As a perpetual student, there are plenty things I wish someone had told me about university. Where are the secret silent study areas? Where are the best coffee spots on campus? How do you get the motivation to make those 8am lectures? University is a pretty big undertaking for anyone, whether you’ve just finished high school, are already studying or have worked for a while and have decided to return. Tertiary education is designed to be challenging and competitive so it helps to have an understanding of how to deal with new challenges that you may face. University is a really exciting time with plenty of new experiences, lots of interesting things to learn and plenty of fabulous opportunities. Having already tackled one degree, I have a bit of experience with how to navigate student life and these are my top tips to succeed in your studies.
Firstly, go to class. This might sound silly, but what you haven’t yet realised is the new found and complete freedom that you have. While university is a lot of fun, subjects can get really busy and it becomes quite easy to justify skipping classes. While at the time, skipping a physiology lecture to slink off for a coffee with friends seems like a fun one-off, it is easy for this behaviour to become a habit. Soon enough you’ll find yourself at the end of the semester with 12 weeks worth of lectures to catch up on. Save yourself the stress and show up, do the readings – and subsequently ace the subject!
Get to know your teaching staff. At university you will have many brilliant academics at your disposal. Lots of people get worried about not asking the right questions or saying something silly however it’s best to just go for it and get to know your tutors and lecturers. As daunting as this might seem, they’re really interesting people and just want to help you learn. Having trouble with the chemistry courseload? Have a chat to your subject co-ordinator about how you can improve or even ask them whether they know of any good tutors that can help you out. Getting to know the faculty staff may also be helpful when you want to find a supervisor for post-graduate study if that is something you decide to do.
Borrow, don’t buy! Don’t even bother Googling how much it will cost to buy all of your required textbooks new. The university library has pretty much every textbook you’ll need, so go borrow them! Failing this, it is likely your university has a second-hand book exchange program, so make use of it. Save your money, the future you will thank you for it!
Join some clubs and make use of the services university has to offer. Whether that involves accessing the writing mentors to have a second opinion on your work, joining an interesting club or taking advantage of free BBQs on campus, it is all worthwhile. Clubs are a great way to meet friends with similar interests and at the very least, the Coffee Club is a good way to score a free coffee once a week!
Your career starts when your degree does. Look for extracurricular activities to supplement your study, because not only will this be looked favourably upon by future employers you will get an opportunity to apply the things you’re learning about at university. As much as you’d like to be, you probably won’t be paid to do so, so volunteer for different organisations to get perspective and say yes to new opportunities.
It is great to have an idea of what you want to do, but if you don’t that is perfectly okay. While many people start out with a plan of where they would like to work, it is unlikely that your desires will remain the same throughout your course. During your degree, you’ll get a whole new appreciation for the field you’d like to go into which enables you to decide whether it is really for you. It is likely you’ll cycle through a number of ideas of what you’d like to do before you settle on something concrete. While the thought of such uncertainty might be a little daunting, it’s a time that will allow you to figure out where your true interests lie and it is a perfectly normal student experience.
Get in and try out a whole heap of different subjects. Doing something outside of your major area of study is a great way to broaden your interests and expand your knowledge. For example, while completing your nutrition degree you could benefit from taking a psychology course or even a business course if running your own private practice is of interest. Perhaps you always fancied yourself as a bit of a philosopher – taking subjects that don’t directly relate to your main field of study can be a fun way to break up your course load. Importantly, studying lots of different subjects will help you narrow down what you do and don’t enjoy.
Form good study habits early. You’ll soon realise that leaving everything to the last minute might work out for some, however, you’re better off saving yourself the stress and planning out your time. Buy a diary, fill up your phone’s calendar or figure out what works for you but learning how to organise your time will make things much easier. Figure out how you learn best and utilise these strategies in your revision. Maybe you find it tough to remember B vitamins? Why not try a silly mnemonic to help them stick in your mind!
Learn how to budget. Learning how to manage your finances is an important skill that is going to benefit you for the rest of your life. Eating baked beans for dinner when you’re broke can get a bit boring, so formulate a budget and stick to it. It is likely your university can provide you with some great budgeting resources and you can even score freebies on campus through your student union. You’ll be surprised (and delighted) when you figure out that you can still balance a social life, save money and find affordable fresh produce to maintain a healthy diet.
It is okay, not to be okay. Don’t be afraid to seek help if your mental health isn’t in tip top condition. University is a huge life change which will be as equally exciting as it is scary. Some days you’ll might feel like you’re achieving what you’ve set out to do while on others you might feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t have it together (you’re not!). Take it all in your stride, be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you feel like you’re struggling. Additionally, Lifeline, Beyond Blue and university counselling services are fantastic resources.
Studying at university is a really special time in your life so take advantage of the opportunities around you and have some fun! Have any tips for new or current students? Pass on your wisdom in the comments!