A Beginner’s Guide to University

My personal guide on starting your first year at university or college

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If you are reading this and you are about to start your first year of university or college, congratulations! If you are in college or university, and you are reading this, I hope you can find it relatable. If you are not going to university or college, do not worry. There are many opportunities out there to further your education. I have decided, after spending a year studying law at university, to put together a simple guide to help others who may be starting their first year of university or college.

The First Week: Welcoming/Orientation Week

During the first week or so of university or college, you will be extremely busy, exhausted and overwhelmed! This is the time of the year when every single student body, student leadership, university management figure and faculty staff member is involved in introducing, welcoming and showing first year students around campus and assisting them in learning about the “ins” and “outs” of university life. The faculties usually have student assistants and lecturers/professors who introduce the students to their chosen modules and what textbooks students need to purchase. On the other hand, students who are living in residences, dormitories or halls (all 3 are usually similar or the same depending on which country you live in) will usually have a fun, informative welcoming programme that aims to include everyone and allows first year students to get to know one another and form friendships. It is a great opportunity to get involved and I strongly encourage everyone to partake in it. However, it is important to note that introverts and individuals suffering from social anxiety can also have their own space so that they do not feel extremely overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

Purchasing Textbooks and Stationery

Now this is perhaps one of the most interesting and stressful challenges for students. In the first few weeks, lecturers/professors will encourage or tell students to purchase brand new textbooks immediately. Although I would usually agree with this, I believe that it would be best to speak to mentors and senior students to ask them how frequently they used the textbooks and how necessary it is. The truth of the matter is that university textbooks are exceptionally expensive and it can be very difficult for a student to afford them, especially if a student is from a less fortunate background. If it is paramount to get a textbook, then look at how much you have and purchase one, OR, ask seniors if they are selling their first year textbooks second hand or visit a second hand book store since there are usually many of those around a university or college. Stationery can also be quite expensive so plan out what you’d like to use such as looking at the necessity of highlighters, pens, books and files, or consider using computers, laptops and tablets instead.

Living Away From Home

Despite all the excitement, freedom and independence you may feel from staying away from your family and beginning your new life, sometimes living away from home can be quite daunting. Firstly, remember that there are other first years around you who feel exactly the same way so never feel that you are alone when you miss home or you feel uncomfortable in your new apartment, flat, dorm or residence. It can take weeks or months getting used to your new space so do not stress or worry if you feel that the anxiety has not disappeared as soon as you wanted it to be. A great psychological help for me was to personalise my room by decorating it with things that I like, for example I love particular bands, artists and social justice movements so I would put up pictures or quotes by these various entities. Also, chat to room mates or neighbours and try to organise gatherings with others by making the environment more friendlier and comfortable for everyone.

Academics

The most important part of university, and essentially the core reason as to why you enrolled at university or college, is to further your education by obtaining a degree or diploma. Academics forms a crucial part of your university life and often, students forget about its important and focus primarily on socialising. Students can fall easily through the cracks at university and the stress and anxiety can cause a lot of mental health issues which isn’t discussed or focused on enough at university. One of the most amazing aspects about university is that study groups become extremely effective especially if you form a great group of friends who study the same modules or degree that you do. On a group level, form study groups with people who have the same work ethic and diligence as you do. You can teach, test and help one another. On an individual level, figure out what the best study methods are for you. What is extremely important is that you prioritise attending lectures and you constantly take notes. Do not be afraid to email or speak to your lecturers if you are confused and other students or seniors are not able to explain or answer your questions.

Socialising

One of the best and most exciting parts of university is all the possibilities of being able to socialise, make friends, find potential partners and have a lot of fun whilst also studying towards your degree. During the first few weeks, you will find that you, and all the other first years, aim to make as many friends as possible. Do not worry if you find that some of those “friends” begin to drift away from you and you lose contact with them. Focus on building friendships and relationships with people who are willing to put as much time and effort as you are. You will find that there are some individuals who are still in that immature, “highschool” phase of their lives and are willing to cause unnecessary drama. Avoid people like that and focus on the people who you know are going to be good, healthy, positive individuals in your life.

Issues on Campus

Throughout the world, there are major injustices taking place and many of them are brought up, discussed and protested about on college and university campuses. In South Africa, for example, the issues of rape culture, free education, racism and decolonisation are major and many students are directly affected by them. If you are a privileged, ignorant individual, prepare yourself for these issues and I strongly encourage you to enter university and societal spaces with open minds so that your bubble of privilege and ignorance can be burst and you can open up to the various struggles that marginalised, oppressed and less fortunate groups face. It is critical that respect and acknowledgement are given towards marginalised groups and that spaces on campus are empowering ones. My biggest piece of advice: never think that you know everything. Start at your year at university with the mindset of wanting to learn and grow.

Budgeting

One of the biggest problems for students is to manage their finances. For the first few months, you think that your budget or allowance is massive and you can afford to buy anything that your heart desires. Wrong! This is a common misconception that we all face and sometimes we forget how expensive things truly are. My best advice for you is to look at the total amount that you have per month and divide that up into various sections such as: academics (stationery), toiletries and cleaning, food, clothing, socialising etc. It can become difficult if you run out of money halfway through the month and you begin the struggle of finding extra coins or money to purchase food. However, keep in mind that there is usually a donation or assistance office/committee that can help you out if you find yourself in a financial dilemma.

Finally, remember that university is all about becoming a young adult who is prepared to learn, grow and become ready for the “big, bad world.” You will make mistakes along the way and you will face challenges that may seem impossible to get through but know that many individuals have gone through this ordeal before. Set goals, plan ahead and remember that there will always people around you to help. You are not alone at university regardless of how you feel. May your university career and your future be prosperous, successful ones and I hope that you will become the leaders that our world desperately needs.

Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate. He is a BA Honours student and has been an activist for transformation, social justice and human rights. #BTSARMY

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