My 13 Tips For When Starting University or College from ace-d


What advice would you give somebody about to start on the next stage of their education, one that may involve leaving home too?

If you have ever packed a son or daughter off to university then you know they need to take the creature comforts with them in order to re-create the ‘home from home’. This may, and in my experience does, differ for the male and female of the species. For example entertainment technology and bike versus comfy duvet and matching pillowcases.

Apart from recreating the home environment, it is also important to take action to maintain the learning environment we need so what about the nature of the learning and the learning environment they are about to enter? There are some big changes about to take place so what advice would you give? Here in the form of a list are those from Advocating Creativity. They are in no particular order – they are all important.

1) Learning relationships with tutors/teachers/lecturers/other students will be different to school. This means your learning support structure will be different. Where you go for help, who to ask or even how to ask will have to be explored and established.  Those that have read the articles from Advocating Creativity about LQ will understand how important this element is in learning. Those who knew you, possibly over several years, and knew how to guide and support you are no longer part of your learning environment. To start with you are on your own but don’t delay in seeking out and building your learning support structure. There is evidence to suggest those that find a mentor are more successful than those who try to go it alone.

2) Recognise that learning pathways are different. You may be used to having a group of people around you all doing the same thing, going to the same lessons, and being able to share the same learning journey. This is not necessarily the case anymore. Modular courses mean you may share modules but people may be on different courses and have different aims or interests to you. You need a clear picture of what you are doing and why you are doing it and how it all fits together. If you do then you can manage roadblocks or obstacles in your learning such as poorly taught courses or a lack of a learning relationship with a lecturer or tutor.

3) Make time for yourself. It is easy to say yes to everyone and everything. No one wants to be left out or not part of a group but it is also important that you take time to maintain your energy and focus. It takes only a few moments each day to think about (meditate on what you want to achieve and the challenges you face. Ask your inner self if what you are being asked to do or considering fits in with what you want to achieve. No harm in thinking about trying something different or new but evaluate the possible impact on what it is you want.

4) Learn to ask for help when you need it. Do not see it as a sign of weakness or anything to do with your inability to learn something new. There is always more than one source of information or explanation and if the one you have just received does nothing more than confuse you then look elsewhere. There are ways of asking others who do get it to explain it to you without making it obvious you are struggling. Try this one “How would you explain what we have just learnt/experienced to somebody who asked what it was all about?” Look it up on the internet! Well yes, but be careful of the validity of the source.

5) Keep fit, eat well and get some sleep! The body and brain run on fuel, energy and nutrients, derived from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. Get the balance wrong and our energy levels drop and we become sluggish and thinking becomes harder. Plan to eat. Don’t leave it until you are hungry. If you do you will reach out for whatever is the nearest and quickest solution and this is often what we know as convenience food. In reality you can prepare your own food often quicker than it takes to order, collect or wait for it to arrive but if your energy level is low you will not want to. Much convenience food does not provide what the body and brain need, especially during the learning process. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap and a downward spiral.

6) Be organised and tidy (well “ish”)! I know, something your mum always used to say and there are some sound reasons why you should. Firstly it saves time because you can find what you are looking for. Secondly, it reduces stress levels because you can find what it is you are looking for. Finally, it helps in the thinking process because you can maintain focus. Although a tidy desk may equal a tidy mind it is more about being mentally organised and an organised environment helps.

7) Don’t leave things to the last minute. You never do your best work when under pressure, even if you think you do. Your brain needs time to take in, reflect and come to decisions or reach insights. Plan to get the reading or research done in plenty of time to allow you time to think and not just react.

8) Be prepared to get things wrong or even fail and be resilient. Learning something new often means taking on something different, something you have not done before, something out of your comfort zone. Take heart from the fact that you have got through all of the early challenges in your life, you have got this far, so why should you not also overcome new ones.  Although we don’t want to plan to fail we often fail to plan for the “what if.”, the situations that come along and upset our plans. It’s like having an alternative strategy ready just in case. It is hard not to focus on a low grade or mark but what you should be asking yourself is “Why?” and “How can I do better next time?” Honesty with yourself is always the best policy and remember number 4.

9) Stay active. Physical exercise helps maintain and improve your level of metabolism (your ability to convert or use energy from your food). Having a suitably performing metabolism means you feel less tired, have more stamina, and cope with stress much better. Learning will require bursts of energy as well as determination over periods of time and it will challenge you by putting you under stress. You are better prepared for these things if you keep active.

10) Do the things that need to be done and don’t distract yourself with things that make you busy but do not need to be done then and there. This is a classic coping mechanism when there are things in your life you do not want to do or face so be aware of it. It is easy to convince yourself that once you have made yourself a coffee or had a biscuit you will get down to work. You bump into somebody else doing the same thing and then ask yourself “Where did the hour/morning/evening/day go?” You’ll say to yourself: I’ll just finish playing the game”, watching a film, sorting my notes out. Whatever it is, WATCH OUT. Do what you need to do not what keeps you busy.

11) Learn to feel good about overcoming challenges. Take a little time to enjoy getting things done ahead or on time, of finishing something you feel proud of. Add what you have achieved to what you believe about yourself, you will be better prepared and more confident when it comes to the next challenge.

12) Keep some level of contact with the past. You may not be able to wait to leave it all behind. You may out-grow it or over time drift apart from what were once great friends. You often see things differently when you are separated, or have a different perspective because of your new learning journey and experiences. There may still be support there when you need it. There is a saying about burning bridges – don’t burn too many and don’t let too many fall into disrepair either.

13) Develop routines. Routines help us get over the times when we do not feel like doing something that needs to be done. You don’t have to be slavish to the routines but you may find them helpful when you are feeling low. Once you have qualified you may find yourself working alone or even from home and getting used to setting up and following routines is good preparation for this stage of your life. Routines can also help give you more time to do the things you want to do too by saving time thinking about what needs to be done.

You may also be interested in the seven stages of “How to Learn Anything” .

Well there you have ace-d’s list of 13 things to bear in mind when trying to take control of your new learning environment. They are all based on the principles behind LQ (Learning Intelligence). For a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours of LQ go to:

LQ banner


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About AcEd

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs as well as detailing those needs: Power Belonging, Choice and Fun - PBCF. Kevin Hewitson 2019

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