How to be successful at university, top tips (with examples)

University is one if the biggest and most important challenge in life. It has the potential to determine your future for the better. But how can you be successful at university?

Best education and learning quotes
Best education and learning quotes

Is it just a matter of studying hard? Although that is certainly what most suggest, it is not that simple. In this post we will go through the top practical tips to succeed at university and beyond.

1. Prepare for your lectures

Preparing for your lectures is key to enhance a better understanding and knowledge of a subject. But what can you do to prepare in advance? Here is a very simple activity that will only require few minutes..

Nowadays most lecture slides are made available in advance for students to download or view. Something you can, and should, do is to quickly scan over them beforehand.

While doing so, take note of the key concepts and words you don’t know the meaning of. Then re-write their definitions in your own words (very important!).

As a result of this, you will be able to follow lectures without getting lost in things you don’t know! All of this because you quickly went trough it beforehand.

Moreover, when you are able to properly follow a difficult lecture, your learning experience will improve remarkably, and so it will your knowledge.

2. Attend your lectures!

With most universities adopting a mixed approach of online and face to face lectures, it is very easy for students to fall into the habits of not attending lectures.

This is because, in most cases, lectures recordings are made available soon after they take place. As a result, many students prefer to stay in their flat to watch them.

Although this is great for those times when you cannot attend a lecture for whatever reasons, sometimes it can lead to this very unproductive habit of not attending lectures to watch the recordings instead.

This not only will potentially ruin your university experience, but it could also results in depression, lack of energy, sedentary life, isolation, poor learning and many other issues.

Going to lectures, seeing other students, listening to a professor explaining concepts and so on, it is all part of a healthy university experience.

The environment surrounding you plays a massive role in your success at university. It is there for you to embrace it, do it!

3. “Ignore” social media when studying or in class

Social media is one of the most (if not number one) distractive factor of today’s society. For students, this is a huge problem, particularly if it happens constantly.

In fact, many found that they cannot focus for more than few minutes without feeling the need to stop and check their social media.

Moreover, this is becoming more evident in class during lectures, with many constantly chatting and checking their social media rather than listening to the lecture, which is also annoying for other students around.

Few things you can do to mitigate this:

  • Log out of your apps when in class before lectures; by logging out without saving your password for instant access, you will be less likely to log on during lectures.
  • Sit in the front rows; by doing that you will have a more direct eye contact with lecturers. This not only will help you focus more, but it will also “discourage” you from using social media.
  • Disable unnecessary notifications; notifications are there for a reason: to make you keep going back to social media. Spend some time to remove the unnecessary ones, it helps!

Social media are great for many things, not only for recreational content, but they are also subject of academic discussion and research: use them smartly..

Don’t let them take advantage of you, but instead take advantage of them!

4. Take part in academic debates

Whether during lectures, forums, tutorials, groupworks or wherever, take part in academic debates! Never be afraid to express your opinion on a topic, even if wrong.

This is one of the most effective ways of being successful at university! Academic debates with your lecturers, tutors or other students will sharpen your knowledge and force you to think smartly.

Listen carefully and contribute to arguments, but mostly, learn how to back up your thoughts with evidence. This skill will come in extremely handy in any situations and it is key to be successful at university and later in the job market.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how “stupid” you think they are. It is through those questions that you will naturally become better and better!

If too shy to ask in front of others (being shy is not a negative thing, it’s just a character treat!), you can always wait until the end of the lecture, visit your professor office (check what time it’s open) or send emails!

5. Stay on top of your university work

Whereas we previously talked about what you can do in advance of your lectures, here we will see what you can do after them.

Leaving coursework and lectures to accumulate is a dangerous thing to do, although it is very common. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to cope with that, often resulting in students feeling overwhelmed and sometimes giving up on their studies.

So how can you stay on top of your university work? Again, there are a few simple things you can do here:

  • Make a quick summary right after your lecture (using notes if any). Mind maps and visual learning techniques are a quick and great way for summarising key information.
  • If you have no time after lectures, set an “end of the day” time just for this activity; in this case you can do a quick summary of all lectures you had (remember to not overload those, only include key concepts).
  • Definitely do and end of the week one, set aside some time to cover the main things you learned throughout the entire week.

The key here is to do this summarising activity while concepts are still fresh in your mind! Treat your study routine as a job, set your own deadlines (realistically) and stay on track.

The more you can stay on top of your university work, the more chances that you will be successful at university!

6. Start your essays and assignments early

At university you are given a high degree of autonomy in managing your studies. Just like you would do to stay on top of your studies, start your essays and assignments early!

It is another very common practice for students to leave their essays until the very last days. As deadlines get closer, the panic starts and everything is done in a rush.

Whereas for some this works just fine, for others it leads to poor mental health, stress and anxiety; ultimately resulting in low grades.

What can you do to start your essays and assignments early? Let’s see how can efficiently manage your essay writing:

  • Firstly, make sure you properly understand the question (you will hear that a lot!). If you have any doubt, just ask your lecturer to clarify what he/she is looking for!
  • Start you research asap! One of the most time consuming activities for an assignment is to conduct the proper research. Start conducting research soon, download useful papers for your assignment and put them into a folder; rename them accordingly.
  • Put the structure in place. What is it? An essay? A report? An article? Put the structure in place, start thinking about how to shape it. You might want to refresh your knowledge on those different types of assignments, as well as academic writing.

Although they sound like simple and obvious things to do, it will be much easier (and faster) to write your assignments if you have already a structure in place and all the main research done!

The key here is to stay in the loop.. by doing these little things early your mind will automatically be on it. As a result, you might start getting ideas in the most random moments of the day (make sure to note them down before you forget!)

7. Refresh your knowledge time to time

Another important thing to do in order to be successful at university is to consolidate your knowledge. No matter what degree you are studying for, there is going to be a lot to cover.

Nobody would expect you to remember everything, it is quite normal to “forget” things after a while. However, refreshing your knowledge on previous topics is a great thing to do at university!

Your weekly summaries/notes/mind maps can help you with that. The more you will do this, the longer you will retain information until it will become natural for you to talk about those topics!

This will allow you to show an impressive knowledge during presentations, exams or academic debates. A deeper knowledge will also develop your critical thinking skills.

Basically, you will be able to give evidence of contrasting arguments you encountered before, something that is highly valued at university!

8. Expand your network at university

Networking is one of the most important thing to do to be successful at university. A solid academic network will not only be important at university, but also for your future career.

There are two types of networking you can do at university: informal and formal.

Informal: The most obvious way to expand your network is with other students. In class, during group projects, tutorials or at the library, there is plenty of opportunities to meet new people.

It is during informal talks that the best sharing of information happens; internships or jobs opportunities, secret quite study places, activities, sharing notes and so on.

Don’t forget about your lecturers! Some of them are quite open with students and willing to help them succeed at university and in the job market.

Remember that lecturers have many connections with the student/graduate job market, and they might point deserving students to the right direction..

Formal: most universities provides you with a variety of networking events such as conferences, webinars, career talks, guest lectures and so on.

These are great for expanding your network as a student outside of academia! Attend those and make the most out of it. Dress smartly, ask questions, make sure you get noticed and show your ambitions!

These events can be very beneficial not only for your future career, but also for placements, internships, and summer work opportunities!

9. Extra curricular activities

Think of university like a “job”. Just like in most jobs (arguable), those who are willing to go the extra mile are more likely to be successful. University is not that much different!

It is not only about grades.. it is about getting your name out there, building relationships, gaining transferable skills such as time management, multitasking, dealing with pressure and deadlines etc.

Getting involved in extracurricular activities is something you can do to gain more exposure. These can take the form of academic competitions or projects (consulting projects are particularly good).

Moreover, if you have any particular hobby you could join a society (or create a new one) to share your passion with other people with the similar interests.

Property-run societies can also transform a passion into an opportunity, and usually organise events with people/entrepreneurs to share their expertise.

10. Take care of yourself at university!

Ultimately, don’t forget to take care of yourself! It is only with a good student wellbeing that you can be successful at university.

Student wellbeing, few tips:

  • Hydration. It is easy to forget to drink enough water while studying. Dehydration can cause dizziness, disrupt your sleep, lead to stress and disorientation. Remember to stay hydrated! Keeping your water bottle next to your study desk might help.
  • Healthy diet. Students tend to have a poor diet with plenty of sugar-heavy snacks and unhealthy food. The consequences of unhealthy food on wellbeing and energy levels are massive. Switching to a healthier diet can really have a positive impact on your studies!
  • Stay active. An active life will also contribute to your student wellbeing. This doesn’t necessarily means going to the gym! You could go for a run time to time, go for a walk in between lectures/study sessions (fresh air is important), and remember to stretch your muscles regularly (and maintain a good posture!).
  • Know when to stop studying! After long study sessions, at a certain point you won’t be able to study effectively anymore, no matter how much longer you stay on those books. This not only is unproductive, but it also leads to unnecessary stress and poor wellbeing! Know when it’s time to stop studying and relax.

Don’t forget about mental health! Unfortunately more and more students are suffering from anxiety and poor mental health at university.

If you are suffering from anxiety and poor mental health at university, seek help! There is no shame in that.

How to be successful at university, conclusions

The points above can be summarised in one activity: building good student habits. These will help you be successful at university, and ultimately for after graduation in the job market

There is another point to include above in order to be successful at university: point 11, upskill and boost you student CV while at university.

However, as this is a huge topic, we will go through that in a separate post (you will find the link here once published).

Student essentials

If you are looking for study essentials, find out more below:

Thank you for reading this post, hopefully it will help you be successful at university and in life!

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”Robert Collier