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Becoming a uni student

University culture

Coming to university is like visiting a foreign country. It is exciting, challenging, stimulating and there is a lot to learn. You’ll be landing in a new culture with different expectations, and it’s important to understand these in order to thrive.

Getting used to uni means getting your head around things like:

All new learning takes time, effort and persistence. You need to pace yourself, participate actively in your learning and be prepared to take knockbacks and criticism. Of crucial importance are time management and goal setting.

Explore the sections below for more information on these topics.

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You are going to face challenges at university, especially when you are starting out. Common challenges our students face include the stress of learning new things, financial pressures, time management and adjusting to living away from home. Always remember, you are not alone.

Watch the clips below to hear from some current students about how they coped with the challenges they faced.

Research into why some students succeed and some students fail at university suggests much depends on how much students take control of the study experience.

In other words, you need to be active and think strategically about how to tackle your study commitments as a whole as well as your individual assignments. The alternative is a passive approach where you sit back and allow university to 'happen to you'.

  1. Set your goals, remember them and stay motivated. This will help you withstand pressure and overcome obstacles.
  2. Build a good support network of people.
  3. Find ways to juggle your time.

The attitudes and approach of a successful, active student have been captured in research by Downing (2008). To explore these click on the Choices of Successful Students activity below.

 

Choices of successful students

Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself so that you keep the big picture in mind.

Long-term goals

So, you are about to invest your time and resources into study. It’s a big step. Before you start, take some time to think about why you want to study a university course.

This important question will require self-reflection and a bit of ‘homework’. You will need to ask yourself:

Why am I doing this?

What do I want to achieve?

Why do I have to finish this assignment instead of doing something that might be a bit more ‘fun’?

And you may need to remind yourself of your answers as you go along, particularly at exam time, or when assignments are due. Clarifying your goals and purpose may help you to ‘push through’ the challenges and busy times ahead.

Your course and your expectations

What do you want to achieve?

People study at university for a variety of reasons:

  • An interest in the course/subject matter
  • To improve employment prospects
  • For intellectual stimulation and challenge
  • To enhance confidence and self-esteem through academic achievement
  • To attain the honour and prestige of being a ‘university graduate’

Informed choices

Sometimes you won’t know until you’ve started whether or not you are in the ‘right’ course. However, there are some basic steps you can take to make an informed choice.

  1. Find out exactly what subjects you will be studying. Know your course structure and the subject requirements before you enrol.
  2. Find out about the current job market to determine if the course enhances your employment prospects. Resources such as the ‘myfuture’ website will help you here.
  3. Is there a Professional Association or Registration/Regulatory Authority associated with your course and potential career? Go to the relevant websites and find out about the requirements for entry into the profession in which you have an interest. The websites often have valuable information about the nature and requirements of the profession. How long will it really take to gain entry to the profession and will your degree contribute to achieve your goals?

Career planning

In choosing a career path, consider what kind of person you are and what you like to do; what opportunities are available; and what’s important to you. Then consider how you will transition from study to work, for example: via a work placement, a graduate program or an internship.

How much study can you fit into your life?

Once you have decided what you want to study, you need to be realistic about how much time you can commit to it. You need to consider not just class time, but at home study time as well as all the other commitments in your life.

For every unit of study you take on you will need to set aside 10 hours of study time.

If you intend to study full time (four units per semester) you will need to have 40 hours of study time available to you.

Taking on too much study can be counterproductive and actually harm your chances of study success.

Planning your time

If you plan your time you are more likely to enjoy your studies and reduce stress. It is very important to find a balance between mentally challenging activities and those that are more relaxing.

Good time management requires you to take a pro-active approach: know yourself; your goals, strengths and weaknesses; know how you are currently using your time and how you need to reorganise it while at the same time knowing what you require to stay sane!

Taking control of your time – steps to follow

  1. Consciously monitor your regular activities.
  2. Work out how much free time you have for study.
  3. Organise a good study environment.
  4. Plan a weekly timetable and a semester timetable.
  5. Monitor your time management progress on a weekly and monthly basis and adjust your timetable if necessary.
  6. Find ways to switch off and recharge your batteries.
  7. Make the most of the time you spend sleeping – make sure you get seven hours/night to recharge your brain and body.
  8. Eat well - “Live” food like fresh fruit and vegetables is brain food and will give you more nutrition, energy and general well-being than junk food.
  9. Reward yourself when you achieve your targets.
  10. Stock-take regularly re-assessing and adjusting your plan.

Remember to be kind to yourself and keep your ultimate goals clearly in view!

Getting down to business

The following exercises will help you think through your current time management and come up with an effective and realistic plan (to be checked revised at regular intervals). 

STEP ONE: Where does all your time go?
Fill in the 24-hour diary to get some idea of how you are using your time on a typical weekday. How much free time do you have?
24 hour diary (.doc)

STEP TWO: What needs to change?

  1. Based on your time assessment in STEP ONE, are you happy with your time management at present?
  2. What, if anything, do you need to change to fit in study time?
  3. What are your top five time-wasters?
  4. What are your goals for this semester and the future?
  5. What activities in your life are priorities?
  6. What personal commitments do you have?
  7. What time of day do you think most clearly?
  8. Do you work better for long periods or short bursts?
  9. Where do you work best?
  10. What sort of workload (assignments) do you have for each subject?
  11. What subject do you find most challenging?

Now you should be ready to write a short-term weekly study plan.

Remember these plans need to be flexible and frequently reviewed. Make sure you allow for illness, visits from family and friends, thinking, planning, meltdowns etc.

STEP THREE: Plan a weekly timetable

Along with your study timetable, include all activities such as travelling to and from work, preparing meals, taking children to school and other activities such as cleaning, shopping, participating in sport, etc.
Weekly timetable (.doc)

STEP FOUR: Plan a semester timetable

Include major assignments, exams and related study schedule.
Semester timetable (.doc)