commitment. I see many people doing the same thing with their jobs as full-time students. That is unfortunate. If you want your post-secondary education to be as fulfilling as a McJob then please continue.
Alternately, if you want your post-secondary education to be rewarding then engage with it, put effort into it, or leave. How well do you think you would do in your McJob if you never talked to your supervisor? Never engaged with your co-workers? Were always unenthusiastic? In university if you never talked to your profs and TA’s, never involved yourself in university clubs and activities, and fell asleep in most lectures, you would do the same—poorly.
Unlike most jobs, your university will usually welcome you back if you decide to take a leave for a period of time but sometimes that is the best thing that people can do. Unless you are engaged and interested, do something else instead of paying money and spending time in university. Something you may not know is that a large proportion of students who start university do not graduate within the 3 or 4 years that their program normally expects. Many students will take a year or two extra, either by leaving entirely or be taking a reduced course load. That is entirely okay and will not reflect badly on you.
When I look at student notes after one of my lectures I see a range of different styles. This makes sense because we all learn in slightly different ways so we might expect such differences in notetaking. However there are some notes that I know are not being much help. The two worst kinds are when the page is almost completely blank and the other is when someone seems to have tried to write down every single word I say. The blank page is useless for obvious reasons but you might think the “court reporter” style would be good. If you did you are wrong. If you are writing every word you aren’t processing the material, you’re just training to be a court reporter and they really do not retain much about what goes on in the courtroom.
Your notes are for you. They should help you understand the various parts of a lecture and how those parts relate to each other. As a result there should be lines linking different segments. There should be asterisks identifying key points. There should be identifiable hierarchies showing how some points are subservient to other points. Like I said, I cannot tell you the best way to take notes for you. You need to explore a couple of different methods and practice them and see which ones help you to learn and retain best. Google “taking notes” and look at three or four of them. I recommend that you try one way in all your courses until the mid-term exams and then try another way from after mid-terms until the end of the semester. That will give you enough time to compare note taking methods in terms of the end result.
Another kind of note taking is what you do when you read your course textbook. I sometimes see students who have highlighted virtually every single line in a text which of course does absolutely nothing to help someone identify the most important ideas in a text. I recommend that you google “SQ3R” and follow that method when reading your textbooks. While the Wikipedia entry is good, briefly SQ3R says you should do the following when you sit down to read your textbook:
Skim: Literally take 4-5 minutes and skim the chapter or section and notice the headings and sub-headings.
Question: Based on your skim, what questions should the text answer? Write these down.
Read: Start reading the chapter and make sure you try to answer the questions you raised previously.
Retrieve: After reading the chapter, put it into your own words. When you can paraphrase it means that you have processed the content.
Review: Re-read what you have written, paying attention to the original questions you posed as well as the answers your reading of the text provided.
I estimate that SQ3R will add about 15 minutes to a typical hour of reading a textbook but if the end result is your effectively remembering the content, isn’t that time well spent? Think about the times that you may have read a chapter in a textbook and afterward had no recollection of what you just read. Would you prefer to spend your time fruitfully or uselessly?
Want to know more?
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2020). Sleep & sleep disorders. Retrieved from
Wikipedia (2020). “SQ3R”. Retrieved from