How to succeed at a Canadian university

By Alexandra Guerson*

September marks the end of long summer days and the beginning of a new academic year. For many immigrants, it can be their first contact with the Canadian education system and a period of great uncertainty. Insecurities about language and fear of the unknown can put a damper on the first year of university. But fear not! Canadian universities are designed to help students succeed. However, you should avoid the common mistakes made by students year after year.

Take time management, for example. Many professors assign readings to be done before each lecture and assignments take time to be done properly. Shannon McSheffrey, professor and chair of History at Concordia University in Montreal highlights poor time management as one of the most common mistakes made by students: “Instead of working steadily through the term, students too frequently wait until the day before an assignment is due, and then do an inadequate job.” As someone who has marked countless essays, I can assure you that it is very obvious to tell which students wrote their papers at the last minute.

Another common mistake is failing to seek help when it is needed. Good professors will attempt to be as clear as possible about their expectations and often welcome questions. Professors are obligated to hold office hours at least once a week so that students can go obtain face to face help. Many students don’t take advantage of this opportunity. My own supervisor at the University of Toronto constantly complains about not being able to get all of his students to go and see him in his office. Dana Wessell Lightfoot, a professor of Spanish history at the University of Texas at El Paso, wishes more students would come and see her when they have questions or have something going on in their life that impacts their ability to do well. “My students apologize for ‘bothering me’ during my office hours. I always tell them, this is my job! I’m here to help you in any way that I can.”, says Dana Wessell.

I owe much of my success as a student here in Canada to help and generosity of my professors. They would read the drafts of my papers, point out the mistakes, offer advice, and allow me to correct those mistakes in time to submit my papers officially. Time management skills were essential as it afforded me the opportunity to review my outlines and drafts with my professors prior to the submission deadlines. I also encourage my students to seek my advice and help whenever they have any questions or need any help.

So whether you want to take the studies you initiated in Brazil one step further or simply pursue a new career, do yourself a favour: make the most of your time at university. Get to know your professors, ask questions, get engaged with the material and give yourself time to write assignments. Show that you have been thinking about what you have learned. The rewards will come.

Alexandra Guerson has a BA from Concordia University in Montreal . She is now at the last stages of a PhD in History at the University of Toronto. In her spare time, she writes a blog at <>.