In light of the new year and upcoming university/school year I thought that today I would write out ten tips for surviving university. I based all of these off my own experiences and thought really long and hard about a few things I wish I'd known pre-university. It's not all goon sacks and Op-Shop proms. There are some challenges you may face during your university years that you will have come completely unprepared for.
1. Most people drop out in the first six weeks of any given semester. In my experience I did personally find that it was around weeks 3-6 of my very first year at the University of Canberra that I wanted to quit my degree. I eventually did, well I quit Secondary Education and moved onto Creative/Professional Writing which was what I'd always wanted to do anyway. I haven't looked back since (well, except to transfer to RMIT). However if you feel the urge to drop out I'd strongly recommend that you try to stick out at least one semester. First year, first semester = the most tedious, boring subjects of any degree. It gets much, much better and more interesting in the coming years.
2. High-school may not prepare you very well for uni. For the very first essay I had to write at university, I was flabbergasted. Stunned. Freaking out. It was panic attack city at my brand-new desk in my brand-new bedroom. My first university essay just scraped a pass. Why? Because my high-school teachers were shit, they never taught us how to write proper essays. Make sure you take the time to teach yourself how to write an essay, and not only this but teach yourself to write about your given subject using an angle and perspective you feel extremely motivated by. I went from that 'just-scraped' Pass to landing Distinction's by the next semester. It was pretty exciting.
3. Take serious advantage of your electives, especially if you're in a very liberal degree. I study Writing, which means my core classes (the ones you have to take) are spent analysing your own writing as well as the writing of others - whether this be published authors like David Foster Wallace or the guy you sit next to. This is great for building your skills (which is what you're at university for, especially in an Arts degree, it's pretty much trade school) but it's not that awesome for keeping up motivation and/or inspiration. Some of my favourite classes have been Philosophy and Happiness (RMIT) and Indigenous Studies. If you're thinking about embarking on any kind of Arts degree make sure that you check out the human interest subjects surrounding it. There's a lot of fun armchair psychology and philosophy involved in those classes. They really help peak your interest in the world around you, thus inspiring your work a bit more.
4. Your degree will take between three and four years to complete, provided you pass everything. So make sure you have a really motivating goal backing it up, and spend more time thinking about that than anything else. What do you want from this degree? Do you want to develop your skills? Keep your brain working? Do you want to become a freelance writer or artist? Do you want time to work on your craft? Do you want to become smarter? These are all great things. I'm not saying you need to have a step-by-step 'post-uni' plan (I certainly don't! In fact I'm beginning to freak out about my lack of plan, here) but you should have an idea of what you want to gain from your degree.
5. It's much easier to switch degrees than you think. But try to stick it out for at least a semester. If it's really not for you, take a quick look at the degree you may have 'ummed' and 'ahhed' over. When I enrolled in university I picked Secondary Education because I thought, 'writing isn't a viable option'. I was wrong. I was an idiot. I wasted a fair bit of time in a degree I hated, but on a more positive note I did learn some cool stuff about pedagogy and the different ways different people learn, which has been useful in everyday life.
6. Doing the minimal and at least skimming over the course description (especially marking criteria, where/when assignments are due and if you will be graded by attendance) will really help reduce your first year, first class, first how-the-fuck-do-I-adult-? anxiety.
7. Take care of your mental health: Tertiary education is rife with mental illness; depression, anxiety, panic attacks, poor sustenance. Think about it, you're (likely) living out of home for the first time, you might be learning to cook for the first time. If you're living in the dorms/residency sleep can be difficult to come by. The house is probably a mess, you're stressed, you might be working. You're basically learning to juggle everything all at once and that can take a real toll on your mental health. Keep an eye on it, remember to find and build a trustworthy support network and ask for advice when necessary. Do not neglect your mental health. It is just as important, as well as linked, to your physical health.
8. Get a whiteboard, at the beginning of every semester divide it into four columns. Assign a class to each column, then list every assignment you will need to complete for your classes in their respective columns. Also list the due dates and percentage amounts. This way you'll never get caught up in life and forget when assignments are due. It's also handy to keep a calendar close by your whiteboard as a secondary reminder of dates. At the end of each semester you'll feel the world's most intense relief as you wipe your whiteboard clean, ready for next semester.
9. Don't be too afraid to tailor your study program to suit yourself. Tutors and lecturers might advise against this because they have put a lot of effort into structuring your learning experience in the best way possible, but you can't always account for life. There are certain classes I was supposed to complete in my very first semester, which I have left until now due to personal reasons which might have hindered my performance where those class expectations were concerned. I'm now looking forward to facing those challenges having gotten my head more geared toward my studies and their importance.
10. Cups of tea will become like a religion. Or an addiction. Tea during exam and assignment weeks (typically weeks 8 and 14 of the semester) is like self-medication to keep you motivated. Make sure your cupboard is well stocked with lots and lots of tea. I recommend Green Tea, Jasmine tea and anything relaxing or mood and concentration boosting. Herbal teas are also great for detoxing your liver. Hint, hint.