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Student Guide

How to survive your first year at the University

If you are reading this, that means that you have been successful in gaining a place at university. Congratulations! Starting University or College can be a challenge, especially for those who’ve just left school. On the upside, your University years will be some of the best you’ll have.  When initially thinking of starting college, you may feel a rush of excitement.

The university or College is an opportunity for students to pursue their dreams, try new things, and become independent. As excited as some students get when they think of college, there is usually some nervousness as well. This post  offers you great tips to help you survive your first year at college.

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Tips on surviving your first year at the University

1. Get to know your campus

 If you’re studying on a big campus, it might take a while to get acquainted. Start with the main buildings where you’ll have classes, the library, computer labs and your favourite café. Once you’re ready to explore, you’ll find everything from gyms and all-night study labs to theatres and exhibition spaces. Grab a map from the website to get started!

2. Attend orientation lectures for freshers

 Some colleges offer an optional orientation for both local and  international students. It is important to attend orientation so you learn the ropes of your institution. This includes finding out where your classes are on campus, which will ensure you do not get lost on the first day! Orientation also exposes you to all the tools and resources your university offers students. These tools may include:

  • Access to an academic advisor
  • One-on-one tutoring
  • Printing services
  • Study hall

These tools can ensure success in all of your classes if you use them. Orientation is also a great way to make friends before classes start. When you make friends before classes begin, you will already know some familiar faces in your classes. Having friends within your classes can help you achieve better grades and makes your classes more fun to attend. This may require you to get out of your comfort zone in order to meet new people, but I still encourage you to do it!

3. Bond with your roommates

 This doesn’t mean you have to be best mates with them, but bear in mind that you are together almost 24/7 and may share a toilet, kitchen/common wall. Being on bad terms with your roomie/s might not be healthy for your psyche and robs you of peace of mind and comfort required for effective studying, so do your best, even if you’re not that fond of them, to include yourself and them in activities such as going out, shopping, going to the gym, etc. There will be times when you will be angry at one flatmate for leaving your milk out, or another for not washing up your bowl they just used, but being in their good books can prove to be beneficial.

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4. Join Clubs or Teams

By getting involved in a club or team, students typically feel a stronger sense of belonging on their campus. Joining a club or team is a good opportunity to meet new people and make the most of your college experience. Colleges host many events around campus as well, and participation in these events are strongly encouraged. Not only can attending these events boost your self-esteem, but they also beat sitting in your dorm room. For students who are overly serious and think that joining a club or team that’s not related to their course of study is a waste of time, then you should Look for activities aligned with your course, like writing for the student magazine if you’re an aspiring journalist or helping out at the campus gym if you’re studying sport science.

5. Create a balance between your studies, social life and work commitments

If  you’re combining study, work and a social life, you might find that you start to feel ‘burnt out’. The most important thing is to prioritise your studies — ensure you’re allocating sufficient time to completing your readings, attending classes and writing up assignments. Try not to work more than 20 hours per week (keep in mind that you may be able to up your shifts in holiday periods) and don’t let your social life get in the way.

6. Keep to a budget

Don’t let going out consume you or your money. You’re a university student, of course you want to go out! But bear in mind that finances are a factor, and the bars won’t disappear. As cheap as drinks in student cities might seem, all of these purchases add up and you risk racking up a debt, or perhaps not being able to afford those necessary purchases such as food and paying bills. Drinking may be a well-known student activity, but be aware of others available to you, such as the gym, societies, and club meetings. If you’re worried about how budgeting will affect your social life, see which activities you can swap for cheaper alternatives (coffee instead of lunch or a BYO picnic in place of catching up at a bar). And don’t forget to use your student card — accepted at cinemas, sporting games and some clothing stores.

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7. Don’t leave all your work until the last minute

 This may seem very tempting seeing as you will have longer deadlines, sometimes a couple of months at a time, and longer holidays (again sometimes months at a time), but the deadline will soon creep up on you. A very useful strategy, albeit a slightly boring one, is to get your work done as soon as you get it, or as soon as possible afterwards; this way, your note are still fresh in your mind and you will have more time for play after finishing work, and will not have that niggling thought in the back of your head about that essay you really should have started a week ago.

8. Stay fit and healthy

 you’re going out more often, working irregular hours and sleeping in, you might find it hard to keep up your regular healthy eating and fitness regime. First up, try to eat well — it’s definitely possible on a budget, so there’s no excuse to drop your fruit and veggie intake. As a student studying in an African university where fruits and veggies buying might not be relatively cheap, and there are always cheaper options of maybe taking a fruit salad maybe once a week to stay healthy.  If maintaining your exercise schedule is becoming difficult, why not join the campus gym or swap café catch-ups for walks around the local park? Your campus might even offer free exercise classes through the student union. Remember that only a healthy body can effectively cope with the hustle and bustle of University life.

9. Don’t be afraid to bring up an issue or ask for help

University is different in very many ways to school and college. The learning styles are different, the work is harder and you are expected to handle your own learning. In fact, you learn independently a lot more than being lecturer-led. Lecturers will understand that adjusting to things like this takes time and patience – so if you don’t understand something, ask them. It won’t make you look stupid or like you weren’t listening – in fact, you’ll be the smarter one for making sure you know exactly what’s expected of you and how to do it than your classmate who decided to fall asleep during said lecture and not follow it up.

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10. Use apps to stay on track

If  you have your phone or tablet on you at all times, use that to your advantage. Start by downloading apps to help you study and stay organised (ExamTime and Timetable are good examples), as well as handy ones that can scan your notes, record lectures, save and share files, and allow you to edit documents just like you would on your laptop. Check out the lifestyle apps too — there’s everything from fitness trackers to budget planners.

11.  Develop a sensible coping strategy

Most  students that are about to go to University fall into three categories: 1) they can’t wait to get away from their parents, 2) they’re dreading the day they leave the comfort of their own home, and 3) nervous but excited. All of these are perfectly normal and acceptable feelings. Chances are that you will from time-to-time become homesick, especially if something negative happens, such as stress from too much work, a falling-out with a friend, or worries over money. Remember that your parents will be thinking about you as well, and will be more than happy to talk to you should you need any help or advice. Some may find phoning/visiting home regularly more therapeutic in helping them cope away from home, whereas others may find limited contact stops them from feeling homesick. Formulate a sensible strategy that suits you and helps you stay productive and happy. Most of all, make sure to keep yourself occupied.

As a bonus tip, don’t be too hard on yourself just remind yourself why you are at college. The end goal of college is to get your degree. Tertiary study can be a learning curve and it might take you a while to get settled. With time you’ll get to know that the university is a great place to become independent and grow as an individual. You obtain personal connections and knowledge that will prepare you for the rest of your life. Make the most out of your college years and have fun! 

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