Confused about anything uni-related? Feel free to ask about it in this thread: How University Works.
Ah, the first few weeks of uni. Don’t worry – we’ve all been there. We know the struggle.
Orientation is done, introductory lectures are done, and now this weird thing called “uni” is actually speeding up a little. You’ve collected your free show bags, you’ve introduced yourself awkwardly to your new classmates (does anybody actually enjoy those ice-breaker activities?!), and you’ve stumbled your way around campus.
Essentially, you’ve made it through the first month of post-high school studies – that’s awesome! You go, you!
… But what happens now?
If your first semester pans out anything like any of my eight, this semester will have peaks and troughs. A lot of your assignments/essays/presentations/whatever else will be due around the same time. This is why preparation is extremely important.
Here are a few tips for keeping on top of things:
This ain’t going to be like the younger years of high school. This ain’t even going to be like Year 12. Your lecturers and tutors want you to do as well a possible, but they’re not going to be constantly reminding you to get stuff done.
And if you don’t get it done – well, that’s a reflection on you rather than them.
The type of assessment is different, too. If you’re confused about how to write university essays, for example, this goes some way to explaining it.
It can absolutely be difficult to stay organised, particularly through what is already a difficult transition period for many. In one of my first-year tutorials, where we were discussing the impact of the Cold War, this one guy suddenly got up, said “oh no – OH NO – I haven’t submitted an assignment due two weeks ago”, and quite literally ran out of the room. It can happen.
The plus side is that if that happens to you, you know you’re not alone. Of course, it’s best to avoid that situation in the first place. Something that I absolutely lived by throughout uni is what I’ll refer to as an assignment calendar. It’s nothing special, but it works. Here’s an example that I kept from a few years ago, in what was my third year of uni:
As you can see, it’s just an Excel collation of my assessment tasks for that particular semester. I like pretty colours, but it can be a lot simpler than that should you wish. The important thing is that all of the important information is there: the due date, its worth, the unit – and, importantly, the progress.
Doing it this way gives you personalised structure that you wouldn’t usually get at uni, and if you update it regularly, there’s no risk at all of missing an assessment.
It doesn’t take much effort, but it does gives you a lot of comfort.
This may initially seem counter-intuitive for a post focused on uni organisation, but I think it’s important. It’s easy to get caught up in the whole uni thing. At least at the start, it might feel like you have heaps of readings and heaps of assignments and heaps of other commitments, but it’s not always like that.
If you don’t take time out, you’ll lose perspective – and, ultimately, the academic side of your life will suffer, too.
I don’t mean you have to take full days off to go to the beach and chill out in the sun (although, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t!). “Me time” could literally be a five-minute break with a coffee, or going for a walk around campus between classes.
If you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll have no time for yourself – and that’s definitely not a good thing.
It’s useful to be at least somewhat familiar with the campus. In my first semester, I was well and truly overwhelmed; as the campus was so large, it was hard to know even where to start – and, as such, I didn’t really start anywhere. But as time went on, I began to be more familiar with my surroundings, and that honestly made such a big difference to my uni experience.
Just want to get away from people for a while? No problem – you know where you can find quieter spaces.
Want to get involved in the hustle and bustle of uni life? All good – you know exactly where to go.
To quote everybody’s favourite band (Hi-5, for those playing at home): “I’ve built myself a place: a place that’s just for me, and when I’m in my place, I can be what I want to be.”
I like those lyrics.
Take some time out. You’ll be better for it. You might even like to post about your day in this thread here!
As VCE had study designs and HSC had the syllabus, uni has unit/handbook guides (or similar, depending on the university). Use them.
Typically, these outline in varying detail the particularities of the unit at hand – so which referencing system to use, the weighting of each assessment, and other unit-specific conventions.
Before submitting each assignment, check the unit guide (or equivalent) to make sure that you’ve nailed all of the set criteria. I mean, it’s just sitting there, and it takes three minutes, so you’d be silly not to!
Being meticulous doesn’t require skill or knowledge – just hard work and dedication. That’s the thing about uni, really. If you’re willing to put in more effort than those around you, you’re well on your way to HDing every unit. (“How do you do well in uni?!” Well, this is how.)
The cool thing is that, after a while, uni assessments fall into a cycle of operant conditioning: prepare well > get rewarded with marks > become motivated to prepare well again.
Week 4 is doubtlessly a tough time of semester – you’re in the groove of things, but there’s still a fairly long way to go. Just remember that it’s a week-by-week process and, if you’re prepared for it, there’s absolutely nothing to fear.
Interested in reading more? Check out how to make the most of university!