How to Succeed

First-year is a really big jump for most high school students - initially lacking the skills and habits required to be successful. The following is a list of tips and advice that can help you improve your habits and become a more successful student.


Your first work term is right around the corner, and with it comes the pain of PD1 and the co-op hunt. In the study term just before your first work term, you will spend dozens of hours writing resumes, tailoring cover letters, interviewing with potential employers, and completing assignments for a professional development course.

To reduce the workload of your next study term, try getting things such as resumes and cover letters out of the way as early as possible. With no immediate deadlines, try fine tuning your resume by attending resume critique sessions or having your friends critique your resume. While spots are still readily available, take advantage of mock interviews that are offered free-of-charge at the Tathem Centre.

With hundreds of students applying to the same job postings, its important to try to distinguish yourself from the rest of your peers. This is especially important for first-year students, all of which typically have very minimal or irrelevant extracurriculars and experience.

Try to get involved in activities and events that are relevant to the jobs you’ll be applying to in your first co-op search. Unique things such as design teams, competitions and side projects will all make you a more enticing candidate. Want to apply for a web developer position? Build your own website or pick up a new JavaScript framework. Want to work in finance? Join the UW Finance Association or join the Internal Affairs subgroup of a student design team.

In the job hunt, who you know is more important than what you know. Having a referral to supplement your application will make you more likely to pass the initial resume screening and get an interview. Connections can help you land that dream job by connecting you to the right people and making a good first impression for you.

Make and maintain as many connections as possible, in varying fields, professions, and age groups. Your peers, upper-year students, TA’s, and professors are all great connections to have at the university. Stay in contact with family and friends, and seek to expand your network of connections through them. Consider creating a LinkedIn account, attending a career fair, or participating in social networking events.

As a co-op student at the University of Waterloo, you have the chance to participate in the largest co-op program in the world through WaterlooWorks. However, the fact that you have access to WaterlooWorks doesn’t mean that you cannot and should not apply to jobs through other methods. Neglecting to apply externally means missing countless co-op opportunities, as not every company advertises their job postings through WaterlooWorks.

Use traditional job-search sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, and LinkedIn. Ask your connections if they are aware of any co-op opportunities or can get you in-touch with an employer at a company of interest.


Without nagging parents and the comfort of isolating yourself in a residence dorm room, it’s easy to fall into the trap of skipping classes with the intention of catching up on them later. Skipping classes may seem beneficial at first – you get to spend more time on immediate assignments while learning at your own pace. However, when you do catch up, you’ll most likely gloss over important topics or fail to fully understand the material. Catching-up also takes longer than sitting through the lectures, resulting in less time and resources available for you to allocate towards other courses.

As a math student, having friends that are in the same classes as you will prove to be invaluable. By befriending your peers, you’ll always have someone close by to seek clarification about course material, ask for help on assignments, and study with for tests. With friends by your side, gone are the days of struggling alone on Math 135 proofs for hours on end, and having nobody to get missed lecture notes from.

With almost as many courses as there are days in a week, students often allocate specific days in which they start and finish the assignment(s) for a specific course. If you instead choose to spread the workload of your courses amongst several different days, you get more time to think about and reflect on the assignment questions. Additionally, working in short bursts on an assignment across several days means that the course material stays fresh in your head for longer.

Every day, instead of doing four questions from one assignment, try doing one question from four different assignments.

Imagine finishing fourth year and not being able to graduate on time simply due to the fact that you missed a couple courses. This can be a real issue for students in the math faculty, that have specific depth, breadth, and core course requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to graduate. Or imagine waiting until third year to take a specific course, but then being told that you can’t take simply due to the fact that you don’t fulfill the prerequisites. These scenarios are why it is important to plan your courses ahead of time and keep track of different course offerings for each term.

Take a look at the requirements checklist for your program, selecting courses that you find interesting while also fulfilling your depth, breadth, and core requirements. Next, look through the catalog of upper-year courses for courses that you would be interested in taking, and plan your course trajectory so that all prerequisites are fulfilled. Try to stick to this path and consult with an academic advisor if you have trouble staying on-track or have any questions related to degree requirements.

Having messy notes can make it hard to study for future tests. If ideas are not organized properly, it’s very possible that you'll miss or overlook them when reviewing. Additionally, the more organized your notes are, the less time needs to spend looking for the information required.

If you have trouble writing organized notes in class, you can spend a few minutes organizing them after class or when you get home.

People often associate courses that have light workloads with high marks. In reality, “bird courses” often end up being very high stakes, with marks tending to count for a higher portion of each grade percentage – making the penalty for mistakes higher. And if you take a course that you're not interested in simply because you think it’s easy, you most likely won’t take it seriously and will be more careless with marks. Paired together, it’s possible that the course you once thought would be a “bird course” ends up being the hardest course you’re currently taking.

Don’t take a course simply because you heard it was easy or that your friend received a high mark in it. Take courses that you’re interested in, because that interest and passion will motivate you to achieve the grade you’re seeking.


It’s hard to concentrate, absorb information, and make connections when you’re sleep deprived. Try maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting a healthy amount of shut eye every night.

Comparing yourself against the rest of your classmates may have worked great in high school; having found a spot in the Mathematics faculty at Waterloo you must have been amongst the best and brightest. But now you’re surrounded by the best and brightest from across the world in a hypercompetitive environment. Comparing yourself against this crowd is a very toxic mentality that is sure to drag you down more than it raises you up.

Instead of adopting this mentality, try to compete against yourself. Set personal self-improvement goals at the start of each school term and work towards them, measuring and reflecting on your progress.

Course material will undoubtably get harder as you progress through your university degree, but that doesn’t mean that you have to struggle alone. When time gets tough, seek help from friends, family, and/or campus health services.

Campus health services are offered free-of-charge.

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