Updated: Jul 30
Majors, societies, networking, practicals, tutorials, lectures… you learn a whole lot of vocabulary as a first year STEM student; but what about actually enjoying the experience?
1. Step out of your comfort zone and make new friends
Daunting as it may be, try not to use your high school friends as a crutch. You’ll be joining thousands of students in the same position as you are, desperate to form connections without seeming too desperate. Take comfort in the fact that this means most people are open to hang out after class or walk to the station together. Look for opportunities to join a club or society and don’t be afraid to try something new (personally, going to car club was a disaster, but quidditch led me to being part of a team). Volunteering is also a great way to both give back to your community and meet people at the same time. Who knows, you might unexpectedly find a new passion or form your new crew. You’ve got nothing to lose!
2. Juggling university, a social life and part-time work
These three things will take up your time: if you’re not working at a job, you’re studying, and if you’re not studying, you’ll be seeing friends (that you’ve obviously made after taking advice from point 1 above). While I understand that sometimes striking a balance is not governed purely by choice (financial commitments will of course take priority), try to consciously decide how you want to use your time.
Schedule out time for not only academics, but for ‘you’ time as well - university is often when people find that their hobbies fall behind from engaging with them regularly in high school. For me, that looks like 30 minutes before bedtime, and I find that doing this a few times a week makes me happy to just create something for the sake of it. Having some form of documentation is extremely helpful to keep track; for example, I use a calendar for social events and assignment due dates, as well as a notebook for daily to-do tasks, which brings me to my next point.
3. Use Apps to Sort Out Your Life
If you’ve got your phone on you 24/7, why not use it to keep track of your schedule?
Google Calendar: Sync your university timetable to the app, making it easier to keep track of classes and all your other commitments. (Simple and efficient but kind of dry looking 7/10)
Lost on Campus: Directions to your class with photos of your classroom entrance. (I take back what I said about Google Calendar’s interface - this is the eyesore. But occasionally useful 5/10)
Timeweave: Allows syncing to friend’s timetables so you can see what they’re up to… for research purposes. (Does the job when it doesn’t crash 5/10)
Forest: Keeps you accountable for your study goals by growing a tiny tree for staying off your phone. (So adorable that it guilt trips you into studying 9/10)
Todoist: Efficiently keep track of to-do lists and due dates in a simple colour-coordinated app. (Aesthetic and easy to use 8/10)
Notion: A little confusing at first, but very powerful: take notes, make lists, set reminders and schedule tasks on this app. (Pro: It will be amazing once you set it up; Con: You might graduate before you finish setting it up 7/10)
4. Do P’s really get Degrees?
While marks matter, the way you get those marks matter more. There’s no point slaving for an HD average if it comes at the cost of under-developing other facets of your life. But the same can also be said for the reverse; uni years will fly by quicker than you’d expect, and you don’t want to kick yourself for not prioritising the very degree you’re there for.
So with that in mind, try to put in the effort for all your subjects - it’s easy to ignore organic chemistry when human biology is so, so much more interesting, but it never works out (I found out the hard way). Although I struggled academically in a couple of subjects, I’m glad I experienced this learning curve in first year rather than as a quarter-life crisis during Honours year. Prioritise understanding concepts over the mark itself so you understand the content instead of just memorising it for the exam. Trust me - your future self will thank you as subjects inevitably get harder and build upon previous content.
5. Reach out for help
Starting university is daunting, but there are always people to help you out if you need it. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your university will have counselling services available to you, and don’t underestimate the kindness of your tutors and lecturers. They can direct you to help, or sometimes be able to find a solution.
Feel free to disregard this option but as ridiculous as it may seem, posting anonymously on uni rant pages or Reddit forums can provide catharsis and often a sympathetic commenter who you can reach out to.
May your lectures be short, and your friend list long!