• The Mentorship Spot

Do you have to do well in high school to succeed in university?

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

China Palmateer

Interviewed and Transcribed By Rachel Snelgrove



I’m currently finishing up my first year of a Bachelors of Science in Nursing at uOttawa — in English (since it is a bilingual school). I play sports and I like to be outside and read. I also play the flute, piano, and saxophone, and participate in volleyball intramurals which have helped to keep me busy in university.


Why were you feeling nervous about academics entering university?


I had heard a myth that you really had to be a top-achiever in high school to do well in university. It was my understanding that only those who scored 90% or higher in high school would succeed in university, and those with averages in the 80%’s, like myself, would really struggle with their university courses. I’d like to emphasize that, having completed my first year, this is definitely a myth! I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences related to doing well in university in this article, so those of you who were also in my position will also go forward to accomplish your goals.


What’s been your experience adapting to university?


For me, I had really low expectations going into first year. Based on the myth I just mentioned, I thought I would maybe get 60%’s in all of my classes and sort of just scrape by. I then realized, however, that if I adopted my behaviour, I would be able to achieve good grades. I know “good” means a different thing to everyone, but for me, I almost made honour roll and I consider that to be pretty good. I also had a few ways which helped me to motivate myself to get good grades. For example, I set both short (semester) and long (undergrad) term goals, learned how to focus better without getting distracted by the first-year experience, and learned how to avoid getting discouraged, as I know first year can be a really challenging time for a lot of people. My long-term goals allow for some mess-ups if I have a tougher semester, and the short-term goals can be tailored based on the difficulty of the semester. For example, I had an easier course load in first semester so my goals were more related to high grades, but my tougher course load in second semester meant that I set my goals to be more related to keeping myself on track and not falling behind. In high school, I found myself comparing myself to a lot of my classmates but in university, I changed this to comparing myself to my own standards, and I think that allowed me to stay motivated. I also tried to decrease the amount of free time I had by joining intramurals and getting a job because I then had to schedule my time better. This forced me to manage my time appropriately and to be done my assignments earlier than would’ve been necessary otherwise.


How do you adapt to living far from home?


Honestly, this wasn’t too much of an issue for me since many of my friends also came to the same school as me. I also think it’s important to get involved, meet people, and form study groups. This helps to feel less alone for sure. I was also pretty excited to move out, so that definitely helped my mindset when moving far.


How do you notice if something isn’t necessarily working, and how do you improve this?


Don’t get discouraged by one or two bad grades or days. The important thing is that you then realize that something isn’t working, so you can quickly adapt to get better for next time. I’d know that I wasn’t studying well if I had to keep re-reading things every day to remember them. In first semester, I was constantly re-reading PowerPoints just to attempt to understand the material. After noticing that I was reading without retaining, I realized that I had to change my study techniques so I could better retain information. So, I adjusted my study techniques in second semester. I started reading the textbook and doing practice questions online. I found that I then performed a lot better. Ideal study techniques are different for each person, but it’s certainly important to find one or a few than work well for you. Midterms are an opportunity for you to figure out if your study techniques are appropriately teaching you, so if you don’t do well, use that as an indication that you should change techniques. This may happen several times but don’t get discouraged — eventually you’ll find something that works for you!


What types of study techniques do you use to do well in university?


I read the PowerPoints, I write things down, I read the book, and I do practice questions from the back of the textbook and online. The practice questions will not only help to test your information retention, but also prepare you for the styles of questions your professors may place on a midterm or exam.


How are the techniques used in high school different from those used in university for you?


In high school, I honestly didn’t really care that much about understanding what I was learning. Choosing a major that I’m legitimately interested in has definitely helped in that regard because I now have motivation to actually understand rather than memorize. It’s important to find ways to motivate yourself so you’ll want to study. I know no one will believe me here but I actually want to study now. Perhaps if you find you need external motivation, try to set specific goals that you’ll then feel rewarded for when you complete.


What’s one thing you think would have been useful to know before starting university?


If you don’t do well in high school, you can absolutely do well in university! Beyond that, I honestly had a good idea of what to expect because I had talked to a lot of upper-year students. That definitely helped me so if you’re looking to go into university, definitely reach out to those already in your program to get your questions answered!


What are some final tips you have for someone looking to maximize their first-year experience?


1. Participate in study groups! These are extraordinarily helpful, especially the ones that are run by upper year students. They’ll help by giving you practice questions and reviewing the material with you, and they’ve done the course(s) before so their insight is really useful. I do want to note that sometimes the study groups you create with your friends may not be entirely productive, so if you notice that you’re getting distracted in those groups, don’t be afraid to avoid those study groups. You need to do whatever’s best for your academics if you’re in a situation where you’re trying to reach your academic goals. You’re allowed to be picky about which study groups are most productive for you!


2. If you get electives, take things that are fun! I took two music electives and they were really fun and they helped to boost my cGPA, which is always a plus.


3. Take advantage of the resources around you, since the majority are included in tuition. For example, the school library might be able to offer you something other than books. For Anatomy and Physiology class at uOttawa, student are able to access a software called Visible Body, which is a 3D model of the body where you can see all the bones, muscles, veins etc. Ask your school library if they have any online resources for your classes, as you might only be able to access them for free through the school. As well, take advantage of the Writing centre, the Careers centre, Faculty mentors or whatever your school offers! Usually during frosh week, there’s a “student services fair” which gives you a chance to talk and ask questions to some of representative for that service.


4. Don’t panic too much — if you panic, you’ll get more stressed, which takes away from your productivity. For example, when I start to get stressed, I go to the gym. Other people have different relaxers such as reading or eating a snack. Find what works for you and try not to let yourself get too overwhelmed, as studying 24/7 will definitely tire and stress you out, which is not really useful to your overall goals — I know this is a lot easier said than done, but please try.


5. A bonus tip (since its not academically related). If possible, explore the campus before classes start. This saves you the trouble of having to blindly navigate the school while thousands of other student are doing the same. Additionally, try and find any tunnels or “secret passage ways” in your school as this can save you time, and different staircases in and around the building so you don’t have to wait for an elevator (you will see, the elevator lines can get quite long).


Thanks for reading this article! If you liked it, consider checking out the other articles on our page and stay tuned for new ones weekly! Did you know we also pair high school students with uni students in their desired program for advice and mentorship? Check out our sign-up page to register as a mentor or mentee today!

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