Seven things I wish people had told me on my first day of uni

February 13, 2015
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If I could only sit my first year self down in a cosy café somewhere for a good old heart-to-heart, so much about my university experience would be different – starting with that decision to cut my own fringe the night before orientation.

Sadly, I have yet to invent time travel and so my student ID card will forever continue to haunt me. But, while I may have missed the window to save First Year Sherryn (and at least one third of her liver); it’s not too late for you.

Have a game plan

Relax, I’m not asking you to decide what you want to be when you grow up right now or completely abandon that dream of taking your one-woman juggling show international, but you’ll have to start trying things out. If that means taking a year off to work or travel or catch up on all 26 seasons of The Simpsons, then great.

If, like me, you’ve jumped into an Arts degree or something else for the interim, it’s time to wet your academic palate. Being at university is a fantastic time to decide what you like and what you don’t and no degree is useless, so ignore everything those mean business students told you. If you’re torn between several fields, take one elective of each in your first year and test the waters. That way you can lock your major in early and avoid the slow tortuous crawl that is university administration.

Don’t be invisible

In a lecture hall the size of a small football stadium, it’s tempting to blend into the beige seats and let the whole university experience wash over you. I remember my first lecture was held in the same hall reserved for graduations and I still had to wrestle aside some guy’s bag to score a seat. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of things around you, particularly during first semester.

But keeping your mouth shut when you know an answer or need help can quickly become a habit. That’s why tutorials are an important time to get to know your teachers and fellow students, to make friends, debate stuff, ask questions and compliment each other’s beards. You know; all that regular uni crap. Besides, getting on first name basis with the tutor will make things a lot less uncomfortable when you’re spamming their email account at two in the morning with desperate pleas for an extension.

Life is your pre-requisite

The sooner you get your head around your university’s enrolment system the better. Scope out the best subjects early, plan your year and avoid a colossally unfair fine. If it turns out you didn’t take all the first year subjects you needed to qualify for that juicy second or third year unit, it never hurts to shoot through a cheeky email to the subject co-ordinator anyway. Outline why you want to take the subject, any relevant knowledge you have as well as subjects you’ve already completed that are similar..ish. More than half the time, you’ll get in.

Drop it like it’s hot

On the other hand, if you’ve taken on too big a course load and you know there’s a subject you could very seriously fail, it might be best to drop it altogether and pick it up later. Keep track of your census dates for every semester and withdraw beforehand to avoid the subject costs.

They usually come up around the end of March and August – unless your life is carved out into trimesters in which case you’re on your own, buddy. Keep in mind there’s usually also a date by which you can withdraw from the subject, cop the cost but not the fail on your record. Ask around. It may have just been something crazy I heard in the food-court once.

Test run

If you’re public-transporting it, try out a few different routes before you commit to one. You can usually find a list of suggestions on your campus website, but try PTV Journey Planner too.

I took a fifty minute train and then endured the swearing, burping masses of the 86 tram for more than a year before I realised I only had to take a thirty minute train and two twenty minute buses to get to La Trobe. Actually, scratch that, uni transport usually sucks. If you can afford the parking fees and the bitter politics of the car park, drive.

Laptops are nifty

I don’t know why it took me so long to get one. They’re so small and adorable now. Do it.

Sherryn Groch

Sherryn is studying journalism at RMIT University. She enjoys writing short stories, frolicking in unsecured meadows and sometimes tweets at @Sherryn_G.

Image: Rupert Parry, The University of Sydney