10 Lessons I Wish I Knew Before I Started Uni

Student Life

The massive jump from high school to university (I live in Australia and we call college uni or university) was one that I was extremely excited about, nervous and determined to take. I'm in my first year of doing a Media and Communications Degree in Journalism. It's been a long and wild ride but I've definitely changed a lot since the start of the year. These are 10 things I wish I had known before my 1st year at university.

1. Time management

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!!! Being organised and managing your time is paramount. When I started, I 100% underestimated how much forward planning went into assignments and coursework. My 3 top tips are:

A) Get a wall calendar or, if your uni/college has an academic year plan, get one of those and put it in your study space. Then mark out all your assessments, quizzes and classes (colour code is also useful). I found this super helpful because I could visually see when things were due and what other events I had around the same time.

B) Set reminders on your phone or laptop. The app I use is WidgeCal. It's super helpful. It allows you to color-code your events and set reminders depending on your time frame. It also allows for to-do lists, which are super helpful in breaking down elements of assessments.

C) Start your assessments earlier. During hectic times of the year or when you know you will be stressed, doing your assessments earlier is such a time saver I have found. For example, if I have an assessment due in week 6, I will start it in week 4 and hopefully, have it finished by week 5, so then by the time week 6 rolls around, I will only have to do the last bits of editing/formatting. I found this made busy periods less stressful workload wise.

2. Plan out your course // degree plan

I didn't really think about this until after my first semester. When it comes time to enrol in units in your selected major, make sure you know which ones your want to pick and where they fit into your degree. My good friend Jamila got me onto this! Planning your subjects ahead of time will save you so much stress when it comes to getting into that class or unit you really want.

Also, another hot tip I wish I had known was to try and have space between classes so you can do the rest of the notes from your previous class. Or, required work before your next class.

3. Referencing and structuring

Referencing in college is so different to high school. I wish I knew how to reference properly, so I can't recommend enough that you just practice. Depending on your course and subjects, there are different referencing styles and they all differ based on your academic discipline. I've put a link here to a referencing guide - I hope it's helpful!

It's also worth looking at previous assessments or essay writing tasks from your course to see the structuring and outlines of how to get good marks as well as how to write academically. If you have friends or people you know at your college, ask them what they think of the assessments and if they have any tips.

4. Its hard work

Going to university is a lot of hard work. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon that you need to train and work hard at in order to be able to cross the finish line. I felt burnt out and tired after my first term at university because I thought it would be like high school. I can confirm it's not.

Taking study breaks and knowing your own personal limits is a good skill to have and will also enable you to step back and see when your hard work pays off. For example, if you have a big exam and study consistently for a week prior, you know you can try your best in the exam. Walkout and feel like you've done a good job. Your efforts will be reflected in your marks. The hard work to reward ratio is a complicated one, but I believe it's worth the result. Just make sure you still have time to enjoy the college/uni experience.

5. Look after yourself. It's OK to be overwhelmed.

Like I said in number 4, being stressed and feeling burnt out is totally normal. Your first term of uni/college is going to be full of highs and lows. The top 3 ways I take time for myself are:

A) having one day of the week where I don't have anything planned and I am lazy (controversial but totally worth it). This allows me to be able to recuperate after a week's work, events and studies. Usually, on these days, I wake up late and just do something that requires little effort and brainpower allowing space for rest.

B) Going on a walk to my favorite boba shops or cafe (you can go to any place that brings you joy. This lets me stretch my legs and get out into nature/out of the house. The change of environment I find helps me reset and be able to clear my head.

C) Doing something other than looking at social media. I have found that trying something new, like embroidery or baking (something that you enjoy or want to try), helps me distress and just focus on that activity.

6. Keep in touch with family and friends from your home town

I moved from a small regional town to a big city (Sydney) to be able to go to university. I didn't think I would miss my family and friends as much as I did. Making time to call your family or friends if they live far away is so important. When I moved away from home, I felt as if I didn't have anyone to support me, but then I met my beautiful housemate Laura and I felt like at least I had one person in my corner and connected with another person from my home town, Yvonne. She welcomed me into her friendship group with open arms, which was comforting. If you know someone from your high school or home town going to the same uni/college as you, get in touch!

I am fortunate enough to live only a 6-hour drive away (I have my own car and can drive) from my family, so during holidays or important dates like Mother's Day I would go home and spend time with my family. I do miss my family a lot and I enjoy calling them when I'm on my way from a class to home. My family also has a group chat and I love sending photos of me and my friends at events or just of what I'm doing that day. It's hard in the first few months, because if you've lived with your family your whole life, it's hard to understand where they end and you start. I struggled with understanding that my family is still a part of my life, but I'm on my own path now and that they are still there if I need them.

It's also important to make time to catch up with friends. You won't be able to keep in contact with every single person you went to high school with but try to maintain your friendships with your inner circle or best friends. These are ways that I try to keep in touch with my friends:

A) Facetime or call them just for a chat and to see how things are going. This is super simple but it keeps each person in the loop about what's going on and I find it is a good way to connect.

B) When you are going home, organize a time for you to meet up and do something. Or if they decide to come to visit you, plan something that you will both enjoy as a new experience. For example, my best friend Kai came and visited me and we went to heaps of live music gigs and a huge concert and that was the best experience.

C) Just send them a message if you see a post or something that reminds you of them. It shows that you haven't forgotten about them and want to maintain the friendship and still have a bond even though you don't physically see them as often.

7. Budgeting and saving

This is a bit of a doozy. It's a fine balance between being super stingy and just trying to save. Before I left for uni, I picked up extra shifts after I graduated from school and during the holidays so I could have some money to help me, be comfortable and able to move. It's very easy to get caught up in the party lifestyle of uni when you are going out every weekend and spending lots of money. Here are some ways that I try to budget and save while being a student.

A) For budgeting, work out how much on average you already spend on groceries. Then set that as your weekly limit. I also found it helpful to do one big shop a week instead of only going when I need things. This allows you to save more money as well as spend time looking at what products are the best value for money.

B) Using student discounts. This is one that I know some people feel embarrassed about asking for but it's so worth it in the long run. Especially for textbooks and supplies, they are so expensive, but using your student discount will save you money as well as getting the online version (they are usually not as expensive).

C) HAVE A SAVINGS ACCOUNT!!. This is my most important and biggest tip. Having a savings account makes things so much easier and also sets a limit on how much you can spend/transfer from that account. I have a savings account that my pay goes into (I work part-time at a cafe) and a spending account. Having 2 different accounts for different purposes, I find it helps me make wiser decisions about my money.

8. Get involved

This is super important! At college, being a part of the culture and community is such a different experience from high school. At my college, they offer many different clubs, sports teams and societies for you to join. I joined the Mac Alpine Ski club and the soccer/football team. I love expanding my social circles and this is a good way to do it. By registering for these cubs and teams, it allows you to connect with people who have the same or similar interests as you. Who knows, you might even find new best friends.

9. Attend the campus tour

Yes, 100% go to the campus tour. It will allow you to see the layout of the campus as well as where the important buildings are, such as the library and where your classes are. Also, attend O-week (orientation week). These seminars, activities and tours will help you get a better grasp of the campus as well as meet new people. I did attend the campus tour with my mum (she was very excited). It helped me see the university before I accepted my offer. O-week is also a good chance to stock up on pens, calendars and planners.

10. Work-Life Balance

The balance between having a social life and working is a difficult one, but it is a differentiation that needs to be made. I have struggled with this my whole life because I always want to put in all my energy and effort into whatever project I am doing. There are 3 main strategies I use to maintain a healthy work/life balance:

A) Setting time aside for social time, time for work and me time. I find this helpful because I have a limitless social battery, but I know others don't, so allowing me to take this time for myself means I can work on classwork. Also, setting goals within this time is also helpful for efficient study and learning.

B) I work a part-time job at a cafe and I know that sometimes it can get a bit much doing the same tasks every day. The way that I work around this is by trying to make sure my shifts are earlier in the day, so after I finish I still have the whole day to do other tasks as well as socialize.

C) Overall, just try to stay fit and healthy and reward yourself. I know, it's very basic, but sometimes a big ask. But staying active and healthy allows you to operate at your optimum level. I found instead of driving all the way to uni, parking a few blocks away and walking allows me to get some exercise and also sometimes to just relax.

In conclusion, going to college and university is about learning from experiences and making memories. I hope you have learnt something new or found a strategy that you are going to try. I hope that these tricks and tips were helpful. If you have any more tips and tricks that you think others should know before starting, let me know on my Instagram!

Maeve Sparrow
1,000+ pageviews

Maeve is an 18 year old girl, who has a passion dancing around the house in her pj's, blasting tunes for car trip karaoke and loves baking. She loves thrifting and making something new. Maeve also loves playing soccer with her teammates and a good picnic in the park with friends especially if it is themed. Her favourite way to spend the day is outdoors soaking up the sun with a good book (The Rosie Project series).