This time next week summer will have officially ended and another university semester commenced here in Australia. As we studious types pack away our swimsuits and dust off our book bags, the impending study load can often send us spiralling into a pit of anxiety and dread.
I like to think that in my fifth and final year of study I have finally mastered the art that is surviving semester without a mental breakdown. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way – hopefully they work for you too.
- A good timetable = a good semester
Your timetable will define your life over the next four(ish) months. My first semester timetable was traumatic – I had classes over four days with five hour gaps and classrooms all over campus (#firstworldproblems). But seriously, I lived about two hours from campus and had 8am starts and 6pm finishes and I really struggled to maintain my part-time job at the time due to the ridiculous amount of time I was spending on the train going to and from class.
Most universities have tools that you can use to optimise your timetable based on minimal days spent on campus and/or break times between classes. I usually choose my subjects based on the best timetable I can achieve because I prefer to minimise my time on campus over enjoying what I study in my time spent there. Just kidding. Sort of.
- What are your priorities?
In an ideal world a full-time student would be able to live off the satisfaction of a high distinction instead of food, but for most of us, it just isn’t realistic to achieve straight A’s and also pay our rent on time. A crucial part of succeeding at uni is learning how to balance your studies with your other commitments and sometimes it just isn’t possible to do everything 100%.
Depending on your situation, decide what in your life you cannot live without (i.e. food, water, a speedy wifi connection) and prioritise your time around this. If you need to work full-time to support yourself then decide just how demanding a job you can handle and how many subjects you can manage at the same time.
I realise that many people will argue with this advice but a professor of mine once told me that those who excel at uni and those who just pass receive the same piece of paper at the end of their degree. Remember that not all university subjects are created equal and some are far more demanding than others. I often make a decision early on in semester as to which subjects I need to spend more time studying for in order to finish the year with both a passing grade and my sanity (more on this below).
On the same note – don’t take on too much if you can avoid it. Uni hasn’t even officially started yet and I’ve already been too busy to write more than one entry for this blog a week.
- Have a game plan
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most organised or dedicated student. That being said, every semester without fail I make a specific effort to plan my assignments to make sure I don’t let my habit of procrastinating get the better of me.
At the beginning of every semester I always comb through my course profiles and work out which assignments are due when, their weight on my grade and just how much effort is involved to pass. I visualise this information in either a table or on a calendar and keep it in my living room where I will see it every day. I can then plan which assignments I will start when without melting into an anxious pool of stress as four essays are suddenly due within a day of each other (true story). I’ve found that doing this helps me to plan my social and work life around the busy periods of semester and ensures I’m not blindsided by any impending due dates.
I find that this is super important as I am a serial procrastinator (my apartment is never cleaner than when I have an assignment due). HOWEVER, since doing this I have yet to submit an assignment late or (better yet) fail a course.
- Make a friend
Australian university is nothing like you see in American movies. It’s just not. I’ve spoken to so many other students about this and we’ve all come to the same conclusion: being a university student in the digital age is an isolating experience. Yet, most of us are feeling the same way and it’s not impossible to find likeminded people – provided you look in the right places – and it may just save you from the crushing burden that is tertiary study.
If you’ve found your major/specialty, spot familiar faces and make yourself known to them. It’s likely that you’ll share a few classes over the next few years and a friendly face may be the only thing keeping you coming to class as your degree progresses. You’re more likely to have common interests with each other and it’s always handy to have a friend in the same course in case you miss a class or need to borrow notes.
Make an effort in your group assignments. Personally, I would rather take a long bath in a swarm of angry bees than do a group assignment. But, I am yet to find a lecturer willing to give me course credit for doing so. Group assignments are great in the sense that for the first time since school you’re actively being forced to associate with your peers. Some of them may be horrible, but others may actually be potential friends that you’ll be grateful to have made when it comes to future courses.
Join the society/club for your chosen field. Membership is usually only a few dollars and it’s a gateway to social events and other opportunities you may miss out on otherwise. To be honest, I’ve really only passively taken my own advice with this one. I tend to join these things without really participating actively in the society, but I feel better at least knowing that there’s an event coming up on the odd chance I feel like going. (Note to self: follow own advice.)