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Things you need to know about university life

The first year at university can be tough - but don’t worry we’ve got you covered

  • ASGHAR KHAN/Gulf NewsProfessor Nidhal GuessoumHead of physics at the American University of Sharjah.Image Credit: Ashgar Khan/Gulf News Archive
  • Professor Nidhal Guessoum, Head of Physics at the American University of Sharjah. PHOTO BY: ASGHAR KHANImage Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News Archive
Gulf News

Sharjah: New university students, welcome to what for you will be a new world, a new life.

Having spent more than twenty years teaching and administering at several universities, I can offer you some advice that you may find valuable; because the transition from high school to college life is far from trivial.

The first thing you need to realise is that the university is not just the next level after high school; it is an altogether different environment, where you will be responsible for your own learning and your personal development and growth.

Initially, the feeling of being both totally free and left alone to fend for yourself can be overwhelming. Understanding how the system works will both ease and speed up the adaptation process.

At university teachers will not tell you what to write in class; you take notes according to your needs and learning progress.

Teachers will give you assignments, announce tests, and go through the course material; they may occasionally give you a reminder, but for the most part, you will have to keep up.

So, to help you with this on-your-own system of learning, let me offer you some practical advice:

1.Don’t miss class. This may surprise you, but the most important factor which determines your grades at the end of the semester is how many classes you have missed. What the instructor presents in class is the distilled knowledge they have extracted from years of reviewing material, comparing textbook explanations and trying teaching methods. Do not ignore your professor’s valuable experience. Reading your textbook later, while always useful is no substitute to attending lectures.

2.Take down notes in class. Diligent note taking can help determine a good grade. Taking notes keeps you focused on the lecture and stops your mind from wandering. Notes will also help you when you review later, especially when (quite often) the instructor will have used an example that is not in the textbook.

3.Use your professors’ office hours. It is unfortunate that relatively few students take advantage of their professors’ office hours, to ask questions, pick their brain on various topics, or simple to keep in touch. This is your opportunity to get a valuable one-on-one education.

4.Get organised. An important aspect of academic life is how organised you are. Simple advice: Keep a schedule, which nowadays should be very easy with the variety of digital tools at your disposal. Schedules allow you to plan your study time and your personal life.

5.Eliminate distractions while studying. To ensure the study time you have set aside is best utilised, remove all distractions, particularly smartphones as much as possible when studying. “Multi-tasking” is largely a myth; there are studies which show that performance drops significantly when people trying to do several things at once. The repeated interruptions of phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and tickers, tweets among others will only stress the brain.

6.Don’t spend too much time with friends. Studying with friends needs to be done carefully otherwise it produces minimal learning and wastes lots of your time. Friends are important, and choosing them carefully may be one of the most important things you will do in your first year at the university; but how you spend time with them may strongly affect your academic performance.

So welcome again. Keep your enthusiasm and your ambitions. Believe in yourself. Take all the good advice you can get. Learn from your mistakes. The future is yours for the taking.


— The author heads the Physics department at the American University of Sharjah.