Contributor: Simi Juriasingani
When I think back to 1st and 2nd year of undergrad,I remember how often I felt overwhelmed. The pressure to get good grades, to get involved in diverse extracurricular activities and to have a social life caused a lot of stress.
However, over the course of 3rd and 4th year, I discovered some hacks that allowed me to enjoy my experience at Western a lot more. I’ll be sharing some of them here.
Hack #1: Get academic help sooner rather than later.
This hack may seem obvious but sometimes there's so much on your plate that you delay getting help when you need it. I made that mistake with Calc 1301. I thought I could learn how to solve the problems right before the midterm and I ended up almost failing an exam for the first time in my life.
Waiting to get help until the day before an exam or after getting a terrible grade reduces the probability of finishing a course with the grade you want. If you notice that you're getting stuck on concepts or with practice problems, get help as soon as you can.
To get academic help on campus, you can visit the Writing Support Center (http://writing.uwo.ca/) or the Peer Assisted Learning Center (https://www.uwo.ca/sdc/learning/Support/learning_help_centre.html). Websites like KhanAcademy.com and Chegg.com can help you learn tough concepts or get solutions to difficult problems. Additionally, you can find tutors through Western University Facebook groups such as Purple Tutors.
Hack #2 - Know how professional schools calculate your GPA.
Everyone has their own idea of what a good grade is. However, if you intend to apply to professional schools, it's important to understand how they calculate your GPA because your application will be evaluated based on that number. For example, if you are a pre-med, you should know the Ontario Medical School Application System's (OMSAS) GPA calculation scheme (https://www.ouac.on.ca/guide/omsas-conversion-table/); it varies significantly based on where you did your undergrad. The sooner you know this information, the longer you'll have to make sure that you get the grades you need in order to have a competitive application.
Hack #3 - Prioritize your commitments and plan around them.
As I mentioned earlier, the university culture often involves the pressure to "do it all". It can be difficult to get good grades, volunteer, hold a part-time job, do research, be there for your family and spend time with your friends all at once.
Time is a limited resource, so the key to "doing it all" is prioritizing. Know what's truly important to you at any given time. For example, if you've volunteered to host an event for a club, that commitment is more important than a party. So when you plan that party, choose a different evening. If you have an exam tomorrow that you’re not ready for, studying becomes a higher priority than hanging out with a friend. The bottom line is this: you can "do it all", but you'll need to prioritize, plan and reschedule so that you can give every commitment the time it deserves.
Hack #4 - Collaborate with friends and acquaintances to succeed in class.
Seeing as you and many of your peers will apply to professional schools, it can be easy to let your competitive spirit stop you from helping others or receiving help from them. When you have those thoughts, remember what the Starks of Winterfell said: "...the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives."
Try working with people you know. Share notes and solve assignment questions together so you can help each other by getting work done faster! Study together before an exam and discuss important concepts to make sure you understand them. If you find the right group of people to work with, you'll see that you are spending less time transcribing lectures and completing coursework. You'll hopefully get better grades and have more time for sleep, working out, and other activities that make you happy! The best part is that the people you collaborate with will experience the same benefits and you'll gain your best friends.
Hack #5- Don't go to lectures if the pace isn't ideal for you.
As a 1st or 2nd year student, you may have anywhere from 10-16 hours of lectures per week. If you are unable to keep up with the speed at which the content is being taught or you are yawning due to boredom at how slow a professor speaks, consider skipping class (yes, you read that correctly!).
Skipping lectures is simple if the lecture recordings are posted online. It's also easy if you have a group of friends and you all take turns going to class to record and transcribe lectures (see Hack #4). The benefits of not going to class include studying at the ideal pace for you and having more time because you don't have to go through lectures twice. However, skipping class is a slippery slope. If you tend to procrastinate, you may end up with a backlog of lectures to go through. Take some time to ensure that your approach towards attending lectures is working for you.
Hack #6 - Reflect on the courses you take and how much you like/dislike them.
My top choice for Intent to Register (ITR) at the end of 2nd year was Honours Specialization in Microbiology & Immunology (MicroImm). I picked it because I enjoyed all the content taught in Microimm 2500 and I wanted to learn more about immunology and diseases. Almost all of the electives I took in 3rd and 4th year were also chosen based on courses I liked in second year (Phys 2130, Biochem 2280, etc). If I hadn't excelled at my 4th year MicroImm Honours thesis project, I wouldn't be a PhD candidate in the same lab.
The main point here is that it’s important to take the time to seriously reflect on the courses you take and how much you enjoyed the content you learned. This will help you make ITR decisions, pick electives and maybe even define new career interests. While this may seem intuitive, it can be easy to focus on your deadlines and forget about the big picture.
Hack #7 - Explore career options sooner rather than later.
It's great if you know exactly what you want your career to look like. However, over the course of undergrad, your career interests may change or you may be unsure about which career path you should pursue.
Instead of letting this confusion fester, try to find opportunities to get answers to your career questions. If you're interested in being a doctor, dentist, lawyer or scientist, shadow professionals in those fields to see if that is the right fit for you. Keep an eye out for career events related to the fields that interest you to meet people who work in those fields. You can also attend career workshops or speak to career advisors at the Student Success Centre (http://career.uwo.ca/) for answers to specific questions. An internship (https://www.uwo.ca/sci/undergraduate/careers_and_internships/) could also help you determine whether a certain career would suit you. The more you know about different careers and what they entail, the better equipped you'll be to make the right decisions about your own path.
If I had known these hacks when I first started studying at Western, I could have prevented a lot of sleepless nights and stress. I hope these tips help you identify what you don’t know and help you reflect on what you're doing and how you do it. Use these 7 hacks to work towards your goals more efficiently!