I’m what you might call a ‘perpetual student’. I finished high school at the end of 2006, and since then I’ve only had 18 months where I haven’t been studying in some capacity.
My first attempt at uni only lasted 3 semesters – I was doing an Arts degree and by the end of that 3rd semester I hadn’t even decided what my major would be, so I figured I should take a break and work out what I wanted to do.
I got a job as a receptionist at an insurance company, and worked there for the 18 months of “no study” until I decided that I wanted to go back and study Psychology.
This year will be my 7th year straight of studying at university, and in that time I’ve finished the Psychology degree and started my second undergrad degree (Nursing).
I’ve learned a few things over the past 10 years, and I’d like to share them with you so you don’t have to find them out the hard way.
1. Uni is not real life
No matter how much your uni tries to tell you that they’re educating you for the outside world – things are NOTHING like uni when you get there. Number 1 pet hate – lecturers saying “Group work at uni is good preparation for performing in a team in the workplace”. NOPE. For starters, you generally get people in the workplace who are actually experts (or at least experienced) in what the group is working on, so it’s not a case of “blind leading the blind” like it is in uni, and there’s almost always a clear group leader (also unlike uni groups).
You could do 1000 practical placements as part of your degree, but when you actually get to doing it as a job, you’ll find there’s a million things you haven’t learnt.
Learning does not stop at graduation.
2. Do your readings
Seriously – if the lecturer suggests you should read a chapter, you should at least LOOK at it. In-depth reading is not always required, and even skimming is better than not looking at it at all. Lecturers don’t set the readings for no reason.
Sometimes, those readings can be the difference between superficial and comprehensive understanding of a concept, and that can mean the difference between a Pass and a Distinction in the exam.
3. Lecturers really do want you to do well
They’re not all sitting there, conspiring to put super-difficult questions on the exam (OK, some might be, but most of them aren’t). I have never had a lecturer who wasn’t willing to help a student who needed it and ASKED FOR IT.
Remember, this isn’t high school – nobody is going to offer you help if you don’t ask for it. You need to seek out the assistance if you want/need it.
Attend your classes, talk to your lecturers, talk to your tutors, and if you have questions – ask them. If you need help, ASK. Which leads me to…
4. Don’t leave it too late
This applies to more than just assignments. Don’t let yourself get so stressed and unwell that your only option is to quit the class without at least speaking to your lecturer/school counsellor/admin office first. If you find yourself in a position where you aren’t coping, speak to someone about it early. There are usually heaps of resources available for students, from food banks and interest-free loans to free counselling or even additional tutoring. Depending on where you live, these things are typically either free or very low cost.
For example – there’s a food bank run by a local church in my area, and it’s $7 for a 6 month membership. You register the number of people in your family and any dietary requirements, and you get free fruit & vegetables and “basics” like pasta, rice, bread, canned meat/fish, and milk, with other ‘luxury items’ (like biscuits, processed cereals, etc) available for a very low cost (e.g. $0.20 for a 500g box of sugary cereal).
5. Your physical and mental health are more important than your job or your marks
If you are sick, nothing will go right. I know that from experience.
If you’re working 30+ hours a week as well as studying full time, maintaining a house, and trying to actually see your friends and family, you’re going to burn out.
DON’T DO IT. If your school recommends only working a certain number of hours per week (e.g. my uni recommends 15hrs max if you have a full-time study load), try and stick to that. It will probably be hard. You’ll probably be poor. It will definitely mean reworking and prioritising things to save money where you can. But it is SO WORTH IT, particularly when you get awesome marks and make it to the end of semester without a nervous breakdown.
Find out what government payments/bursaries/scholarships you are eligible for, and apply for them all. Work heaps over the uni breaks and save the money for during semester.
6. Nobody cares if you wear the same things all the time
Honestly. It’s highly likely that no-one will even notice. If you know something suits you and you’re comfortable in it, wear it. Who cares if you wore the exact same thing last week? And denim all looks the same – nobody will realise that you have worn the same jeans 3 days in a row, as long as they look clean and don’t smell.
Have enough clothes for 2 weeks (this allows for exam/finals time when household chores tend to be low on the priority list). This is particularly important for underwear and socks. You can get away with re-wearing a shirt that you’ve already worn once, but it’s not a good idea to wear socks or underwear for more than one day without washing them (that’s a health thing, not just a “gross and smelly” thing).
If you’re still worried about what people will think, make it a uniform – if it’s intentional, it’s OK. Some of the best business people in the world have a “uniform”, because it reduces decision fatigue if you don’t have to think about what you’ll wear. Find a style of shirt you love, and buy it in 4 different colours. Get 3 pairs of the same jeans in different colour washes. Adding a different scarf or other accessories can completely change up an outfit.
7. Be yourself, but be open to new experiences
If you’re not a “big party” person, you don’t have to go to them. You don’t have to sit with people all the time for meals or between classes – no-one is going to judge you if your companion is a book. Highly likely that no-one will even notice, they’re all too busy worrying about their own stuff.
On the flip side, if you’re a super-sociable person, don’t always be surrounded by people. Take a little bit of time on your own to do things, even if it’s just going to the library on your own for a few hours. You may find you even enjoy this ‘alone time’.
That said, whether you like parties or not, if there’s a university-hosted dinner/conference centred around something you’re interested in, GET YO ASS THERE! You can probably start gaining networking contacts in your future professional area. I got my job at the hospital through meeting someone at one of these sorts of events. They’re definitely worth the missed study time.
Part 2 will be up in a couple of weeks, once I’m done with mid-semester assessments.