I must admit, I was naïve when I first attended university. I listened to my high school teachers preach that year 12 was the hardest year of your life and that everything would get easier after that. I (not wanting to brag) got through year twelve with not as much stress as I expected and ended up with a higher score than I thought I could achieve. Do not get me wrong I worked hard, but I was in a good routine of studying before school, working hard during school hours and then studying after school (for a couple of hours each night). I did not work during year twelve and therefore was still able to enjoy some “me time” on the weekends. When being accepted into the Psychology (honours) degree, I was told that I would need to maintain a GPA of 5.5 (out of 7- for those unfamiliar with the Australian University grading system) in psychology related subjects to keep my spot in honours. I did not think this was going to be a challenge- as I said I got through year 12 “the hardest academic year of my life” fine…
I remember getting my first grade at university back, for an elective subject and receiving a HD. My teachers were right- the next four years will be a breeze, I thought. In the very next class, on the same day I received my second grade. A P1! (Roughly 60%) I was so shocked. That brought me down a peg or two. I struggled through my first year (not with terrible grades, but with grades worse than I expected). So, I thought it is important to write a blog post discussing why first year at university is hard. Especially because people may drop out of university due to the difficulties of first year, which is such a shame if they are studying something that they are passionate about. These are the reasons why I think the first year is hard- and it is important to say, that as always I am talking about personal experiences and therefore these reasons are probably more relevant for people going straight to university from school (or after a gap year), as that is what I did.
Everything is changing- It is not only the fact that you have left school (the place that you spent 13 years of your life) and joined a new big scary university with a whole new procedure, but so many other aspects of your life are probably also changing. You may have drifted away from some friends, got a new job, moved out of home, became an ‘adult’ and are just experiencing a general feeling of ‘different’. This can cause stress and uncertainty making you distracted from university work. How to overcome this challenge? It is important to understand that this is a transitional period of your life and forgive yourself for that. Ensure that you do things you enjoy to try to keep your stress levels at a minimal and give yourself time to adjust to your new ‘normal’.
Juggling more than school– Although when you are at school you may have other activities such as part time work or sports, overall you are in a rather nice routine centred around school. You become very busy when you start university and your routine will probably go completely out of the window. In my first year at university I started working 25+ hours a week in retail, coached netball, played netball, volunteered and had a busier social life than ever before. The biggest difference though is that University classes are spread out over the week. I had some days where I only had one class, some days with no classes, and some days with a full block of classes, making structure feel like it is almost impossible. How to overcome this challenge? Something that I started to do in my second year (that I wish I did in my first) was spending some extra hours in the library or study rooms at university to get my revision and assignments completed. If I had a one hour class, instead of making the trip (which at the time was a one hour drive each way) just for one class, I would spend the whole day at uni. You will be surprised by how much work you can get down in a solid day of studying… leaving plenty of time for fun (it is important to live up the student lifestyle).
The standard is expected to be higher- University educators actually do expect a high standard from their students. Those elusive HDs are not just handed out to everyone. It is also important to note here that many people are more than happy to get through university by the motto ‘Ps get degrees’ and for many degrees this is absolutely fine. For some, such as psychology honours, where we had to maintain a C-D average, a higher standard must be achieved. How to overcome this challenge? Put in effort and do not leave assignments to the last minute if you are wanting those HDs (unless you are one of those students who knows a last minute scramble will still get those 85% grades- if you are, I kind of hate you little bit!). Also talk to your teachers- ask them for advice, pay attention to feedback provided and take time to edit and proof-read all your assignments. Spending an extra half an hour doing a final edit could be that 5% difference.
First Year of University is made to be hard– I remember somebody telling me that first year is meant to be hard to wean people out. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make sense that first year is hard so that the people who cannot handle it, or do not enjoy it drop out before they waste 3 or 4 years of their life and a big chunk of money. First year university also involves a lot of introductory course which can be rather boring, making it hard to be motivated to revise for these subjects. This again attributes to the difficulty of first year. How to overcome this challenge? When it gets hard and feels impossible remember that first year is hard for all the reasons I’ve said. Have a think about whether you are not liking it because of these reasons, or if you are not liking it because it is not the right course for you (which there is no shame about). If it is the latter try something else! If you are not sure whether you enjoy the course and are just struggling through first year blues, give yourself one more semester (the first semester of second year) to work it out.
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