How to Prepare for University Over Summer
You’ve signed off your last exam, binned everything NCEA related in the house and now patiently await the start of February to start tertiary education and reinvent yourself.
Although the hard yards of choosing a location, enrolling and sorting accommodation are done, there is still plenty to suss before you step onto campus in a few short months.
We have collated the ultimate handbook for being A+ prepared for starting university or any other form of further education (or even just starting a full-time job after high school). Everything from academics to moving out, with advice for those going into halls, flatting or staying at home. Real advice from us here at StudyTime who have been through it all ourselves so you can learn from our mistakes.
Choosing Your Degree
Some of you may have known what you wanted to study since year 6, while others of you still haven’t been able to decide whether to follow your academic side or an acting career. Either way, by now you will have enrolled in a degree and hopefully that decision was based on your passion and interests.
We say hopefully because we understand that when you’re a young adult, making such a big decision can sometimes be influenced by other things. Maybe your parents want you to be a doctor? Maybe none of your friends are studying the same degree? Or maybe your dream degree is only at a university too far away from home? The decision of what and where to study should be solely up to you- everything else will fall into place around it.
Future Job Prospects
We know most of you want to go to uni to live the *student life* and *make lifelong friends* but remember, the purpose of tertiary education is getting a degree to get qualified for certain jobs. The trap many students fall into is choosing a pathway that is way too broad. The thinking there is on the basis that generalisation = more choice but this is not always how it works. Many employers WANT you to be as specialised as possible because it means your skills are far more polished in that area.
Do your research on the degree you are choosing and if it will lead you to the place where you want to end up. What additional papers will boost your employability even higher? Does this dream job exist in NZ or is something else better suited for staying in the country? Job prospects of your degree are not necessarily the make or break of your choice but are important to think about. Here’s where to find out all this info…
Whether you have spoken to one at high school or not, it is always SO helpful to book an appointment with one at your university. This is super chill where you basically tell them your life story and what you want to do in the future, and they give you advice on the best option for you. They have all the inside knowledge on the university and how it all works so it saves you having to decipher it all on the website. Try subject-specific career counsellors if available as they are even more in the know about possible pathways.
If you are really undecided on what you want to do, a career expo/evening might be a better option to start with. This lets you explore a whole range of options from people who actually study/work in that field and will hopefully narrow down your choices. There are heaps of these during the first few weeks of uni or even before the year starts so be on the lookout.
Changing Your Degree
This big, life-defining choice is really not that big or life-defining after all. You can change your degree as many times as you like before the year begins, or even once the year has started. You will likely have to do a shift of catching up on the content but other than that, you won’t be at any disadvantage. The worst thing you can do is remain in a paper you know you hate and won’t ever do anything with. You are the only one who can decide this so don’t be afraid to speak up!
Understanding the Structure of University
Although university is a learning environment, it could not be more different from conventional 9-3 schooling. Content is delivered predominantly through lectures where you sit in a huge hall and take notes while the professor speaks from a Powerpoint for an hour. There is no one to make sure you understand the content, that you paid attention or even attended, actually. The content you learn, you will then apply in various contexts like tutorials and labs which require more participation.
Basically, be aware that you will not be in a classroom for 6 hours a day and that no one will be calling your mum to ask her why you are ditching class. It’s time for you to step up and start adulting.
Understanding Your Chosen Papers
The format of papers at university differs widely between departments and even from within departments. There are differences in the contact time every week, delivery method of content and also in the way that content is assessed. A top tip is to familiarise yourself with these before you begin to orientate yourself around what your weeks will look like.
Does the paper have 3 hour labs or 1 hour tutorials? Is it all classroom-based or are there field trips throughout the semester? Will it be assessed mostly in essays or a big exam at the end? These are all good things to find out before starting.
Studying Outside of Class Time
Although a few weeks of cram study may have worked for NCEA to scrape you an excellence, it will likely not fly well at university. Like mentioned above, the content is thrown at you during a one hour lecture, then you leave on your merry way. This is like listening to a podcast and expecting to recall everything you just listened to. Impossible.
You will need to dedicate time outside of your timetabled classes to sit down and digest the content. Make flashcards, write up notes or do some practise questions- you will thank yourself come exam time.
As you may have picked up by the previous paragraphs, university treats you like an adult. It is no bother to them if you skip your lectures and don’t do any study- you still pay the same fees to them regardless. The only way to get through and succeed will be with self-discipline. Make yourself get up for those 8am’s, say no to that night out before your big exam and prioritise library time over bingeing a new season of your favourite Netflix show. You are the one that holds all the power next year.
(Disclaimer: this is in no way to mean the university does not care about you, they just don’t baby you along the way. If you do need support and have to miss class due to circumstances out of your control, there is tonnes of help from your hall or the uni.)
Bring Some of Home with You
The small stuff really does make a difference when settling in with such big changes, so a top tip is bringing stuff to make things feel a little more like home.
Physical: Bring photos, posters, a duvet cover, your favourite coffee cup, a special keychain (or a soft toy- no one has to know). Anything that is important to you to make you feel more comfortable. Having these around will remind you of the memories they hold and make you feel more at home.
Mental: Keeping up some of your usual routines will help make the new environment seem less overwhelming. Instead of Sunday family dinner together, maybe set a time every Sunday to video call your parents instead. If you went out for coffee with your best friend on Saturdays, find a friend and keep up the routine. These can be as big or as small as you like and are a huge help during those first few weeks.
Up until now, your parents have probably been your biggest supporters in life and leaving that can be scary. Being independent is a big step and everyone understands you are in the process of adjusting. You are not alone though! There is so much support from your hall and university if anything arises and you need support for anything- big or small.
This can include things like employment, finding a flat for second year, issues with your dorm room, breakups, sickness, mental health- it all stretches beyond academics. Plus your parents are always only a phone call away.
Everyone is in the Same Boat
Again: cliché alert. You will probably hear this phrase 100 times in the first week at uni but it’s so true. No one has their life together, no matter how well they seem to be nailing everything on the outside. Everyone has just left home, is questioning their degree choice and still figuring out how to use the washing machine by themselves. You are supposed to be clueless and figuring things out as you go along so don’t stress about not having it all perfect.
To live independently you need to become *a domestic queen* and it’s usually easier to learn skills before you move out- it’s less daunting and your parents are on hand in case you set something on fire. Some of you may have all these aced already, but we all know that friend who couldn’t fry an egg even if their life depended on it. Do not be that friend…
Those living at home– we see you. This section is just as relevant to you guys even though your parents will still be around. We assume you will want to be treated as an adult by your parents now that you have moved to university so you will be expected to act like it. You might be asked to cook dinner once a week, start doing your own laundry or clean your share of the house- as any other adult or flatmate would do.
Even if not, these skills will be necessary in a few years when you do leave, so it’s never too early to start.
Most halls have catering where all the meals are prepared for you which can be a huge weight off your shoulders with so much going on in a new environment. Other halls offer only partial catering, no catering at all or maybe the financials don’t seem worth it for you- or you’re straight into flatting. Whatever the reason, you have to feed yourself out of your own pocket.
If you are doing cooking yourself, learn the basics from your parents before you leave. Learn some quick, budget-friendly meals to have up your sleeve and things that you can prep in bulk to pull out for the busy days.
If you are entering into a hall that is catered, what you should do is familiarise yourself with what is available for you in terms of making your own food. You usually won’t have access to an oven or stove, but should have access to a communal fridge, kettle, toaster and microwave for freelance use. These could be your saviour on nights when the mystery meatloaf doesn’t quite cut it for hall dinner. Microwave-friendly meals, noodles and toast will quickly become an easy staple dinner but try to be creative with it and find some recipes that can utilise the appliances available!
If the magic laundry fairy has washed and folded your laundry until now, we hate to break it to you but this fairy will not follow you to uni. There is actually lots to think about with laundry that may not be so obvious- colours, water temperature, cycle duration, mixing materials, drying the clothes. Like stated before, ask your parents for instructions when they do the next load so you don’t ruin your favourite shirt.
Another thing to familiarise yourself with is what laundry facilities are available at your chosen accommodation. Most halls offer free-of-charge washing machines and dryers for use but often do not have outdoor lines for air drying. Dryers can melt or shrink certain materials so do your research and ask your parents!
We hate to say it but also learn when to do your laundry. Your last day of clean underwear may be a little late- try a few days before your last pair and your life will be changed, we promise.
This is a bigger task if you are moving into a flat as you will have to divide up the flat and each do your share of cleaning. Using the wrong cleaning products can seriously damage surfaces, etc. and apart from looking like a fool in front of your flatmates, your landlord will hit you with a hefty bill for it. There are also the gross consequences of no one cleaning the flat like bug problems and mold which are so not worth it.
Another thing about living away from home is no one reminding you to clean your room. Messy and unclean rooms can again lead to hygiene problems but also make it harder to focus on studying and may be embarrassing when your friends come to hang and there aren’t any empty spots for them to sit. Listen to your mum and air your room out, do your washing and don’t hoard dishes.
Living at Home
The majority of first-years have to move out of home simply because of the location of their uni but we have not forgotten those who are staying at home! If you are living and studying in the same location next year, the decision is upon you whether to stay or move out. Below are some tips for surviving the year at home with the rents, the pets and the bros.
Commuting vs. Paying Rent
Some people may find themselves in that niggly location where the commute is big but not quite big enough to justify moving out- or so it seems. Weighing out the two options takes much more than the initial fuel vs. rent costs so have a think about how these other factors apply to you:
- Time is money– take time to think about how your commuting may turn an 8 hour uni day into a 10 hour day. Could your time be better spent studying, resting or maybe even at a part-time job? Time is so much more valuable than you may give it credit for.
- Course structure– like mentioned above, most courses have classes scattered throughout the day with no rhyme or reason so commuting will mean you have to stick around campus all day during your timetable gaps instead of being able to pop back and forth.
- Driver fatigue– early mornings or late nights can mean your driving is impaired and being constantly tired is basically a trademark for university students so this is a real risk.
- Carpooling– if you are able to split the driving time (and costs) with a friend or two, commuting will quickly become less of a stress and hazard.
- Socialising– commuting will probably mean you are not going to be around for late night ice cream trips, weekend drives or nights out with your uni friends. These spontaneous things will need to be organised 3-5 business days in advance for you to be able to realistically plan to be there for them. It’s not a major deal breaker if you have friends staying home too, but definitely something to consider.
Talk to Your Parents
We assume that even though you are staying at home, you will wish to be treated a little differently to your high school self. This may seem like a no-brainer to you but your parents might not have considered this angle. Communication is the key to having the transition go well and it’s better done earlier rather than later.
Have a discussion with your parents about what you would like from them this coming year. Students often want more independence and for their parents to step back from treating them like a child but nothing will change if you don’t ask. Lay it all out so you can all agree on a compromise from the getgo and avoid conflict down the line. This needn’t be scary- remember your parents experienced this exact same frustration not that long ago!
Remember independence is a two-way street. By gaining the freedom to do what you like, your parents might have ideas of their own for this new adult version of you. Every family is different but this is just a warning to not get too blindsided if your parents bring their own cards to the negotiation table. You might be asked to start paying towards rent or groceries, cooking your own food, doing your own laundry, or scrubbing the toilet when it’s your rostered week. With adult privileges come great adult responsibilities, even in your own home.
Although money does not buy happiness, it does unfortunately make the adult world go round. The same adult world you are mere months from entering into. You may think you’re already quite clued up on money but it’s a whole new ballpark once you move out and the bank of mum and dad sadly shuts down.
No matter how frugally you try to live whilst in catered halls, expenses will sneak up on you. Midnight snacks, coffee dates, eating out to avoid mystery meatloaf Monday, ball tickets, toiletries, stationary, birthday presents- the list goes on. Money is always good to have to treat yourself and for those unexpected expenses. You don’t want to be that guy who can’t go for a coffee because his bank account is sitting at 5 cents.
Consider Getting a Job
Although the weekly studylink payments should leave a bit of cash in your pocket, this alone will likely not be enough to get you through the year. Life likes to throw curveballs like your laptop breaking a week out from exams, dropping your phone into the toilet or accidentally getting your car towed. Emergencies often require emergency savings and a great way to top these up is by working the summer and saving up.
If that’s not an option for you, another idea is getting a part-time job in your university city. This will obviously depend on how busy your course is and your other commitments but even a few hours a week will see the figures stacking up.
Shopping for Your New Space
Whether you’re shopping just for a dorm room or a whole flat, it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement and go way overboard. This wastes your money, clutters your space and is bad for the environment. To try to avoid this, consider the following when on your shopping spree-
- How big is your room?
- What is already provided?
- Are there things you can take from home instead of buying?
- Is this something you will enjoy for a few months then throw away?
- Do all your purchases make sense together?
- Will you actually use it?
Remember you can always buy more things once you get to uni and suss how much space you actually have. Trust us when we say less is more in those tiny dorm rooms.
Make the Most of Your Last Summer at Home
This one is a wee bit cheesy so we’ve left it to last but trust us on this. You might be counting down the days or hours or minutes until you can leave to start your glamorous adult life but it’s true when they say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
Appreciate Your Family
Trigger warning: Cliché. Moving away can seem great at first but slowly you begin to miss the little things. Mum’s cooking, stealing your sister’s clothes, family game nights and even the dad jokes. Try to soak it all in before you head off and don’t waste the last weeks with petty fights or hiding in your room.
Also think about how they feel. No matter if you’re the first to leave home, the last or in between, it’s going to be hard for them to lose a baby from the nest no matter how much they hide it. Suppress the teen angst and give them a few extra hugs before the big day, it will mean the world to them.
Spend Time with Friends
This is a no brainer for friends moving to different places but what everyone tends to overlook is the friends going to the same city. You convince yourself you’ll see them there and hang out doing all the new and exciting things together but really, this is often not the case. More often than not, both of you will get caught up in your own halls, friend groups, clubs & studies and unintentionally become distant. We’re not saying all your friendships will drift apart, but don’t expect to remain best buds with everyone from highschool so see them before you leave!
So there you have it, the ultimate summer to-do list to get you ready for tackling uni and the big adult world. Everything will be new and scary but it will all work out- remember this is just the next stage of your life, not the rest of it. Don’t be afraid to change your study plans or even stop studying if it isn’t working out (for a while or even forever), but just make sure that whatever you choose is what YOU want to do. OK, cliché over. Go enjoy your summer.