Starting out at Uni

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What new students – and parents – can expect from the next few years

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The burden of Year 12 is over, and it’s time to begin the phase of specialised education. All of that is exciting enough – but there’s a lot more to university lifestyle than burying your head in more textbooks.


Clubs and societies

The first thing any university will tell you to do is to “participate in university life”.  The best way to do this is to join some of your university’s clubs and societies. The particular societies you can join might vary across different institutions – for instance, some have Quidditch or Chocolate societies – but, mostly, they’re a great way to meet new people outside of a classroom environment.

It’s easy to worry about taking too much on in your first semester at uni, but don’t think of societies as commitments. You will rarely have any obligations, and most are free to join. If you’re interested in something, whether it’s food, snooker or even motorbikes – there could be a society for it and it’s well worth joining its Facebook group or signing up to receive emails. After all, there’s always an unsubscribe option!

The most important societies, however, are the faculty societies – such as those in business, engineering, or law. These societies are designed to make your education easier, and they’re a must-join for new students. They’ll keep you posted on job opportunities, study tips, note-sharing and networking functions. Through these societies, you’ll get to know your cohort, and you can never have too many friends to help you get through the long hours you have to spend in class.

There’s also often an opportunity to take up leadership positions within these societies, which will give you first-hand experience in setting up events, marketing the society and managing finances. While certainly impressive on your university transcript, you’ll be able to carry these skills onwards in other endeavours.



Sport in university is structured differently to high school. There’s a much greater majority of social sporting competitions, which are all about having a go and enjoying yourself. The biggest event on the university sports calendar is Uni Games – including an Australia-wide competition, or more localised tournaments such as Eastern Uni Games. Sydney students are in luck this year: in 2014, Newcastle will host Eastern Uni Games, while Sydney will play host to Australian Uni Games, after an absence of 13 years.

For those who just want to stay active and have a bit of fun along the way, social sports such as indoor soccer, ultimate frisbee, basketball and volleyball are great options at uni, and they tend to get both guys and girls involved, so all your mates can join in. And don’t fret – most of these sports are still played at Uni Games. Of course, if you’re more serious about your sport, there are avenues for you to take it further – and the top divisions of Uni Games boast some serious talent in every sport.


Competitions and scholarships

Taking part in competitions is a critical way to build up your CV and develop all-round skills in various areas. Whether it’s an essay, mooting, a video competition or design contest, you’ll be able to apply skills you learn in competitions towards your studies and future career. Employers tend to take special note of your participation in competitions, and in fact, many companies sponsor them.

Universities also offer a range of scholarships. Whether it’s monetary in nature or offers you other benefits, such as gym membership – they’re always worth a shot.


Parties and networking events

Parents, be warned – there’s a lot of partying to be done at uni. As everyone starts hitting the legal drinking age, students finally get a chance to explore the city’s best nightspots and purchase drinks that are not chocolate milks from the school canteen. Add to this the fact that all universities have their own bar and a busy party schedule, you can expect some late arrivals home from your children.

However, it’s not all about the loud music, big crowds and alcohol. There are a huge number of other social events throughout the university year, and they’re generally great networking opportunities. Whether it’s a competition final, a guest lecture or a networking drinks event, it’s a good idea to make a few connections there and meet new people – after all, you never know who might become a handy connection in future.


Finding a job

Getting a part-time job alongside your university commitments is more important than you might think. It will not only give you that extra bit of pocket money for nights out and to help out with textbooks – but it’s important to start thinking about building up your CV as soon as possible. Prospective employers – whether hiring for big or small companies – will always be more impressed by a student who manages several commitments at once than by one who focuses purely on study.

It’s also a good reason to be savvy with your university timetable, if you’re enrolled at a university that lets you create your own. Leave yourself a spare day or two if you can, even if it means you have longer hours at uni on the other days – you’ll thank yourself for it later on if you manage to score a part-time job.

There are a number of places to look for jobs in uni – and your online university jobs board is probably the best place to start. Websites such as seek.com.au and government jobs site jobs.nsw.gov.au are handy – but they aren’t tailored towards university students. University jobs boards are generally full of part-time, casual and volunteering opportunities that are perfect for the school-leaver. They’ll typically be flexible with a short-term outlook, giving you a bit of breathing space when it comes to exams.

Working at a school is also an option for athletic or creative types – for instance, coaching sport, debating, or tutoring music can all help sustain the bad spending habits all university students fall into. The chances are that a school near you could do with a bit of help – if not, try the school from which you just graduated. The good news is, even these fun, somewhat relaxed roles can help you secure employment in some more serious positions in the near future.

Finally, private tutoring is always a great option if you’re looking for some extra cash. Not only will you get to control your own schedule and work outside business hours, but you could also easily find yourself with more students than you started off with. Even if you start off with just one student – just make sure you do a good job, and word of mouth will do the rest.


Above all, remember that being in university doesn’t mean you need to stop doing all the things you love. The pressure you face in university is a bit more constant than that faced throughout high school, but you’ll also have a lot more spare time to deal with it. Unlike high school, your university will not force you to take part in anything – the onus is completely on you to make the most of the next few years, so don’t expect anyone to look out for you. After all, like many of us – there’s every chance you’ll look back on this period as the time of your life.


Ritam Mitra is in his final year of Commerce/Law at UNSW


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Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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