I Stuffed Up My First Semester of Uni – What Should I Do?

By ATAR Notes in HSC
26th of June 2018
stuffed up first semester uni

First and foremost, congratulations for finishing your first semester of university! Considering the vast differences between high school and uni, making that transition and getting through is honestly a really big achievement – and certainly not something to be overlooked. Nice work!

But, even with that in mind, you might be a bit disappointed at the moment, or even disillusioned with how your first semester turned out. Trust us: this is common. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Basically everything changes after high school: new people, new campus, new content, and new expectations. And with all of those changes happening concurrently, it’s absolutely understandable that a lot of new uni students struggle with one or more element of university life.

So – how do you deal with that disappointment? What can you do if you feel like you’ve, well, not excelled in your first uni semester?


1. Work out what went wrong.

If you have a leaking bucket, it made no sense whatsoever to just smash some band-aids on random places of that bucket in the hope that the leak will magically disappear. A similar thing is true with uni performance: it doesn’t make sense to just roll through and hope that everything will improve. What does make sense is sitting down, and actually thinking about what went wrong – or what you could realistically work on in the future.

We’re focusing on academic performance mostly here, but very many factors might be in play:

•   Did you fall into the trap of not attending classes, promising yourself, “I’ll defs watch this later”?
•   What about the dreaded starting-assignments-way-too-late hurdle at which countless new uni students stumble?
•   Was it specifically exams that were your downfall?
•   Perhaps you didn’t make any new friends, and this had a negative impact on you?


No matter what you come up with, anything you lock down on is progress. Identifying those mistakes – or not even mistakes, but things that didn’t go to plan – is a fantastic first step to improvement.

stuffed up first semester uni


2. Be honest with yourself: is your degree right for you?

For clarity, we’re not advocating transferring degrees willy nilly, just because your results were a little lower than you’d hoped for. But if you genuinely didn’t enjoy any aspect of the semester, it might be worth thinking about your options moving forward.

There’s no shame in starting a degree and then transferring out of it – or dropping it altogether. It’s extremely difficult to know if you’re going to enjoy a degree until you, y’know, try that degree! And many people here at ATAR Notes have successfully transferred into things much better suited to them. Many, many students transfer every single semester, and it’s no big deal.

Coming out of high school, lots of students end up pursuing degrees that aren’t necessarily right for them, but are in line with what they think they “should” study. But the whole idea of uni, really, is to give you the opportunity to pursue what you really want to – what you’re really passionate about. Think about that!


3. Unit selection.

On a similar note, you may have just been unlucky, and landed on specific units you didn’t enjoy. If that’s the case – hey, at least you’re done with them! You can do current and future students a favour by reviewing those units, and you can also benefit from our online unit reviews! Use them to see what past students have said, how they found units you’re considering, and what you might like to consider when selecting units for Semester 2.

stuffed up first semester uni


4. Think about how well you’re studying.

As we know, uni is a different ball game to high school. What that means is that, shock horror, things that worked for you last year may not necessarily be working for you this year! Luckily, there are thousands of potential ways to study (see just some of them here), and you always have the opportunity to mix things up a bit. Try something new – live a little!

But it might also be the case that you feel like you’re studying quite well, but still aren’t getting the results you’re looking for. This is a frustrating position to be in, but we have a couple of suggestions.

First, it might simply be a case of raised expectations. In high school, you can probably get through without extensive citations, or with inconsistent formatting. At uni, this isn’t really the case, and so many “easy” marks are dropped in this way every single semester. If you endeavour to be meticulous in the way you complete assignments and prepare for exams – following set criteria very carefully – you’ll put yourself in an excellent position to do well.

If that’s not, your results might not be to the way you’re studying at all. Instead, you might like to consider study preparation – something oft-overlooked in the study process.


5. Keep perspective, and don’t lose hope.

If you didn’t do as well as you were hoping to in your first semester, that sucks – and we feel for you. But like, it doesn’t need to be an absolutely massive deal. Countless students before you have been in a similar position, only to go on and absolutely smash the rest of their uni “career”. 👌

stuffed up first semester uni

Let’s be pragmatic about this. On the assumption you completed the standard four units in your first semester, that’s a mere sixth of a three-year degree, or just a quarter of a four-year degree. Added to the fact that some universities weight units so that first-year units are less meaningful in terms of measures like the WAM, your first semester is largely about getting used to the university experience.

If you’re really concerned about your university performance, it might be a good idea to set up a time to chat with student services at your institution, or even directly with your faculty. Those resources are there, so you might as well use them!


6. Learn from others.

Remember: there’s really nothing quite like starting uni, and you’ve just done it! Awesome. But there’s still a way to go in your university journey, and there’s always a heap you can learn from current and past university students.

So – why not use the ATAR Notes Forums to your advantage? Yeah, shameless plug, but honestly a hugely helpful resource. You can find:

•   a list of our best university resources;
•   a place for general uni queries;
•   individual boards for specific universities in Victoria and New South Wales;
•   university subject/unit reviews;
•   university results discussion sections; and
•   our University Journey Journal board.