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8 Tips To Make The Most Out of Your 1st Year at Uni

1. Pick a diverse range of units

If there’s been one constant in my degree so far, it’s that every year has been different. Every semester even, I’ve chosen units that I didn’t know I would take until it was time to pick them. Rather than making my degree confusing and inconsistent in quality, instead this has enhanced my experience by keeping me interested in what will be different and new every semester. With that being said, you don’t need to put off deciding what your major will be or even feel like you shouldn’t do a double major just so you can have variety in your units. If the course you’re doing doesn’t allow for a lot of electives, take my advice: it’s better to pick something you’re genuinely interested in that might be more different to what you’re used to, than something that is more similar to your degree but which you’re doing for the easy grades. If it doesn’t really allow for any electives, there’s another way that you can achieve variety to enhance your uni experience. And that is...


2. Join a lot of clubs (even if you’re only interested in them at surface level)

It seems like a stereotype to say that freshers tend to join a lot of clubs. There’s a good reason for that. The ones that do are able to continue on their passions from high school or pick up more opportunities to learn new skills and make more friends. They’re able to integrate more into the uni experience and potentially even join committees (which shows employers they are multidimensional). There are bound to be dozens of clubs that are at your uni, and out of those I can bet there’ll be at least 3 that pique your attention. If you’re uncertain about whether you’ll enjoy the club, then join it with a friend from high school so you’re in the same boat, or go to their sundowner event (or the first event they run this semester) to get a feel for what the people are like. If you don’t like them, at least you tried! If you do like them, then you’ll have hit on the next point I want to make. Which is…


3. Try to find a community you enjoy

This is one of the most important aspects of enjoying your uni experience. It may take a while, but finding a group of people in a space you return to to recharge and chat is vital because it makes studying a much more comfortable experience. For me, in first and second year I was hanging out with the music students, and now I spend more time amongst the creative writing crowd. The important thing is that you have at least one place to belong to, and since many clubs have clubrooms, that makes this a vital aspect to enjoying uni. If you’ve managed to cling on to some friends from high school, that’s great, but don’t limit it to them. I know someone who didn’t really make any new friends after high school and as a result he didn’t enjoy uni as much as he could have. It may seem difficult to put yourself out there, but simply going to club events or using a clubroom is a major step in the right direction. And speaking of clubrooms...

4. Get to know the best places on campus

There will be places on campus that you come back to, and those that you’ll go to once or twice and then never come across again during your degree. One of the ways you can find more regular haunts is to ask an older friend to show you around good places on campus to eat, socialise, meet, study etc. At UWA, where I study, there’s a program specifically dedicated to that called UniMentor, where you get assigned a mentor who guides you for the first six weeks of your degree, and later if you’d like. If you’re at UWA, there is still time to sign up for this program. It’s a really rewarding experience both for the mentor and it’s a great way to be more connected when you first enter the uni. Plus, you might learn more about the history and lore of the university and even find places to nap! At your uni there will be many chances to participate in voluntary programs, and I can heartily recommend you...


5. Find out what resources are available to you (creator spaces, volunteering opportunities, jobs on campus etc.)

University is more than the sum of all the work and classes you go to, and even more than the social activities you participate in as well so long as you let it be. A big tip is to check out your uni’s career hub website (UWA’s is conveniently called CareerHub) as well as any extra resources that are available to you (for example, at UWA you can download the latest edition of Microsoft Office for free and you have access to Kanopy, a streaming database). On the career hub you’ll be able to look for volunteering and work that’s available ONLY to students, a small proportion of the population that you are part of. Also, the work the university gives often pays stupendously well. I have a cousin who designs units at the University of Western Sydney, and she gets paid upwards of $40 an hour. It’s seriously great stuff, so I recommend you check it out. Even if you don’t manage to secure a job, volunteering is great, and is another way of making friends and impressing an employer. Also, if you do find yourself working, or feel overwhelmed in first semester, remember there’s no shame (but a lot of tact) in setting time aside to...


6. Evaluate your progress and consider doing part time study (university is a marathon, not a race)

Don’t feel like you need to complete your degree in 3 (or 4) years if you can’t do it due to outside commitments. Following all of the previous advice would make your life on campus very busy, and if you can’t handle all of that and full time study, I would prioritise the social/vocational aspect of university before the scholarly side and consider doing fewer units. Initially you might feel like it’s important to finish your study as quickly as possible, but even grades-wise this isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes really nailing a semester can bump your GPA (Grade point average) and WAM (Weighted average mark) up. Another important aspect to planning your study is that if you find yourself in trouble with an assignment or exam, it’s important to be familiar with the process your uni has with special consideration (applying for an extension or alternative exam). It’s always better to be prepared for any trip-ups than to come across them unexpectedly, which is why communicating with the university, and knowing its schedule (key dates) is important. It’s also important to...


7. Get to know your unit coordinators (especially if you have a small cohort! They may be teaching other units you’ll do)

This one is very important, because your tutor/lecturers are the ones who will ultimately be guiding your learning, and introducing yourself to them will help you to ask for help more easily if you’re stuck on a topic or need help understanding something. It’s often better to ask the tutor rather than another student as the tutor will certainly give you the correct answer and is more experienced with explaining concepts in the unit than your friend, who may give you an inaccurate description or confuse you. Finally...


8. Consider going on exchange!

There are many options for going on exchange when you study at an Australian university. You can do academic exchange programs for a semester or a year, or a summer or winter program, and many of these will be accredited to your degree. You can also do volunteering work through AIESEC, and with programs in 100+ countries, there’s a massive variety in what you can do and where you can go. Exchange, whether it be through the university or AIESEC, can dramatically shift your perspective on the world, make you more mature and independent and also immerses you in a culture totally different to your own. If you’ve also studied a language in high school, it’s the perfect excuse to use it in the context it came from - the country where it’s most spoken! People say that exchange broadens your horizons, and never before has that been more true than now, when it’s possible you’ll be moving to a different city or country to work.


So those are all my tips for making the most out of first year and setting yourself up for a great time at university. If you follow this advice, you’ll find yourself in a comfortable and exciting place in second year and beyond.


William Huang

William is a student at UWA, who enjoys writing, composing and playing piano. He can be found around campus looking for new clubs to join and free food and drinks to enjoy. He lives in Perth but his spiritual home is Sydney.