10 tips for students transferring or returning to school
1. Develop a network
One key to successfully returning to study is to develop a network of
friends and acquaintances on campus. Although it may seem that the
campus is entirely inhabited by fresh faced 18 year old students, there
are many older students studying here.
Non-traditional aged students frequently fit their classes and study
time around work and family commitments and may not spend a great deal
of time on campus. Those who are studying part time may spend even less
time on campus. Apart from the pleasant social aspects of having friends
on campus, you need to develop a group of people with whom you can
discuss lectures and assignments, collaborate on difficult problems,
share references or borrow or swap notes if you miss a class. Colleagues
can also be an important source of support when you don't understand
concepts and need extra help or reassurance.
Make a positive effort to meet new people and develop a list of phone
numbers in the first two weeks of semester. Attend faculty welcomes and
other orientation activities. Greet people whom you recognize from your
classes when you meet them on campus.
Important information about course structure, organization and
assessment issues is given in early lectures. The first few weeks are
the best time to meet other people in your course and academic staff in
Find the location of your faculty office. Find a place in the library
where you feel comfortable to work.
Check out the sports teams, the Student Union Building, the
cafeteria, the fitness center, and Student Support Services offices.
Don't just come to SMU to go to your class and then go home. Use the
facilities, enjoy the atmosphere. The more time you spend on campus, the
more you will start to feel a part of the place. Remember, campus is
your place too.
3. Plan your time
Time Management is a crucial issue for all students, but particularly
for non-traditional aged students who are often juggling study with work
and family commitments.
A day planner or schedule can be a useful aid to help keep track of
your time. List work commitments, other important commitments, and
classes. Then determine what time is available for study. Whatever
course you study, there are routine tasks which need to be completed
every week: preparation for lectures, preparation and/or completion of
labs or assignments, required readings, and review of lecture materials.
Ideally, you should list all of these tasks on your weekly timetable.
Assignments, essays, and time spent studying for exams are extra tasks
which need additional time.
Spend a similar amount of time each week on each subject. Diaries or
weekly and daily "to do" lists are also useful aids to help you stay on
track and stick to a plan. Whatever system you use, listing tasks in
writing is a form of commitment to completing them.
Think about how you learn best. Do you prefer to work early in the
morning or late at night? Are you happy to juggle several pieces of work
at one time or are you more comfortable working on one essay at a time.
Be realistic about your preferences. Don't plan to get up early if you
know you'll never get out of bed and don't plan to study after dinner if
you always fall asleep on the couch by 8.30.
Rather than wasting small chunks of time, use them for completing
minor study tasks. There is a common perception that you need a large
spread of uninterrupted time to achieve worthwhile study, but there are
many tasks which fit quite well into the spaces between your classes.
You can use this time to read, study, or even complete one problem.
Break large tasks down into segments which are easily achievable. Suit
the time to the task. Always be ready to make the most of good quality
time -when you know you will concentrate well and be able to work. Save
this time for thinking and writing or focused reading.
Learn to prioritize. You can't do everything, but you can always do
something. Think about what is the most important task you need to get
done, in the time available. Set private deadlines for assignments which
are ahead of the true ones. This way you have some leeway if family
emergencies, work deadlines or illness strikes.
You can't work flat out on your studies all semester. Studying for a
degree is a long haul and you need the support of your family over that
time. Although study may appear to take over your life when assignments
and exams are imminent, at quieter times during the semester your family
deserve more priority. Allocate time to spend with your family, and make
sure that there are times you can relax without feeling guilty. If you
are well organized, it is possible to fit in several study blocks over
the weekend while still including family time.
4. Embrace technology
If you're not comfortable using computers or surfing the internet,
then returning to school provides a wonderful opportunity for you to
upgrade your skills. Computer technology is used extensively throughout
the SMU for teaching, learning and accessing resources. Many departments
now put much of their course materials and handouts on-line and e-mail
is becoming a preferred method of communicating with academics within
the university. Increasingly you will also be expected to access on-line
research sources to support your essays and some subjects require you to
complete on-line tutorials.
Take time to practice using the library search engines for any
literature reviews you will need to do for papers. Consider the
- What are the most commonly used search terms
within your area of study?
- What are the main journals or books in your area?
- What data bases are most relevant to your area of study?
- Learn to bookmark the most important on-line journals and sites
for your area of study.
5. Adjust expectations
Returning to study is a wonderful opportunity to think, learn and
expand your knowledge. As a non-traditional aged student, you will
typically have very high expectations of yourself and want to get high
At the same time, you need to be realistic about what is expected of
you, what you expect of yourself and what is possible. Most students
undergo a transition process in adjusting to university life. You may
initially feel frustrated by a lack of direction or explicit
expectations or with limited contact with faculty. At the same time you
may be grappling with the discourse of a new discipline.
Learn to value your own achievements and don't judge your progress
solely on the basis of the grades you receive. Non-traditional aged
students generally have more life experience and are willing to take
risks and contribute to discussion.
Allow yourself time to settle into your new study regime and learn
new skills. Don't try to write the definitive article or produce your
life work when 1000 words are all that is required. High expectations
and goals are great, but being a perfectionist and having unachievable
goals will very quickly demoralize you and bring this exciting process
to a halt.
6. Stay focused
Rather than becoming anxious and getting lost in the detail of your
course, try to see the "big picture" of how your course fits together as
Focus on the objectives for each of your subjects. Examine your
course outlines very carefully and try to determine how the topics fit
in with the course objectives.
- What are you expected to be able to know or do, at the end of
- What are the key issues or content areas in this subject?
- What is the logic of the way the classes are organized?
- How do the different topics link together?
- What assessment tasks will be required of you?
- When are assessments due?
It's not unusual to lose motivation at some stage during your
studies. Everybody gets bored with study and with putting the rest of
their lives on hold while they complete their degrees. At such times it
is useful to revisit your reasons for deciding to study. Focus on why
you are doing this course or subject. Writing a list of your goals and
current problems can sometimes help you to regain perspective.
7. Acknowledge changes
Attending SMU will potentially bring changes to your life. Talk to
your family, partner or others you live with and let them know what
attending school will involve for you. Let them know about your time
schedules, your busy times, your need for quiet times, and your need for
support (or even the occasional nagging). If they are fully informed,
they are more likely to feel part of the process and will be in a better
position to support you.
The timetable already mentioned is a good way to share your study
with those close to you. Point out the changes it will involve and the
times you will meet commitments, join with them and still be the same
person they know and love!
8. Reward yourself
In college it can be hard to gauge your progress. You may work for
long periods of time without any feedback from faculty. In some
subjects, there may be little assessment apart from the end of semester
exams. At times you will undoubtedly feel frustrated by this apparent
lack of structure, guidelines or feedback and with the limited contact
Reward yourself for adhering to your time schedule, submitting work
on time, understanding a complex theoretical concept, participating in
an oral presentation or simply for keeping on top of your work load,
balancing work commitments and your family life and coping with the
demands of a university course.
Take the opportunity to share your successes and achievements with
the people who are important to you. Make the completion of a difficult
study task the basis for a family celebration. In many ways, you are not
competing against the other students, but striving to find your own time
and space to make progress in your chosen course of study. Recognize the
progress you make and remember to give yourself credit for your
9. Stay in touch
Faculty, although busy with teaching and administrative commitments,
are interested in your progress through the course. It's important to
let them know if you are having problems or need an extension or special
consideration. If you fail to submit work or stop attending classes,
they will have no idea what has happened to you, and may assume you have
dropped out. If you need to contact one of them it is best to a make an
appointment either directly by phone or e-mail, or through the
10. Know where to get help
One of your first tasks should be to find the location of the various
Student Support Services offices to check out what they have to offer by
way of assistance.
Many students run into difficulties at some stage of their course. At
SMU you are expected to be an independent learner, but that does not
mean that you have to handle all of your problems on your own. There are
lots of people on campus who can help you, but it's up to you to ask for
Other students in the course can often be a source of help and
support if you are having problems with your work. Working
collaboratively with others to solve problems or brainstorming ideas can
benefit all members of the group.
If, after trying some of these strategies, you are still experiencing
real difficulties with course content contact your lecturer or
supervisor in the subject concerned.
Personal, emotional, health and
financial problems can also impact on your study and affect your ability
to keep up with the workload. Contact the counseling center at ext. 4371
for free, confidential, counseling services.
This information was adapted from information provided by the
University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne