The Student's Guide to Everything

The Student's Guide to Everything: university student and graduate life from a New Zealand perspective

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First-years: Surviving the first three weeks

The first three weeks of uni can be a minefield: possible pitfalls include feeling lost, walking into the wrong classroom, waiting in line for hours to buy books and missing class.... It's normal to feel nervous about starting uni.

Here's some tips to help you navigate:

Before uni:

  • Finalise your courses if you haven't already done so. Make sure you're doing enough papers to qualify as a student for WINZ, if you receive a student allowance or loan. If you
  • Make a calendar of the times of prospective courses you are taking, to ensure no classes clash. Do you have enough time to get between classes in different locations? Make sure you always have this calendar - put it in your diary or organiser.
  • Go for a walk around campus and work out where your classes are held. This way, you won't feel as lost when you start.
  • Organise your stationary. (See What to bring to class.) Take advantage of "Back-to-school" sales if you can.

The first week:

  • Sign up for tutorials - check against your calendar to make sure they don't clash. Be fast - class sizes are limited, and you may have to take an alternative time if your first choice is full.
  • If you need to change classes or discover you're completely not into that subject, do it in the first two weeks. After (usually) 6 weeks in a course, you'll lose your refund if you drop out.
  • Talk to as many people as you can, especially in your hostel or your classes.


  • Make a list of all the books on your reading list (marked, "required". Don't buy the ones marked "recommended". You won't use them enough.)
  • Buy as many books as you can from the 2nd-hand book sales or online in the first week or two, to save money. Textbooks are super-expensive, especially in the sciences or law. (Check edition numbers carefully to make sure the book is still up-to-date.)
  • If you're ultra-frugal, reserve the books you need at the library ahead of time. Remember usually about 5 textbooks per class are held at the library, so you may still need to buy one come assignment time.
  • Be prepared for long lines at the student bookstore. And even longer lines at the student notes bookstore. The best time to go is early in the morning, or later in the evening.

The first two/three weeks:

  • Be friendly to everyone you meet - you never know who your friends will turn out to be. New Zealand is a small place, after all.
  • Decide if you want to be involved in any sporting or cultural clubs. (Look out for a "clubs day" when all the clubs advertise in a central location at uni. At least for the free lollies!)
  • Check out which local establishments offer student discounts!
  • Establish a spending budget. (More on that later.)
  • Have fun!

Remember that everyone else around you is also feeling insecure and a bit out of their depth, no matter how confident they seem. It's a completely new environment, with different rules, and it's going to be an adjustment from high school.

Because it is a different environment from high school, you can completely reinvent yourself if you so wish - you're not restricted by other peoples' preconceived opinions of you and what you should or should not be or do. Even if you still see them on campus. Get involved in some of the clubs and activities on campus to meet like-minded people - there are so many fun things available.

You may also be living on your own, away from your parents, for the first time. This is a huge adjustment - suddenly you are responsible for yourself and your choices. Don't beat yourself up if you forget a class, get lost, or make a mistake. It's OK. You're learning. You're allowed to get it wrong sometimes. It's all part of the process of making your own rules and growing up. Dont be afraid to talk to your lecturers if you're having a lot of trouble, or you're worried.

You'll be OK. You survived high school! That's much worse. In a few weeks, you'll feel much more confident. Just like those second- and third-years you see walking past.



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