Ten things I wish I’d known…

UNSW students and alumni share their tips on making the most of the university experience.  


Sarah Anderson, PR and advertising student, shares some tips for thriving at university. (Credit: Humans of UNSW)

If only someone had told me that!  UNSW students and graduates share their advice on how to make the most of university life. 

You'll never have this much free time ever again. Most people arrive at uni thinking there's so much on their plate. But compared to working life after study, you have all the time in the world! Don't squander it. Do things of meaning outside of your study hours. Start a club. Get involved in a startup. Take up a new sport. Learn a new skill that might be useful one day (like coding). You may find one day it’s the stuff you learnt outside of class that sets you up for an amazing career!

The people you go to class with aren't just your classmates. They may be your future life partner or business partner (my co-founder at Snappr went to College with me). They may be the person who, in a few years, helps you land your dream job. Don't forget that the people around you are going to go on to do amazing things! Make the time to get to know them before they're famous...

-Matt Schiller, UNSW Medicine grad and co-founder of on-demand photography startup Snappr

Remember to be yourself. Feeling disconnected is normal when starting out. But developing a network of friends and acquaintances on campus is a necessity if you want to succeed. Depending on the uni, there could be upward of 50,000 students on campus from all over the world. Express yourself, explore your creativity and be whoever you want to be. Basically, you can let your freak flag fly! Chances are you will find a group of people just like you (or who at least appreciate you).

-Dennis Yu, UNSW Media/Communications student


"Express yourself, explore your creativity and be whoever you want to be." - Dennis Yu. Photo: Humans of UNSW

Be curious, proactive and driven. University offers enormous opportunities for anyone who wants to try new things but unlike high school no one is going to be there to do it for you. It’s all about being self-motivated and driven, so if you don’t get out and talk to people or if you don’t go to your classes no one will be there to chase you up. 

-Adam Hegedus, 2nd year UNSW commerce student, Co-op Scholar and co-founder of charity Educating the Future 


"Go tinker, go hack, go play. The best part about university isn't the classwork." - Hayden Smith. Photo: Sunswift

It's what you learn, not what you score. It's so easy coming out of the ATAR-driven high school world thinking marks alone define your progress and your achievements. Many employers don't want high-scoring graduates, they want smart graduates, and these are not often the same thing. Assess your achievements by what you're learning, not what number is next to your course result. 

Go tinker, go hack, go play. The best part about university isn't the classwork, it’s the people you meet and the things you learn working with them. Don't be afraid to grab your friends and start something. Build a circuit board, start a business, draw some art. It took me a few years to realise that there are so few places like University that offer this environment. 

-Hayden Smith, computer science student and race manager for UNSW’s solar racing car Sunswift 

Get organised. At university you are expected to be an independent learner. Tutors won’t nag you to hand in your assignments on time or to study for tests. They may not even tell you when your exams are on. These things are up to you to figure out and manage for yourself – and this lesson can be learnt the easy way or the hard way!  


"Make use of apps and free stuff on campus." - MIthra Narendaran. Photo: Scott Ashby

Exercise and eat well. Exercising releases endorphins and makes us happy, but it also makes a big difference to our studies. Exercising increases brain power and improves quality of sleep, therefore improving academic performance. When I exercise regularly, I am able to focus better in lectures and tutorials. Eating well is just as important. There is an abundance of free food, if you know where to find it – and, if you’re smart, you can get a free lunch every day of the week.

-Sarah Anderson, UNSW PR and Advertising student

Make use of apps and free stuff on campus.  The lost on campus app is a fantastic tool that will help you find your classes. The interactive maps and guided tours will also help you get to know campus locations. And pick-up the free university diary and assessment wall calendar – they’re great resources to use as you read through your course outlines and organise your semester deadlines. 

-Mithra Narendaran, 4th year Bachelor of Commerce/Law and UNSW student ambassador

Get involved early and often. I wish I’d gotten more involved in the arts community during my undergrad years. Attending events or getting involved in clubs or communities is a great way to network and be inspired by others. Make time to get involved, it's amazing what you will learn! Get involved in the industry while you are at university, either through a society or internship. Getting your foot in the door, so to speak, will be invaluable and aid in you finding a graduate job.

-Alison Phillips, Westpac Future Leaders Scholar and UNSW Master of Urban Development and Design graduate