20 January 2014

10 tips for first-year students

Your first year is exciting, but also a bit scary. More than a bit. And the last thing you want to do is to make a mess of this.


School’s over and you’re on the way to a new campus and a new life. A new course, living in res or on your own for the first time, new friends. It’s exciting, but also a bit scary. More than a bit. And the last thing you want to do is to make a mess of this.

Firstly, forget everything you’ve seen on TV. Living on campus and being a student can be fun, but it also consists of hours and hours of hard work and studying. It isn’t a non-stop party. Well, for some people it is, but you don’t usually see them around in second year.

Here are some tips for those heading towards campuses in the next few weeks.

Use the student services. The university pays for this service. There are usually career counselling services, a psychological counselling service and a medical service. These do not cost you anything – make use of them. These people are experts in their fields and really will be able to help you – whatever the problem might be. Many people get depressed during their first year, because it is a massive change in lifestyle. Talk to a professional about it. Also use the library and the internet services for study purposes. It shouldn’t cost you any extra. Consider doing a course in study skills.

Hold back on the spending. Whether your studies are being paid for by your parents, or by means of a student loan or a bursary, it’s expensive to study. Don’t buy all your clothes before you hit the campus, as you might find you’ve spent a lot of money on things no one else is wearing. That’s fine if you want to make a statement, but if you don’t, buy new stuff only after the academic year has started. Also keep in mind that second hand textbooks are a lot cheaper than new ones. Eat in student facilities – they are subsidised and therefore a lot cheaper. Consider getting a part-time job to help fund your pocket money.

Remember safe sex at all times. This cannot be emphasised enough. Having sex is not a decision to take lightly. But remember that having safe sex is a non-negotiable. If it means always carrying a condom with you, then do it. You don’t even want to think about the alternatives.

Get into a routine. There’s a new whirlwind of activities and duties and friends and social occasions. But you are there to study: so it’s best that you get into a studying routine straight away, so it doesn’t move to the bottom of your agenda. Passing your course is your ticket to being on campus for another year, so don’t neglect it. Make exercise and healthy eating part of your routine as well. The odd hamburger isn’t going to kill you, but have one every day, and it might just.

Phone home. Your parents are probably worried about you. Phone them at least once a week, or send them an e-mail. It might be difficult for them to have you out of the house, and they need regular contact with you. Keep them up to date with how your studies are going – especially if they are paying for them.

Take the right medication. If you have a medical condition, make sure the people who live with you know about it. They should know what to do in an emergency. Also find a pharmacy close by and get prescriptions for the right medication from the student doctor.

Get enough sleep. You are probably still growing and need your eight hours a night. Without it, it’s difficult to concentrate in class and get through the next day. Constant sleep deprivation is also not good for your health. Buy earplugs if you live in a noisy place.

Choose your friends carefully. Some people make friends easily, others don’t. Many first years are actually quite lonely. But because everyone is in a new setup, it’s easier to make friends at this time than it probably will ever be again. Choose them carefully, though. Go for interesting and friendly people, but be careful of people who drag you down, who denigrate you in any way, or whose lifestyles contain things that make you uncomfortable.

Don’t get the booze blues. First year students drink too much. Well, most of them anyway. And it’s understandable. You’re under stress, away from home for the first time and it’s a social thing to do. There is also quite a bit of social pressure to do this. Not to speak of drugs. Have the odd beer or glass of wine by all means – after all, you have not just joined a monastery – but do keep moderation in mind. Hangovers are the pits. So is a drinking problem.

Attend classes. Obviously here and there you’re going to miss one. But attend the vast majority. Important things get said here, that cannot be gleaned from someone else’s notes the next day. It’s also good that the lecturers get to know who you are. It’s so much easier to fail someone if you cannot put a face to the name.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2010)


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