What Every First-Year Nor’Easter Needs to Know

8 Strategies for Academic Success at UNE

Join the CommunityTake Responsibility for Your LearningDevelop Motivation and Self-ControlUse Effective Learning StrategiesUse Effective Course Management StrategiesParticipate Actively and Attentively in ClassPractice Self-CareDevelop the Right Kind of Supportive Social Network

By Dr. Eric Drown, UNE Student Academic Success Center

1. Work to Become a Thriving Member of the Academic Community at the Heart of the University

Whether you’re embarking on your college journey directly from high school or changing your course by returning to school after some time in the workforce, your college success will depend on you taking on new roles and identities, discovering new ways of looking at the world, and learning new ways of doing things and interacting with people. 

For many students, going to college can be disorienting in the same way moving to a new community can be. Though it might not seem like it in the first few weeks, college is not very much like high school: there are new academic languages to be learned at UNE, new values and norms to absorb, new customs and habits to acquire, and new ways of thinking to get acclimated to. If you want to thrive in your new university community, you’ll need to make every effort to understand and adapt to UNE’s academic culture. 

The people who already live and work at the university – including your professors, staff, fellow students, and campus leadership – participate in an institutional culture that you need to join to be successful at UNE. To begin to join the university culture as a first-year student, you don’t need to arrive already possessing the values, norms, habits, and ways of being of the university community, but you do need to demonstrate to established members of the community that you are a willing beginner committed to change, grow, evolve, and work your way to becoming one of us by acquiring them.

In your first year of college, your primary job is to become acclimated to college. You need to learn what it means to be a good college student and find the right people to support you in your college journey. Work actively to figure out how to get the most from the academic, experiential, social, professional, and co-curricular learning experiences available to you. 

The work you do in college might be difficult, time-consuming, or confusing. You will probably need help, and you’ll certainly make mistakes (and learn from them). Hang in there. Be persistent. Keep trying. And, don’t give up. 

While you will have much work to do, you can – with effort – find supportive mentors among fellow students, professional staff (tutors, advisors, counselors, career service professionals), and faculty (professors and instructors). These mentors can show you better ways to do things, give you feedback, encourage you, and help you understand the value of what you’re learning.

Like anyone moving to a new community, there will be times when you feel like you’re out of your comfort zone or that you just don’t get it. Be assured that, although it may not look like it, most of your first-year classmates are feeling the same way at times. Know that as you gain expertise and experience things will become clearer. In the meantime, fake it til you make it. Or better yet, follow psychologist Amy Cuddy’s advice: Fake It Til You Become It (video). 

Want to join a group that requires special skills and knowledge that you don’t have? Fake it ’til you become it.

Learn how to fake it by watching the best students in your class and doing what they do. Do every learning activity your professor asks you to do to the best of your abilities. Ask questions about the purpose and value of learning activities. Visit your professor in office hours to understand the class from her or his point of view. Book a Student Academic Success Center (SASC) tutoring appointment. Visit your advisor. Seek the advice of a second-, third-, or fourth-year student (Don’t know any? Book time with a certified SASC peer tutor and you will!). Over time, you’ll absorb the norms, values and habits of the university community and you’ll become a better version of yourself, one with more knowledge, skills, and tools to help you reach your goals. Learn more about How to Thrive at UNE (video).


2. Take Responsibility for Your Own Learning

Educator John Holt once wrote that “learning is not a result of the activity of the teacher. Learning is a result of the activity of the learner.”

One of the big differences between high school and college is that college learning experiences are more learner-driven than teacher-driven. Whereas many high school teachers design step-by-step learning trajectories for their students, with lots of assignments, practice sessions, feedback opportunities, and assessments, many college professors expect students to work to learn course material with much less assistance than in high school and with fewer teacher-driven activities. Students are expected to use a range of effective learning techniques (posters) to master course material, to go beyond assigned tasks when necessary, to visit office hours (definition) to ask questions, and to seek tutoring for assistance learning challenging material.  

There are many fewer graded assignments in most college courses compared to high school classes. In some courses, you may only have a midterm and final exam to determine your overall grade. In most cases, your final grade will be determined by your performance on a relatively small number of papers, projects, performances, and exams. As a result, it’s important to practice metacognition (article), the habit of monitoring your learning strategies to assess how well they’re working. When you discover a strategy that works, you’ll want to be sure to use it again. When a strategy isn’t working, you’ll need to make adjustments to increase your success. The professional learning specialists at the Student Academic Success Center can help you learn how to practice metacognition.

Federal education records regulations prevent professors and professional staff from speaking with your parents about your courses, grades, and performance without your permission. While you can sign a permission form enabling UNE faculty and staff to communicate with your parents, it’s best to develop the capacity to advocate for yourself. Learn how to write emails (article) to professors that will get answered and won’t annoy them. (Don’t make these mistakes! video). Learn what the University Registrar’s Office does, how your professional Academic Advisor can help you, and why you should visit Career Services early and often in your UNE career.

3. Develop the Motivation and Self-Control to Persist in the Face of Challenge

A lot of first-year college students come to campus with unreasonable expectations about their performance (article) because they underestimate the differences between college and high school. But you should expect that college will be different from HS (list) and evolve learning behaviors and attitudes accordingly. You’ll need to have personal goals for your learning and education that will sustain you when the work is hard and develop strategies for completing tasks that might seem difficult, boring, or tedious. Make your DREAM goals come true with SMART goals.

Commit to developing a growth mindset (video) about academic work. People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their intelligence by building skills and attitudes through challenging work, practice, feedback, learning from productive failure, and self-assessment. So, seek out, accept and rise to challenging academic- and field- work.

Core Ideas from Carol Dweck, Mindset

Maintain a balance between your academic work and other activities like work, sports, clubs, socializing, entertainment, screen time, one that accommodates the 45 hour+ per week academic workload of a full-time college student. 

Develop strategies for coping with the anxiety and stress that come from the challenges of college. The Student Academic Success Center’s professional learning consultants can help you learn strategies for managing academic stress. More broadly, UNE’s Student Counseling Center provides a variety of services, including individual and group counseling, crisis services and self-help, designed to support the psychological and emotional health of the undergraduate and graduate student population.

4. Put in the Time to Develop the Study Skills and Learning Strategies Necessary for College Learning

Most first-year college students use ineffective and inefficient study techniques. Be sure to use effective learning strategies & techniques. Cognitive Psychologist Stephen Chew explains why you think your learning strategies work when they really don’t in this series of videos. Learn which strategies work from the Learning Scientists (videos | posters | powerpoint presentations). Get help implementing these strategies from a Student Academic Success Center Professional Learning Specialist or Peer Academic Coach.

Most first-semester college students underestimate how long it takes to complete college assignments. But research has shown (article) that the most significant predictors correlated with first-year college success are not your intelligence, talent, or character. College success comes from habits such as following a schedule or routine (planner), keeping track of and planning for upcoming assignments (tracker), and getting work done early. If you want to thrive in college, plan for 2-3 hours per week of the kind of single-tasking work (article) learning researchers call “deep work” (article) outside of class per credit and you’ll have planned enough study time. Try this time management calculator to figure out how to balance academic work time with non-study activities. If you’d like to know the best way to structure your study time, use The Study Cycle (video). Want help understanding or implementing The Study Cycle or working on time management, visit the Student Academic Success Center and book time with a professional learning specialist.

Louisiana State University Learning Center, The Study Cycle

Understand that procrastination is a form of self-harm that’s rooted in mismanaged moods about tasks (article) and how to overcome it (article).

Successful college students must develop the capacity to read, annotate and understand up to 200 pages or more per week. In college, you’ll be expected to read faster, understand more deeply, and do more complex things with your reading. Learning how to read actively (checklist) and annotate your readings (visual) are important keys to your success. Want to learn more? Visit the Student Academic Success Center to book time with a Professional Reading Support Specialist.

5. Develop Learner-Driven Course Management Strategies

  • Commit to acquire and use required resources (textbooks, handouts, supplementary videos, exercises…)
  • Keep track of assignments for multiple courses with a Semester-at-a-Glance calendar
  • Consult and follow course schedules without reminders, whether they’re published in the syllabus, on a learning management system, or a course website.
  • Make plans to complete assignments that may take 2 weeks or more of spaced-out work using a series of Week-at-a-Glance calendars.
  • Read or listen to, understand and follow multi-step directions with little guidance.
  • Develop the capacity to use and maintain learning technologies (laptops, calculators, course websites, email, ePortfolios, and learning management systems)
  • Check your UNE email every day.

6. Participate Actively and Attentively in Class

  • Give all learning activities your full attention and best effort
  • Maintain attention, engagement and persistence for a full class period
  • Participate frequently and assertively in class
  • Consider, accept, and adapt to constructive feedback
  • Control unrelated technology usage during class and study/work sessions

7. Practice Self-Care

  • Develop self-care strategies to cope with stress and anxiety.
  • Dedicate time in your schedule to self-care.
  • Make getting sufficient, high-quality sleep a high priority.
  • Eat healthy food regularly. Limit your intake of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Practice a form of physical activity that you enjoy and will do regularly.
  • Understand how UNE’s Student Health Center, University Counseling Services, Housing Area Coordinators, RAs, and student groups can help you care for yourself and maintain your health.

8. Develop the Right Kind of Supportive Social Network

Immerse yourself in campus culture to try new things and find people with interests that match yours. Go to events, games, lectures, film series, dances, and language groups. 

Join UNE clubs and organizations (but not too many!). Follow social media hashtags related to your campus; they can help you locate people you might like to meet.

Find a faculty mentor – it could be your official faculty mentor or the professor who teaches your favorite class. Visit her or him in office hours. Not all your questions need be about the class. Ask him or her what their current research is about and whether they need student researchers, ask what the purpose of general education requirements are, ask what students in her or his major are like and what they tend to do after graduation. Ask your faculty about current matters of interest on your campus.

Try to meet sympathetic sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Get the scoop on university life from a more experienced student’s perspective.

Form a study group (5 tips) – especially for difficult courses. You’ll not only spread out the work and share knowledge, you’ll meet people too. Start or join a student organization that celebrates your culture of origin. There’s a long tradition of such organizations serving as communal-spaces for students separated from their home communities, as well as enriching the wider campus community with culture, tradition, wisdom, and perspective. UNE’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement can help you locate student groups you might be interested in and provides an array of educational lectures, co-curricular programs and workshops, and student leadership opportunities that promote diversity and enhance cross-cultural understanding.