7 Things Every Arts Student Should Know

So you’ve chosen to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree- congratulations on being accepted into your program! Throughout my three years in the Political Sciences program at the University of Alberta, I’ve learned a few tricks to succeed in a Bachelor of Arts program. By applying these essential things that every arts student should know, you will be well on your way to a successful four years.

Tip #1: Learn one, two, and maybe even three citation methods

As a Bachelor of Arts student,  you will be writing critical reflections, policy proposals and research papers that require you to use scholarly information. In each assignment, you will need to use an appropriate referencing style. In my experience, most professors allow their students to choose their preferred citation method. The majority of students in a BA program use MLA, APA or Chicago Style. It is important to be familiar with citation methods as it gives you more time to focus on the other aspects of your paper such as research and development of your arguments. You don’t want to spend two to three hours re-learning a citation method every time you write an essay. Learn citation styles once and learn them well!

Tip #2: Check your grammar and references

The most difficult parts of writing a research essay are gathering the relevant research, organizing your material, and arguing your points in a persuasive and coherent matter. Although the bulk of your grade will come from your ability to produce well-informed and insightful arguments, a significant component will come from your ability to adhere to high grammatical standards and to use referencing styles correctly. In my experience, nearly 10% of an essay’s grade can be determined by grammar. Ten percent is a significant amount, and can be the difference between an A- paper and an A+ paper. Always spell check! You don’t want to lose out on a higher grade because you were too lazy to double-check. For grammar, I recommend using spellcheckplus.com. Simply enter in a section of your paper, and the program does the magic!

Tip #3: Keep up with your readings and read effectively

One of the most difficult aspect of being an Arts student (being a university student in general) is staying disciplined and caught up with readings. In high school, teachers constantly remind students to study. In university though, professors don’t have the time to babysit.

In an ideal world, you should go through the reading once and then re-read it again. However, this isn’t an ideal world. At a minimum, you should read the reading once before going to class. A common question students in Arts have is whether or not they should take notes while reading. In my opinion, the best option is to read through the assigned readings once and then  summarize what you have read. This summary should be 1-2 pages and should allow you to study efficiently once exam season approaches.

Tip #4: Become familiar with your library and major databases for your discipline 

Becoming familiar with your discipline’s major databases is key. Depending on your research topic, some databases may be more relevant than others (ie. JSTOR for arts vs. Pubmed for health sciences). It is important that early on you meet with your professor or librarian who can provide you with a list of potential areas to focus on. This list can help you when you start your research for any essay.

Tip #5: Participate in class  

Similar to points lost for grammar and reference errors, an Arts student should try their best to avoid points lost for lack of participation. In your upper years particularly, a greater proportion of your final grade will come from your participation. If you’re a naturally outgoing and confident person, you will most likely have no issue with participation. However, if you’re like me, you will have to overcome your natural introvertedness and force yourself to speak. A tip that has worked for me, is to force myself to make at least one to two insightful comments during discussions. The one-to-two rule will guarantee that you get a strong participation mark.

Tip #6: Plan out how to you will complete your essays

All Arts students should develop a plan for completing their essays. In the upper years of your program, it is possible that in one semester you will have ten or more writing assignments and all of them could be due within a two-week time frame. Planning is essential to ensure that you showcase your best work on each assignment. Divide your semester into specific dates and times in which you will tackle each assignment. For example: On Mondays, I complete one hour of research for an essay in International Relations and one hour of research in Chinese Foreign Policy. Dividing your time allows you to meet deadlines and dates with ease. Lacking a schedule will make completing your work extremely difficult.

Tip #7: Consider an honors program

All students should consider an Honors program in their chosen area of studies. An Honors program allows a student to specialize in a particular area, and provides the opportunity to complete an undergraduate thesis under the supervision of a faculty member. For example, I am currently in the University of Alberta’s Political Science Honors program, which has allowed me to specialize in topics such as Chinese foreign policy and East Asian politics.

If you plan on attending graduate school or law school, an Honors program is a great opportunity to learn essential research and writing skills. Additionally, an Honors program provides a network of individuals who will support you throughout your academic journey.


Photo Credits: SplitShire

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