Campus survival guide

First year uni throws up many challenges. Find out how to balance work, life and study with some tips from UNSW’s Learning Centre.

Campus guide

Planning ahead can go a long way to ensuring your first weeks at uni are positive, says Associate Professor Sue Starfield.

Spend some time on campus before your classes begin. Orientation week, or 0 Week, is a good opportunity to prepare for the academic and social side of university before semester kicks off.

"Take a tour of the campus so you can get familiar with where your lectures are and how to get there," says Starfield, Director of UNSW's Learning Centre.

Subject selection

In most degree programs, you'll have a choice of subjects. Make sure you understand which subjects are prerequisites before choosing your electives.

"You need to understand all the terms like majors and minors, and make sure you're meeting the core course requirements," Starfield says. "You don't want to find in three years time that you have to do another semester because you chose the wrong subject in first year."

Plan ahead

Map out your assignments and exams in advance on a planner to ensure they don't creep up on you. Most universities now post course outlines online before the semester starts, so get a head start on your readings.

"The first assessment tasks are usually due after week five or six, and unfortunately it's at the same time for most subjects," Starfield says. “If you map it out and get started early, you can avoid having to do things the night before they're due."

Time factor

Chances are, you'll have a weekday or two without any classes scheduled, but keep in mind that they’re only one component of university life.

"For every hour of face-to-face uni time, you should be spending three to four hours studying."

Work it out

While many students need to work to fund their study and living expenses, Starfield warns against working so much that it interferes with study.

"There are long end-of-year and mid-year breaks, so, if you can, try to reduce your paid work during the semester and work more over the break. You want to get the most out of uni and do your best."

Ask for help

If it all gets too overwhelming, universities offer many support services, from counselling and career advice to academic skills workshops. Also, lecturers have designated consultation hours each week, if you have any course-specific questions.

"You do have to take responsibility for your own motivation, for being physically there and mentally engaged, but there is so much support there if you need it," Starfield says. “Don't just walk away and think it’s all too hard.”

The UNSW Learning Centre has a First Steps: Beginners Guide to University  to help students understand the differences between school and university and how to get started in first semester.

Find a guide to exam skills here.

Media contact: Fran Strachan | 9385 8732 | 0429 416 070