Starting university can be overwhelming. For most of us, we spend the better half of five years at the same high school – in the same place, with the same people. For those of us who choose to pursue tertiary education, university marks a jarring disruption to all of this. The first week of uni can become a frantic rush to try and acclimatise to new surroundings and schedules that don’t consist of six-hour school days. To help you better cope with your own transition to university, here are some of the valuable lessons I learnt while enduring my first week as an undergrad.
University is BIG
It became very clear that I wasn’t in high school anymore when I saw the size of the campus. I had gone from attending a school of only a couple hundred students, to a university of over seventy thousand. Campus is big and the crowds of students walking to and from class are bigger. My first week of university was an endless cycle of getting lost in new buildings surrounded by hordes of new faces. This experience taught me a couple of really important sub-lessons. Firstly, when possible, ALWAYS WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I, for some reason, had believed I would cope with wearing elaborate sandals or a cute heeled boot to university every day. I was very wrong. You do a lot of walking on campus, especially if you have to take public transport. Do yourself a favour and invest in a pair of comfortable sneakers.
Secondly, download Lost On Campus. This app, which is practically Google Maps for university campuses, was my saving grace. I’ll be the first to admit that I am very geographically challenged and if it had not been for this gem of an app I wouldn’t have made to any classes on time – perhaps even any classes, period.
Having to navigate campus and throw myself into a throng of new people was very overwhelming, but ultimately an experience I look back on fondly now. The final few years of high school for me were pretty repetitive. I had become accustomed to a certain routine and a familiar campus with familiar faces. Starting university forced me out of this comfort zone I had unknowingly created. It showed me that I could in fact be independent and manage myself in new and intimidating situations. This was a big revelation for me and one that I believe is really important for everyone to have.
Other first-years are just as eager as you to make new friends
Before starting university, my one main concern was whether or not I would be able to make friends. I
was suddenly being forced to mingle outside of the comfortable circle of my high school friendship group and I was not confident in my ability to land a friend in this sea of new faces. This anxiety stayed with me right up until I made the earth-shattering observation that every first-year student was just as nervous and eager to make friends as I was. As a first-year cohort we were all experiencing the same things. We were all getting lost trying to navigate a really large and confusing campus, having to make an annoyingly painful commute into the city and struggling to cope with suddenly having to study again after a really lengthy and well-deserved break following the HSC exams.
We all desperately wanted to meet new people and make new friends who we could share this very overwhelming experience of starting university with. It can be daunting talking to new people, but trust me when I say it is the best possible thing you can do for yourself and your time at university.
Assignments come around hard and fast
I’m not exactly sure what I had been expecting for my first week – but being bombarded with assignment notifications and homework tasks was certainly not it. After introductions were over, lecturers dove straight into content and due dates. Everything was happening all at once and I was certainly not ready for any of it. After three long months of not doing any study, I was very unprepared. This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt during my first week – from your very first lecture it’s go go go.
There really is something for everyone
There are a lot of opportunities available to you at university. Clubs and societies, campus bars and cafes, rallies and sporting events all constitute a really elaborate campus culture that encourages you to meet different people and try new things. There is an endless amount of activities for you to be taking part in, all of which are designed to ensure that you are making the most of your time at university. The choices of extra-curriculars are far more diverse and niche than those which would be found at an average high school.
Your experience at university is what you make it
After my first week at university I caught up with some of my friends from high school. Most of us had gone our separate ways, choosing different places to study across the state and so we wanted to catch up with the intention of relaying each of our experiences as undergrads so far. I was going into our lunch date very excited to share just how much I loved it all and it never really occurred to me that they could possibly have felt any different about their first week – and yet most of them did. The majority of my friends were unimpressed with their first week experience and as a result far less enthused about the prospect of their future studies. Most of them complained about the campus being too big, or there being too many people, or the lecturers jumping straight into content-heavy lessons.
I was really shocked upon hearing all of this, partly because I felt really bad for my friends and how unsatisfied they were, but mostly because these “negative” aspects of university life were all things that I had experienced as well. However, instead of being bothered by them, I understood them to be exciting and character-building. It was here that I realised your experience at university is what you make of it. If you go into your first week with a positive mindset, it will make overcoming the challenges of transitioning into a new space a lot easier. The nature of your university experience is dependent on the effort you are willing to put in.
While I hope that by sharing my first week experience it makes your own somewhat easier, there’s a big difference between listening to my advice and having to experience it all firsthand. You might love university. You might hate it. Either way it’s important that you figure it all out for yourself. Use the first few weeks to form your own opinions and make your own judgements – it’s your life and it’s up to you to choose how to live it.
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Jessica is a first-year university student completing a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies (Media and Communications). Having completed the HSC in 2019, she is no stranger to the daily struggles of the current high school student. When not writing, you can find her scouring the web for cheap flights or playing with her dogs.