As thousands of first-year students head off to university in the coming weeks, education experts say they should embrace the excitement and opportunity but also ensure they start off on the right track.
“The demands of school and the demands of higher education are worlds apart. New students need to understand what new challenges will come their way and how to handle these,” said Dr Gillian Mooney, dean of academic development and support at The Independent Institute of Education.
“Most importantly and especially those students who excelled at school with not too much effort, need to understand that ‘winging it’ is no longer an option,” she said.
“Some people managed to attain good marks at school with very little work, but this will not be possible at a university.
“There is a big jump from high school expectations on students in terms of the volume and complexity of the work, and there is simply no substitute for long hours spent in the library.”
Tshidi Mathibe, head of the programme offered by the faculty of commerce, said going to university is an opportunity for amazing growth and there will be no other time in life when a person has such freedom to discover who they are and where they want to go in life.
“However, your higher education experience is unlikely going to be like anything you have seen on television and in movies.
“Yet while this new world can be intimidating, there are a few things you can certainly expect and being prepared to respond to these in an informed and mature manner will dramatically increase your chances of success.”
Mathibe said to make the most of the opportunity, first-year students should take note of the following:
- It is important to attend orientation week
Orientation Week, or O-Week, is typically held a week before classes start. It is not compulsory to attend O-Week, but it is a great chance to meet new people, obtain information about your campus and all the activities offered, and just have some fun.
- Every new student is just as anxious as you are to make friends
You can feel quite anxious when you are new to a campus and don’t know anyone. It may also seem as if everybody else already has friends. This is probably not the case because many students are in a similar boat.
“You will meet lots of people who may be very different from you,” said Mathibe. “There will be people from different cultures, economic backgrounds and academic levels. This is an opportunity for you to have new experiences and broaden your frame of reference.”
- Make a friend in every class
It is a very good idea to make a friend in each class that you have. This will allow you to discuss the course material and have someone take notes for you if you have to miss a class – but don’t make a habit of it.
- Understand the difference between lectures and tutorials
Lectures are generally attended by large classes. Often hundreds of people attend in large venues, particularly if you are attending a public university.
“In a lecture hall, you may feel like a lonely student in a vast sea of bodies. Tutorials, however, are generally held in smaller classes where students often feel less intimidated.
“This means they are a good opportunity to ask questions and make new friends. Make an effort to attend every lecture and tutorial, as lecturers and tutors are there to explain difficult concepts and to assist you with your learning,” said Mooney.
- You may feel anonymous
At school, your teacher knew your name – and probably a lot more – about you. At a university with large classes, it will not be possible for the lecturer to learn all the names of hundreds of students, or to have insight into their unique circumstances.
In private higher education institutions, the situation may be different because of smaller class sizes. Whatever the case may be, ensure you get to know your student number by heart, as this is the way you will be identified.
The most important thing to remember as you enter higher education, is that there will be no spoon-feeding and that you are in charge of your own learning
“If you miss a lecture, or do not submit an assignment, no-one will care. Teachers at school would nag you about your homework, but at university you need to know when assignments are due and when and where tests are being written.
“So, right from the start, commit to taking responsibility for yourself, your learning and your success.”
Finally, students must not be afraid to ask for help, Mathibe said.
“A good higher education institution will always have support structures in place such as student guidance and career centres.
“Make use of these support structures, as they will have trained and experienced counsellors to guide you and help you make a success of your studies.”