What I learnt from my first year of university

Credit: Yousef Espanioly from stocksnap.io


I’ve been off uni for almost two months now courtesy of summer break, so I thought it would be a great time to reflect on my first year at uni. When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait until I got to go to university. More freedom. More content that I’d actually be interested in learning. More choices for what I wanted to do. It wasn’t as confined as high school. You didn’t have teachers handing out detentions for whatever reason (not that I would know what that’s like as I never got a detention in my six years at high school). And that’s exactly what I got. I’ve absolutely enjoyed this year and honestly, as much as I love and need a break, I’m not dreading returning after I get back from Thailand in March.

Here are a couple of things I’ve learnt  from my first year:

  1. Don’t expect to be the best and be the top of the class.
    As a perfectionist and someone who has been known to be the top of the class throughout much of my learning career, a big eye-opener was my realisation that I wasn’t one of the top students. There are so many people from different schools, careers, different ages and paths of life. An important thing I learnt was to not worry about what others did. Yes, I did that in high school where I just focused on myself rather than what everyone else was doing (and it helped big time), but walking into university, it was easy to forget about it due to being overwhelmed by the whole new environment. I think the primary reason was because I was so used to guiding others, that I almost forgot what it meant to let other people guide me. Hence, it came to me to not let the pressure of the high expectations you put on yourself to hinder your ability to use these sort of opportunities as chances to grow and develop.
  2. Don’t expect to have yourself together.
    I’m a generally impeccably organised person, but sometimes even the best of us have our moments where we just stop and think, “what in the world am I doing?”…ok, maybe some of us with some additional, multilingual profanity…but the point is, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. You’re going to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re going to feel like you’re a total fool for thinking that what you were doing was a good idea. Allow some time to just think and reflect, let all the negative thoughts out and don’t bottle them up because there’s more of a chance they’ll return. The sooner you realise the potential issues, take note of them and then figure out how best to tackle them. The main thing is to stay positive and relax, because once you start officially letting the negativity rule your mindset, that’s when you will fail. Once you start stressing out, that’s when you are going to make unnecessary mistakes. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking that you WILL or MUST have yourself together from day one to be able to be the most successful person in your profession. It’s often the ones who build themselves up and allow themselves some leeway who become the most successful. 
  3. Learn from others
    The first two points touch on this quite a bit, and it’s true. Use your first year of uni as an opportunity to learn from others. See what other people are doing, but strike a balance with doing so and not comparing yourself to them. Become comfortable in who you are and admit that you have room to grow. It’s only when we recognise where we’re at that we can move on with what we have to do to improve.
  4. You learn things along the way
    Like I’ve said before, your first year is a learning experience. In fact, everyday is a learning experience. But more specifically, during your first year, or particularly your first semester, you’re going to learn a lot about what does and what doesn’t work. You’re going to pick up tips and tricks from your lecturers and fellow peers, many of whom have most likely been there, done that. Use it to your advantage.
  5. VCE didn’t prepare me for university  
    Sure year 12 taught me a lot, but learning wise at uni? Barely. VCE is go, go, go. It’s stressful. It’s intense. It’s pure grit, guts and tears for 10 months (I mean, if you’re determined to get that high ATAR). The non-stop assignments, the long hours stuck in classrooms, the infamous “VCAA” being quoted on a daily basis, the SACs- it’s crazy and it takes a toll. If you were anything like me, you would have spent hour upon hour studying, and when you weren’t studying you’d feel guilty because you felt like you should have been studying. From what I’ve seen at uni, it’s a lot more flexible and you can generally do things at your own pace. Personally, I love this. You don’t have to worry about teachers harassing you or constantly reinforcing the importance of studying. There’s next to no pressure compared to VCE and you feel free and liberated…until you finish what you have to do and stand in the middle of your house, with your hands on your hips with a frown on your face, trying to figure out what studying you have to do. In addition to this, sometimes what your high school said was the way to do something, could be the complete opposite at university. So with this, I suggest to keep an open mind and always seek clarification on what you really have to do (before it costs you marks like it did for me).
  6. Get involved…but not TOO much
    Backtrack to orientation week and you could see me signing up to a number of clubs, wanting to get involved as much as possible. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I was like yeah ok, calm down Monique. It’s all good and fine to want to get involved as much as possible, meet as many people as possible and so on, but I would personally also suggest that you give yourself enough room for rest and to give yourself the time to just be able to recollect yourself. Yes, that’s what being organised is for, but give yourself some leeway. You’ll be thankful in the long run.
  7. It’s a time for trial and error
    I guess one of the main things you’ve gathered from the above points is that your first couple of months at university are pretty much the time to try new things and see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t beat yourself up over things that don’t work it. It’s all about trying to figure out what works best. What works for some, doesn’t work for others and to be successful, you have to figure out exactly what works for you. The most important thing overall is that if you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight. No matter what.What did you learn in your first year of university? What would you change about what you did? Comment below if you have anything to say or ask.

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