My Top 5 Tips for Surviving Your First Year at University

Published 14 Mar 2022

By William Dang



Honestly, the first year of university can be intimidating. So if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed (just as I did last year) - we’ve got you covered!

Looking back on my first year, I’d like to think I had a pretty good experience. But, looking back on it, there were also many things I would do differently. So, I wanted to see if some people at DataSoc felt the same way, and asked them about the experiences they had in first year - both the good, and the bad. Here are the top 5 tips I was able to come up with!

If you haven’t already, check out DataSoc’s first year guide, where we’ve put together all the essential information to help you get started at uni!

1. Find your own ways to learn

As you probably already know, you’re completely in charge of how you want to learn at university. While lectures, tutorials and labs are the main way in which the course content is delivered, a lot of the time attendance isn’t compulsory. This differs from course to course though, so it’s good to check this with the course outline and convenor.

Some people really like watching the lectures and tutorials live, and that’s definitely a good place to start. But particularly if you’re short on time, you might find it easier to watch lectures on 2x speed.

Don’t particularly like how the course is taught in lectures or tutorials? You could find recordings of previous offerings of the course on YouTube or Moodle (especially for popular courses like COMP1511 and MATH1131). With course recordings, you could even learn a little bit ahead of schedule (if you’re feeling so inclined).

“Since we’re adults now, there’s a lot more freedom in university, with the option of lecture recordings, society engagements and probably more free time. With more freedom comes more responsibility, meaning that it’s up to you how much effort you put into your studies, and whether you will be able to catch up if you ever fall behind.” - William Feng

“I wish I realised earlier that lectures aren’t the ONLY or the BEST way to learn sooner” - Kento Seki

2. Reach out to others

In high school, you spend 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week with the same people, so it’s a lot easier to meet people and build friendships. As you might have already experienced, making friends in uni can be difficult. In classes, it’s definitely possible, but you’ll probably only see the people in your tutorials once a week for only an hour, for 10 weeks. Despite this, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Trust me, that person very likely wants to talk to you as well - try not to feel too intimidated!

“The best decision I made in first year was putting in effort to make friends and start conversations, no matter how socially awkward I might seem! Ended up making a few lifelong friends whom I probably never would have met had I not gone to lectures and tutorials.” - Kai Mashimo

“Don’t let study get in the way of talking to and building relationships with lots of people in your classes and societies.” - Kento Seki

3. You have more control over your own time - use it wisely!

I touched upon this a bit before, but university is completely different to high school - you’re in charge of your own time. You might have work, internships, extra-curricular activities, uni events and outings alongside uni, and it’s really up to you to decide how much time you want to commit to each of these. A good way to do this is to use a calendar (like Google Calendar):

“University is so different from high school in that you are completely in charge of your own time. The best way that I managed the change was by keeping track of deadlines/events in my calendar and allocating time for different activities. It’s a great way to stay on top of uni work whilst being able to enjoy what uni life has to offer!” - Erica Soenarjo

With this in mind, it’s also important to be realistic. If you have time-intensive commitments, such as a job or extra-curricular activities, chances are you probably won’t have as much time to spend studying for exams or working on assignments. But university isn’t all about marks - employers aren’t just interested in your marks, they also care about your experiences and interpersonal skills!

“I put the same expectations on myself as in high school and once I burnt out trying to reach unrealistic marks and commitments I realised uni is vastly different in terms of the way the regime works. You have the freedom to do what you want but what that really means is that you have to really pick and choose what exactly you prioritise and aligns with your values.” - Claire Xue

4. Get involved in extracurricular life

One of the best decisions I’ve made in my university career thus far was getting involved in extra-curricular life. UNSW is especially well-known for its society culture, so I’d definitely recommend participating in it as well.

In particular, joining the internal team (or subcommittee) of a society is absolutely the best way to meet a community of like-minded people and make new friends. In addition to that, societies really do give you the chance to develop personally and professionally, and cultivate interpersonal skills that will be super beneficial in the workplace (and life in general!)

“Joining DataSoc gave me friends, family, uni support, career support, and purpose” - Winston Sun

“I didn’t join any societies in my first year which set me back a lot. I only realised at the very end of first year that societies were a really crucial part of getting a lot out of the UNSW experience.” - Kai Mashimo

“If you see anything that interests you - an event, new sport, hobby - GO FOR IT! You have absolutely nothing to lose :)” - Erica Soenarjo

5. Don’t be scared to make mistakes!

University is a completely new place for many of you, and an inherent consequence of that is that as a first year, mistakes are bound to happen. One thing I’d like to add is that while it’s nice to not make too many mistakes, perhaps the most important thing is to learn and grow as much as you can from the mistakes you do make. After all, university is an awesome opportunity to develop as a person, so make the most of it while it lasts!

Finally, any food recommendations?

“$3 hot chips from Mamak’s Village” - Erica

“Stellini’s Cafe and Pasta” - Kento

“The Vietnamese kiosk that sells spicy BBQ pork banh mi upstairs above Matthews is the winner in my heart 💓” - Kai

“Hands down lower campus food court is the best: you have the affordable but tasty UNSW institutions of Yallah Eats, Stellini’s (pasta bar) and Guzman Y Gomez. The upper campus gem has to be the Vietnamese place in Mathew’s pavilions - they have a lot of variety! And if you’re looking for a restaurant to eat at near campus, Anzac Parade has got you covered - Time for Thai is a UNSW cultural legacy.” - Claire


Tags: Skills and Guidance Opinion