A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Hacking your degree: Tips and tricks for finishing your degree on time

When getting started with your degree, the number of modules and the length of the thesis can seem intimidating. University courses (especially Masters and Postgraduate degrees) rely more on you independently structuring your time, and therefore on your own time management skills. This can be difficult to adapt to, and can leave many first years feeling lost or left behind.

adult blur books close up

Managing your own time and knowing you’re in control of your own progress can be daunting, but these tips are here to help!

Lucky for you, I’ve just finished a 2-year Research Master in Archaeology at Leiden, and have condensed my top four hacks for getting started with your degree (and finishing it in time!).

This is part of a series (look out for the next two articles), summarising what I’ve learnt these two years, including all you need to know about Graduation (bookmark it for next year!), and what to do after your degree 😮

Realistic timetabling

Starting a new degree can be a tempting time to make a new start, and for me this often includes planning out over-ambitious schedules involving university work, outdoor time, hobbies, and socialising. Having a busy schedule is good, however you also want to make sure that you’ll have time to adjust and find your feet after arriving. The SMART concept can also be helpful when planning out your time in the coming semester.


Use the SMART concept to plan out your time and set goals! Source.

Exploit empty spaces!

If you have empty spaces in your timetable, consider whether you can take a module early, or undertaken an internship or take an elective. This is a great way to give yourself more time in later years (when thesis work also starts to build up), and can also serve as an opportunity to build up extra experience in your field. By taking both my electives in my first year, I ended up with more time in my last year to write my thesis.

Expectation management

Communication with your supervisor and the management of expectations (on both your and your supervisors ends) is key to finishing on time, as well as managing stress for you throughout your degree. If something isn’t working (be it in part of your research, a module you’re taking, or some paperwork issues), talk to your supervisor! Make sure you both know what the other expects, this is really key to making your degree as easy as possible, with the support you need.

Communication is as much about actively listening as it is about talking. Source.

A perfect thesis?

The last point is one that’s been spoken about before, but it’s important to realise it as soon as possible. There is no such thing as a “perfect” thesis, a good thesis is a finished one. And this goes for every piece of work! Perfection is impossible to accomplish, sometimes “good enough is good enough”. If you feel your grades aren’t improving with your effort, ask to speak with your lecturer or with the writing lab to get extra help. There’s also university counselling available if you feel that perfectionism is a problem for you. Esra has written more about how to finish a thesis here, check it out.


This is so true. Check out for more very relateable cartoons.

Hopefully with these tips you’ll feel a little bit more prepared for the coming academic year, I wish you all the best of luck and success!

Leiden is a great place to develop your independence and participate in some fantastic research, and these hacks will help you make the best of it. If you have any other ideas, post them in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

Hit Counter

  • 895,087 total visits!
%d bloggers like this: