I must have done a few things right during my three years at university, because last December I finally graduated. Although, I still find myself wondering how my university experience may have differed if I been more prepared and more confident. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, but if I could tell my first-year self how to do things, this is what I’d say:
I know, I sound like every other parent/teacher/person in the world; but trust me, attending lectures in person really does make all the difference.
At first, I hardly ever attended lectures because I was so convinced that I would just catch up later online from the comfort of my bed. But once one was missed, another would be forgotten, and by the end of semester I hadn’t watched any lectures. Oops.
I was particularly good at attending tutorials, mainly due to the whole ‘attend tutorials or suffer a technical fail’ thing. However, I often found that I spent most of my time in tutorials trying to figure out what part of the lecture (that I definitely hadn’t watched) was being referred to. Only when I started attending lectures in person each week did I find myself really understanding the subjects I was being taught. I won’t lie and say that I attended every lecture for every subject; sometimes you just need that extra hour of sleep. However, trying to attend and actively listen in lectures made such a difference. Not only did this improve my grades, but I suddenly became more engaged with the content – cramming down all the information the night before exams became a lot less attractive.
I’ll never forget sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall having a full-blown panic attack because silly me forgot that I had three assignments due the next day.
This was a one-off situation, and one that could only happen to someone as unorganised as me; but it highlights the need for students to keep track of deadlines and get started on tasks early.
My stressful habit of being the most unorganised person ever was combatted by placing all the impending tasks in a place I would have to see them every day – on the back of my door, using a stick-on white board calendar. This allowed me to map out when things were due and give priority to those that would require more time.
Another way to keep on top of things is to ensure you have your subjects planned for the entire year before enrolling. This may sound like overkill, but knowing ahead of time what subjects need to be completed and in what order will ensure you stay on the right path to graduate on time, and with the right knowledge.
Take advantage of the commute
If you’re like me and don’t have a university that offers your course nearby, you might have a fair bit of travelling to do.
In this case, think of the travel time as a secret advantage. Catching a train or bus? Get a head-start on those readings that you’ll eventually have to do anyway. Driving alone? Blast that lecture that you missed, or check to see if your textbook comes as an audiobook. Commuting with friends? Try quizzing each other on last weeks’ lecture topics. Think of these hours as opportunities to get ahead!
Utilise your student portal
Your student portal can be used for so much more than submitting assignments and checking due dates, so take advantage of it.
Some universities allow you to access textbooks or certain chapters for FREE using the online library, which means you can save your hard earned money for more important things (like the uni bar). Most universities will also offer some form of “careers” tab, that allows students to explore the various work and internship opportunities, often catered to student schedules.
Do internships/work experience
Getting your foot in the door early gives you the advantage to help build your career before you’ve even finished your degree. The best part about internships or placement is they provide real-world experiences that you just can’t get from a lecture slide or study notes; and having that experience really helps beef up a resumé.
I know what you’re thinking – how can you balance study, work, leisure AND an internship? A common misconception is that internships take a lot of time, and for some this is true. However, you can look out for one-off opportunities that may only last a few days or weeks, as well as recurring roles that only require one day each week. Figure out what works best with your schedule and go for it!
Live each year like its your last
When it finally does become time to enrol in subjects for your last semester, you want to ensure you’ve had the full university experience; making friends and enemies in group projects, slamming down your fifth cup of coffee at midnight for an assessment due the next day, and most importantly, learning the skills you need for your future. Go into each year with the drive to make the most out of it.
What’s your best tip for navigating uni life? Tell us in the comments below!