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As a current 5th year university student, I’d almost forgotten the complex jumble of emotions I’d felt on the lead up to my university’s orientation week.
During the three-and-a-half-hour drive down to the Australian National University, where I had enrolled weeks earlier, I remember trying to supress bubbling apprehension over how little I knew about what was in store.
After living thirteen years of my life on a dependable 8:20am-3:30pm timetable, at the same school and in the same city, I was jumping head first into completely unfamiliar territory.
Not all of you first year students will move to another city to attend university. Some of you might be studying overseas and for some of you, university might be a mere train stop away from home.
Either way, adjusting to university life can be a challenge and anything you may currently be feeling, from trepidation or fear to buzzing excitement, is completely valid!
Below are a few of the things that I would have found valuable to know at the start of my first year, and that I hope might help you adjust to the next 3-5 years!
Organise your timetable in a way that suits you
One of the greatest things about university is the lifestyle. Say goodbye to 7+ hour days, 5 days a week, and hello to minimal contact hours (depending on your degree) and a timetable of your own choosing! Whilst lecture times are set in stone, you can often choose which days and times you would like to attend your tutorials. After a few semesters of experimentation, I discovered that what works for me is having all my classes compiled into 2-3 days, freeing the rest of the week for studying or work. If going to university involves extensive travel, I’d recommend this course of action for you too.
Make sure you know how to get to your classes
Practically speaking, your university is likely to have a larger campus than your school, with different buildings for different academic colleges.
I’d recommend downloading the ‘Lost on Campus’ app to help you get around and make it to classes on time.
Sign up to clubs and societies (but not too many)
As you’re probably aware, most universities have a multitude of eclectic clubs and societies for you to choose from. Societies are not only a great way to continue to develop a current hobby but also to find a completely new one. Sign up for something new and you may find that you have a hitherto undiscovered talent for Quidditch or competitive Frisbee.
Just be sure not to overdo it on the society sign-ups, unless you want your inbox to be bombarded with emails about clubs you don’t even remember joining.
Find a cool place on campus to study
Your timetable may leave you with several hours to spend on campus between classes and what better way to spend that time than study?Check out all the different libraries, study halls and even outdoor benches to find the best study environment for you. Alternatively, cafes can be great places to sit and work if, like me, you prefer a more relaxed learning atmosphere.
Once a friend and I spent the most productive four consecutive days of our lives at my favourite café, researching and writing our 3500-word International Relations essays. When choosing your ideal study-café, be sure to look out for large tables so you can spread out your work, plenty of natural light so you don’t ruin your eyes, music you enjoy and kind owners that will allow to you camp out for as long as you need.
Learning at university is different to school
Quick disclaimer: I am an Arts/Law student so I know little to nothing about how maths or science courses are run at university. The two pieces of wisdom I can offer first year STEM students have been borrowed from my STEM friends.
- Avoid statistics courses where possible and
- Eat before university labs because they are very long.
In the humanities world, learning is divided into lectures and tutorials. Lectures generally run for between one to three hours. Most lectures are not interactive, but rather consist of a professor spieling as much information as she or he possibly can in their allotted time.
I recommend that you avoid trying to record everything they say in your notes because, at least in my experience, that is nearly impossible! Instead, focus on understanding the material and use your textbook to fill in your notes with the content you missed. If the idea of a three-hour class overwhelms you than you are definitely in the majority!
But don’t worry, lecturers are aware that three hours of intense concentration is a lot to ask, and often allow for short breaks in the middle of their class. Also, lectures are often recorded so you can watch them at your own pace and in your own time. A quick tip: to save time, you can play your lecture at 1.5 speed or even double the speed and cut a three-hour long lecture down to an hour and a half! Tutorials are more involved. They typically run for one hour and involve discussions about assigned readings (be prepared for both awkward silences and soapbox orating!) or working through problem questions. Participation is often compulsory try to come prepared!
Make sure you stay on top of your coursework
With the excitement of escaping from the slightly overbearing nature of school life still fresh, it’s easy to forget the realities of being entirely accountable for your own learning.
Although there are no immediate repercussions for falling behind on your coursework, try and keep up to date. Learning an entire university course in the week before your exams may be possible for you, but it’s never a fun or healthy experience!
It’s also important to remember that you can ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to email or organise a meeting with your university tutors and lecturers to discuss any questions you may have. I’d also recommend befriending a senior student who may be able to pass along some helpful advice!
Meet new people
Try to make new friends at university. This may sound incredibly obvious and may even be inevitable for those of you who are going to university away from home. However, if you are tempted to stick to your school friends, I advise you against it. One of the best things about university is the diverse range of people you will meet. Your peers will have come from all around Sydney, Australia and the world and will bring with them interesting and unique ways of approaching life.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, discussions with my university friends have definitely challenged and still constantly challenge the way I see and do things. Also, having friends from all around the world means I have places to stay when I go travelling!
Good luck with university, first years, I’m sure you’ll love it!
Radhika Bhatia is an Arts/Law student at ANU
Find more advice from other Uni students here