Tips for success in your first year of post-secondary

September can be exciting as well as nerve-wracking, especially for first-year post-secondary students. Here are some survival tips.

Track your spending

Plan a budget at the start of the semester that includes everything from living expenses to entertainment, suggests Nadim Merali, financial analyst at NAIT Student Services.

Stick to that budget by tracking your spending. Merali says that’s never been easier thanks to new online tools and smartphone apps. Some banks – including TD Canada Trust and ATB Financial – offer tracking software already built into its smartphone apps. Mint, Goodbudget and HomeBudget with Sync are a few other budget-tracking apps.

Get involved

Join clubs or hobby programs, suggests Jenny Lau, communications and engagement director for the NAIT Students’ Association. I was lost during my fist year,” says Lau. “For me, my one big regret was that I didn’t get involved as often as I should have.”

Attending events on campus – from concerts, events at the local college pub, or at social networking event – also provide opportunities to meet people.

Eat well

The Freshman 15 – the amount of weight commonly gained by a first-year post-secondary student – is a myth, says NAIT’s registered dietician, Nick Creelman.  

“The only person who is in control in gaining weight is you,” he says.

That said, you still need to eat healthy, despite the lack of time, tight budget and stress.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pay attention to how much alcohol you consume, suggests Creelman. A pint of beer packs 200 calories, equivalent to four slices of bread.
  • Pack a lunch every day and carry a water bottle. Watch what you drink, including sugary drinks or hot beverages that may also be loaded with whip cream, which can contain a meal’s worth of calories.

Healthy meals, including bagged lunches, can be made on a shoestring budget, according to Creelman:​

  • Make a grocery list and stick to it.
  • Bulk food stores can also save you money on staples, like rice and pasta, or baking ingredients like flour. Those items can stay in your pantry for a long time.
  • Store-brand products are just as good as the brand-name products but are less expensive. “I used to be a Kraft Peanut Butter fan, but it costs $8 for a medium-sized jar,” said Creelman. “I can get a store-brand version for $4.”
  • Beans and lentils are a good source of protein, and are a much cheaper option than meat.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh veggies and fruit. Also, the nutritional value is just as good as fresh.

Study smarter

Build good study habits early in the school year, suggests Sarah Walz, coordinator for academic support services at NAIT.

  •  “Studying is more of a marathon than a sprint,” she says. That’s why it is crucial to attend every class rather than trying to catch up on key information toward the end of term.
  • Spend 30-40 minutes reviewing your class notes and assigned readings daily, suggests Walz. “That makes a big impact because so much is thrown at us during class, we often don’t have a lot of time to reflect on that,” says Walz. Then on the weekend, dedicate an hour of review time.
  • After 30-45 minutes of studying, take a break. That’s how long an average attention span lasts. “There are only so many minutes that you can focus for.” For more complicated or subjects take breaks more frequently.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
  • Got an exam? Start studying a week before the test to help retain information.

Feeling stressed?

Most post-secondary institutes offer counselling services to help students with a wide-range of issues, including financial and emotional concerns.

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