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How to survive your first year of university / Tips for first years from a first year

Written by Philippa Smith

University is more than just a degree; it is an irreplaceable experience with various opportunities which will assist you in finding clear purpose within your course and help you discover your career identity. Seizing these opportunities is easier said than done for many first years as the transition from secondary school to university life can be a challenge. As a first-year student who has just endured her first year of university (along with a global pandemic), I have put together a survival guide for first years who are taking the leap from high school to university to help make the transition a little easier. Below are my top four tips for first years to make the most out of your university experience.

1. Start networking

Building relationships with your tutors, lecturers and fellow students is key to forming a strong network within the university community.

Networking early in your degree will prove to be one of the most useful strategies for improving your university experience in both a personal and professional sense. First year student Christina Qian believes that the best decision she made this year was “involving [herself] into university life as much as possible, both on campus and online,” as it gave her the opportunity to meet new people with similar interests and form meaningful relationships. I found that engaging with people on campus, whether this is people in your degree or those who have similar interests, can make the campus a friendlier place and a positive environment. It’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat. Don’t be afraid to make plans to catch up after a lecture or strike up a conversation before a tutorial as you will find most people are willing and eager to forge new friendships. Not only does involving yourself in the university community benefit you in a personal sense, improving wellbeing and helping to cultivate lasting friendships, but additionally benefits you in a professional sense. Networking can allow you to form relationships with people who can help you in future aspirations and assist you with career guidance, industry insight, or internship prospects. Use social media to assist you in this process, whether it be expanding your LinkedIn network, joining Facebook groups and forming group chats of people with shared interests. While the pandemic may have put a pause on many university activities there are still ways to get involved, as you will find a large majority of university life has moved online in the past decade.

2. Develop your soft skills

Use university as an opportunity to build on your soft skills to improve employability

Soft skills are non-technical skills that show how well you will work in a professional environment. Soft skills range from teamwork based interpersonal skills to how you think in challenging situations or how well you manage time and motivation. These transferable skills are actively sought after by employers, meaning those who have high levels of soft skills make more successful candidates and will easily land roles. Soft skills can be more challenging to develop when compared to alternate skills employers seek and are often built when you are put outside of your comfort zone. Potential ways to improve soft skills in a university setting include:

Insider programs and internships: Builds skills such as dependability, time management and professionalism.

Attending networking/industry events: Builds on communication and listening skills while giving you insight into your chosen field.

Compete in competitions such as case competitions or joining clubs that are relevant to your industry: Improve your critical and creative thinking skills as well as your interpersonal skills in a team setting.

Taking on leadership roles within the university community: Develops public speaking, leadership and communication skills.

3. Build your resume

Taking part in vacation work, internships or an exchange can improve your attractiveness to the eye of the employer.

The job market of today is remarkably competitive, with many employers seeking years of experience from university graduates. While this may seem impossible, there are many ways you can build your resume in university to catch the eye of employers and help you land highly qualified, top jobs. Vacation work and internships can prove you have spent time working with accomplished authorities in your field as professional experience is a key factor many employers look for in candidates. Exchanges provide you with a unique study abroad experience, which is great leverage for interview topics and additionally shows high levels of independence. Taking part in vacation work, internships or exchanges allows you to finish your degree with years of experience and helps to build a strong future.

4. Join societies and clubs that align with your passions

Joining societies and clubs allow you to meet like-minded people, improve skills or simply have a bit of fun

University clubs and societies are an essential component of the university experience, as they are the perfect opportunity to make friends and belong to a community. University clubs additionally help you to build skills in a non-classroom setting or discover new interests. First year student, Jack Lee, believes “clubs often compliment your subjects,” and that his experience joining university clubs has helped him to gain practical experience, improving his learning. Christina agreed, pointing out that “joining 180DC this semester has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me in university thus far.” Whether you are joining a club to develop practical skills suited to your career or picking up a new hobby, you will adopt valuable life skills and interact with a diverse range of people you may not have met otherwise.

“Personally, I think commerce material can be very theoretical. By actively getting involved in clubs such as 180DC you can gain practical experience and also get a feel for the real world. You also end up enjoying your university subjects more since you know how they practically relate to careers in Commerce.” – Jack Lee (First Year Bachelor of Commerce Student)

Your university experience relies heavily on what you make of it. This year I found that you will often get out what you put in, especially given the current circumstances. While it may take a while to overcome the learning curve that is university, it is ultimately worth sticking it out as it will likely become some of the best years of your life. My parting words of wisdom are not to put too much pressure on yourself to take advantage of every opportunity thrown at you but if you remain willing and open-minded, you will make the most out of your university experience.


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