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First year University Survival Guide

So, I don't know about you all but I found the transition to University quite hard. It was such a culture shock - having to be accountable for your own learning. The lecturers don't really care if you turn up or fail. While there are compulsory classes in some cases, you still have to make the decision to go and pay attention. Therefore, I have decided to make a "First-Year Survival Guide".


Don't buy the textbook as soon as you get your course outline. It may say 'recommended' but it's really not. Even if you think you are going to struggle with the content, there is plenty of online recourses like Khan Academy or Crash Course. I bought my psychology textbook a week into university and did not open it once - I get that you want to be organised but honestly, I ended up just wasting a lot of money.

If you do buy textbooks - buy them secondhand. There is no shame in buying a used textbook. While I do tend to get the nice-looking ones without highlighting all through it - you can choose if you want it in perfect or used condition.

Go to your lectures. Please just save yourself the pain and worry. It is just a struggle to watch them all in one go (if your lectures are recorded like mine are) and you actually can meet people in lectures. If it's a smaller class it tends to become a little community if you have a funny/good lecturer. This goes without saying, but also go to your tutorials/labs (they are usually compulsory anyway).

Type up notes as you go. I hated doing this almost every week but I knew that it would save me a lot of time when mid-semester and final exams hit. I found a space in my timetable where I had about 2 hours free and began typing up my notes from the lecture. My perfectionist need to edit and finish them really helped with it as well. I used OneNote in my first year which I transcribe from my hand-written notes, and then now I’m using Goodnotes on my iPad (which I am loving).

Have a look at a major if you have to choose one. If you haven't already. And it's okay to change your major as well. Don't declare it until you have to because a lot of people change their minds (I changed my major 3 times before settling). You don't want to end up having to delay your degree because you didn't take the necessary courses in first year.

  • Remember to eat food. If you have a crazy timetable like I did in university, I did not have a long enough break on some days (9-5 on a Wednesday killed me) to have a proper lunch. So just eat in lectures, no one cares really - snacking often is the best way. Note: BRING FOOD. Buying it is expensive, especially on campus.

  • Exercise and sleep. I am the last person to preach exercise because I literally did none in my final year of high school. None. However, there are quite a few studies that have shown that exercise improves memory retention. The same with sleep - even sleeping one hour more (in this study it was an increase from 6 hours to 7) a night improved first-year university students test marks by an average of 10%.


I know that a lot of first-year university students find it difficult to find a system on note-taking in lectures/tutorials that works for them. My first recommendation is just to try a few different methods out! Some extremely nice lecturers, post their notes up on the university course website before the lecture starts (treasure them). In that case, I would usually type up my condensed version of the notes beforehand on OneNote/Word with pictures and then with a different colour, type up and pay attention to what the lecturer is saying. That way you already know the content and are just refreshing your memory. I also find that I am usually too focused on writing my notes to properly concentrate on what the lecturer is actually saying - which is what writing your notes beforehand helps with.

If the lecturer doesn't post the lecture slides before, then I usually (and tend to normally anyway) just hand-write my notes. From there I type my notes up and insert relevant pictures or paragraphs that I may have missed out on. It may take you a few weeks but you will find out what works best for you.

I do have to say, however, according to some studies, hand-written notes are superior to laptops in terms of memory retention.


  • A waterbottle. Metal is always good and BPA in plastic waterbottles are mildly toxic. I splurged and got a small metal corkcicle because I don't have a lot of room in my bag for a large one.

  • Get a good backpack. Sure, shoulder bags are cute but once you are carrying 10kg of food/books/laptop/pens/waterbottles by one shoulder and it's cold and raining, it's not fun. Invest and get a nice and durable bag - any brand is fine. Get something that is leather/waterproof, maybe with a laptop pocket. If you aren't afraid to spend money, I recommend Crumpler, Rushfaster or RAINS. They are gender neutral and come in nice colours. However, if you need to save money or really don't want to spend upwards of $50 then have a look at: ASOS or Herschel (there are a lot more out there if you want to shop around).

  • Laptop. I don't have a big preference on Apple vs. Microsoft or whatever. I do have a Mac just because I find the operating system easy to use and I find the Surface Pro keypad and trackpad annoying. Based on your course/personal preferences find one that will last 3/4 years and will serve its purpose. Sure if you have the money, why not get a high-tech new flashy laptop, but if you only need it for note-taking and writing assignments then there's not a massive difference with choosing a less expensive model.

  • Good shoes. Especially in laboratory classes – while currently I am wearing cute high heeled boots to my labs and lectures - comfortable and easy to run in shoes is a must.

Overall, I just want to say, university is great. You meet so many new people and learn so much. Don't waste it - you're paying upwards of $7,000 (ish?) a year to learn, don't graduate knowing you could have done more/worked harder/made more friends.


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