What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Uni
(image by Karen Roe)
Welcome to the magical world of University life. Whilst it’s no Hogwarts (let’s be honest, the Old Arts’ resemblance to Hogwarts is the real reason Melb > Monash), it’s not a bad reality. You’ll find that it is a completely unique experience for everyone and as clichéd as it sounds, it’s entirely what you make of it.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Whilst wisdom touts learning from your own mistakes, as a masters student, I will bestow the following advice I wish past-freshman me had known.
Learning < Marks
I shan’t beat around the bush – university is going to be a tough slog. There are going to be subjects that stump you, a teacher will not be there to hold your hand and guide you on your way to educational enlightenment and your 90%+ high school average will most likely slip to what would previously have been horrifying standards.
Whilst ‘Ps get degrees’ is the catchphrase of choice for those who chronically leave things to the last minute, your time is money. Failing subjects isn’t the end of the world but it’s both a financial and time expense that’s easy enough to avoid. Just do the work, it has to be done.
Enjoy what you’re studying – you’re the one who chose to do it. Finding the value in each subject will somewhat redeem those SWOTVAC all-nighters in the Baillieu Library. The subjects I enjoyed the most and had a lingering impact were those that I took great interest in and went the extra mile. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Image credit: Ben Kreunen
Get amongst it.
Heed the late Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society and ‘carpe diem’. You kids may know this as ‘yolo’ (wipe this from your high school-acquired vernacular immediately – it’s for your own good). University is a smorgasbord of opportunities but there will be no one reminding you to take a firm grasp of any of these, it’s entirely up to you. I spent my entire first year becoming a connoisseur of matching goon with fruit drink. Whilst it was definitely academically debasing, I made life-long friends, forever united by moments we would probably rather forget. I strongly recommend immersing yourself in that side of the ‘university experience’ coin, however the wealth of academic opportunities available should not be overlooked. Get involved in whatever tickles your fancy whether it be mentorship programs, clubs, sporting teams etc. It will fast track your evolution from high school-er to freshman to ‘respected’ university student* and enrich your university experience.
Go on exchange.
It’s the best thing you can ever do for yourself.
The wealth of self-awareness and knowledge you acquire is infinite. Rest assured, you will come back likened to a modern-day, more youthful and slightly chubbier Yoda.
The trials and tribulations of setting up a new life overseas equip you with a unique confidence that you will carry for the rest of your life.
You will also meet lifelong friends, get up to questionable and unforgettable shenanigans and ~most importantly~ eat your way to cultural competence.
There are no downsides to this situation. Go and speak to Global Mobility. Stat.
Image credit: Nicole Hanusek
Experience matters. Get ahead of the game. NOW.
Internships are actually a real thing and are not just a thing American kids in the Hollywood films do on their summer vaycay.
I didn’t do a single internship or work placement in my undergraduate degree and I have so many regrets. The catch 22 of needing experience to get experience is alive and well and you simply will not get a job out of university without experience to supplement your studies.
No one hammered this home to me and I wish they had. Investigating professional or volunteer work experience will put you leaps and bounds ahead of those who remain blissfully unaware of the harsh reality of employability (much like my undergraduate self).
I’ll be dedicating another article on nailing the elusive internship but really give this some thought. There are immeasurable resources to help you. Exploit them.
You probably won’t need those exorbitantly priced textbooks.
It’s worth waiting for the first two weeks before mortgaging your parents’ house to pay for a textbook. Professors will often firmly encourage you to buy them but it’s a good idea to be conscious of the ways around this (twist: they’ve often written the book too. Sneaky sneaks.).
Depending on the subject, it’s pretty likely you will use the text book as many times as you can count on one hand. My advice is to find back editions that you can loan from the library for months at a time to use on those rare and fleeting occasions.
You can try sourcing a second hand textbook too. It’ll save you sweet cash money and you can often resell it for a similar price (textbooks are like cars, once they leave the store they depreciate so rapidly that a second hand book is often the economically-wiser investment and sometimes come with annotations which are academic gold).
Sometimes there’s no way around it and you have to buy it. You will know when you do. It hurts, but it’s necessary.
Hopefully this advice will save you money that can be reinvested in your caffeine fund. Thank me later.
Yuck. The very word makes me cringe at its slimy inference. What I mean by networking is making connections that are much like the other relationships you have in life; mutually beneficial.
Advice to those that fall in the introverted category: deal with it and own it. You don’t have to be the loudest and most confident person in the room, be who you’re comfortable being.
Networks are indispensable. You never know how someone you meet can help you in the future, whether it be assisting you with gaining employment to providing you with a couch to crash on when you do the Aussie rite of passage of working in London. Make the connection count.
It’s not just your friends and peers that matter. Get to know your tutors and professors; they have a wealth of experience and a valuable network of their own. It’s not like high school, they will help you more than you can fathom but it is your onus to utilize this resource. They will not come to you.
Be genuine. Falseness is immediately detectable so make sure all your interactions are authentic by adopting the mantra of ‘being interested and interesting’.
Drop it like it’s hot.
If you’re really not feeling it, drop it. It’s not high school and you’re not forced to be here. Timing is everything and sometimes university isn’t for everyone, at least at the beginning, so never feel pressured to continue something that doesn’t feel right.
I took a gap year after my second year of undergrad studies and was constantly undermined by the questioning of my peers, family and friends. You can’t let their voices drown out your own and the status quo is not even close to ‘one size fits all’.
I know your teachers told you countless times that high school would be the best years of your life. Let me tell you this; they were lying. Their pants were on fire.
University will teach you more about yourself than you ever knew possible. Divide, explore and conquer.
Image credit: Bob Bradburn
*This is a contentious statement. University students have an enviable and vagrant lifestyle the rest of society seemingly resents and consequently does not respect. Own the rep.