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Students just arriving at university come from many different backgrounds – some have just completed high school months ago and are leaving home for the first time, some are returning to postsecondary education after years in the workforce, some are travelling from across the globe and some are working part-time to support themselves and their families.

While each of their experiences is different, I am going to give you my top five tips for being successful this year.

No. 1: Learn to be you: If you are just starting out, use this opportunity to explore who you are and who you want to be in the world. It is a new environment with new people and you can determine your own identity. Try new activities. Create a new nickname. Change your hair colour. Experiment. Create you.

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No. 2: Learn to be a student: In addition to your program content – whether science, business, history, or drama – you first need to learn to be a successful student. Learn what policies you must adhere to, what support services are available to help you. How are the expectations on you for independent work, time management, writing skills, etc., different from your last experience with education? Don't be discouraged if the learning skills that you relied on in the past don't serve you as well in your new program. Be patient.

No.3: Learn to get involved: Participate as much as you can manage, and learn as much as you can about the organizations, clubs, activities, and services that are available to you at your institution. If you can't get involved because of work and family commitments make sure to get to know your instructors. Introduce yourself early on. Research shows that students who get connected to someone or something on campus are more likely to persist and be successful.

No.4: Learn to avoid pitfalls: Start thinking about, planning and doing your academic work right away – starting the very first day of classes. Most semesters are 12 or 13 weeks long and your first semester will go by very quickly – once you are half way through it is very difficult to catch up if you have not focused on staying on top of your course work. Also know what constitutes academic misconduct or "cheating," so you can avoid the serious consequences that come with this. Every school has a policy – take the time to understand it.

No. 5: Learn to ask for help: I have seen so many students who get into difficulty – academic difficulty, personal difficulty, financial difficulty – who tell no one until the problem has become so overwhelming it threatens their year and their health. Ask questions. Reach out to others. Use the resources on your campus. Ask for help if you need it.

Heather Lane Vetere is vice-provost of students at Ryerson University.

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