What I wish I knew before going to Uni
If you’re in your last year of high school, you’re probably sick of being asked where you’re going to go to university. By the end of my last year of high school I was bugged by this question so often that I had to carry a fly-swatter everywhere.
Nobody asked me ‘Are you going to go to university?’ but perhaps they should have.
Many high-school students feel they need to go to university because it’s what you’re ‘supposed’ to do after high school. However, it’s not unusual to make this decision despite not knowing much about how university works, how to pay for it, or if it’s even the best option straight after high school.
So here at StudyTime, we’ve rounded up all the things we wished we thought about before we went to University – and put it into article form.
Rather than relying on crowd mentality, or what your mum and dad know from going to uni in the 1980s (when it cost like $2), read our uni breakdown (pun intended). We hope it helps you feel empowered to make decisions about your future.
1. It’s going to cost a lot, but StudyLink is a lifesaver
As of this year, all New Zealand residents starting study for the first time have the opportunity to get a year of fees-free study. This means that, thankfully, the cost of getting a degree is going down. Hopefully, one day, NZ students won’t need to worry about massive student loans at all.
Unfortunately, for now, fees-free will only cover a portion of your costs at university. You’ll have to consider how to meet the other costs.
Most people will cover living costs partially using a student loan or allowance. Student loans have to be paid back after your degree is finished when you get work. Luckily, in New Zealand, loans are interest-free. The average student loan debt of NZ students is $21,000. Hopefully we should see this go down over time thanks to fees-free study.
If you take out the full student loan, you will be able to receive $230 per week for living costs. You’ll also get a one-off of $1000 for course-related costs.
How far this money will take you will be dependent on the town you’re living in and your type of accommodation. Hall accommodation, for example, is often much more expensive than flatting. That being said, residential halls are often all-inclusive where flatting is not. Use a budgeting site like Sorted to plan out how you will cover your costs at university.
The student allowance is available to students whose parent(s) income is under a certain threshold. Basically if your parents have a combined income of less than $102,893 dollars, you might be eligible, but check eligibility here.
If you are eligible, then you can receive $230 per week for living costs + $60 for accommodation costs (if you’re living away from the parental home) + $1000 course related expenses. You won’t have to pay this money back after university.
You may also be in a position where you can receive some of your portion of $230 living costs as student allowance and the rest as student loan. However, the maximum amount of living costs you will get in your bank per week is $230 (plus $60 if you get any student student allowance).
Regardless of whether you’re going to receive the student loan or the student allowance, it’s a good idea to talk to your parents or an adult you trust about how to cover your university costs.
2. In the long run, a degree is still a good investment
When it comes to money, there’s still a pretty good argument in favour of getting a degree. The Ministry of Education reports that those with a bachelor’s degree earn much more over their lifetime than those with lesser or no qualifications.
It’s important look at the specific course you’re thinking of taking and investigating outcomes using the tools on websites. These can tell you more about the investment you’re about to make in education. NZ careers can tell you a lot of information about different study pathways in New Zealand to pretty much any career under the sun. Studyspy allows you to compare courses within New Zealand and look at the pay outcomes for students who took that course.
A degree might make you richer, but the jury’s still out on if it can make you happy. Just because it might mean you earn more doesn’t mean you’ll be happier, as many studies show after a certain point more money isn’t really linked to happiness. We reckon it’s pretty important to weigh up your relative satisfaction with your “career of choice” – not only how much you’re likely to earn from it. Are you going to be happy if you get to sleep on a cash bed every night, but spend 40 hours a week doing something you hate?
3. ‘Don’t Fall in Love With the Plan’
It feels like a huge amount of students feel pressure to choose their forever-career in high school. Some teachers even make you feel like you need to know what you’re doing with your entire life by the time you pick subjects for Year 11. If you’re not really sure what you’ll be doing for a career, and not confident you’ve made the right choice for study next year, you’re in good company. It’s common for people to change degrees, majors and minors throughout their time at university. 40% of NZ bachelors students change qualifications before they complete them, including 23% to another degree. Many people don’t finish their degrees.
In New Zealand, only 59% of people who start a bachelors degree finish it. And these are just the degrees! Most people don’t stick with the same idea of what they’ll do after their degree, and that’s OK because many degrees have multiple possible career pathways.
Some people must change degrees, because they don’t gain entry into the course they hoped they would. For example, after first year health science in Otago, the 750 applicants for medicine will be whittled down to 200. That’s of the original 1500 people who begin the course hoping to apply to a professional course.
Those who don’t get into medicine must go on to Plan B, which may be another professional course such as dentistry, and if that doesn’t work out, Plan C might be a Bachelor of Science, or indeed, something else entirely.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to keep your options open at university. Most of the time, papers from an old plan can still count towards a new major or degree. For example, those who don’t get into a health profession course at Otago haven’t got to start over again. All of their first year course could still count towards a science (or even arts) degree. All they might need to catch up on is any compulsory first year courses of their new major.
4. Taking a gap year isn’t going to put you behind
If you’re super unsure about your future education direction, you may want to take a gap year and do something else. High school leavers feel so much pressure to choose what to do right away, but life isn’t a sprint and you can take time to decide.
As we already touched on, many people change their mind about what degree to do. These changes can be expensive, and take longer to finish their degrees than they could have. If you don’t feel confident about what course to, do consider taking a gap year in which you focus on getting out of that school bubble and experiencing some of the world. This might be a better use of your time than battling through a uni course you aren’t motivated for. When you have a better idea what to do, study will be waiting for you.
You’ll learn about yourself and what it’s like being out of school, no matter what you do.
Working an entry-level job can teach you a lot about the working world. If you’re able to get a job in a similar industry to one you’re considering working in, this can be like ‘trying-before-you-buy’. An insiders look at what you could be doing without the commitment of a $30,000 dollar degree!
If you struggle to find a job in an area you’re interested in, work can be worthwhile anyway. Many people see the benefit of working a job like packing bags at the supermarket or waiting at a restaurant. These jobs give them a life-long appreciation of workers in the service industry, a savvy ability to understand human nature and how to work in a team under pressure.
Another common thing to do on a gap year is to travel. Often, people will work for part of the year and use the money they make to travel. Travel is renowned for opening eyes and helping us understand the world we live in. There are many options for travelling and working as well, and companies that organise gap year trips for people. Make sure you thoroughly research your options and talk to plenty of people with experience travelling and going for gap years.
You can learn more about the pros and cons of gaps years, as well as abundant links to other information about travel gap years, on the NZ careers page here.
5. Adjusting to uni might be difficult, but there’s plenty of support
Not everyone finds it easy to adjust to University life.
One of the most difficult things about university is that many of us, particularly those who move away from home, undergo massive changes in several areas of life at once.
It’s like going from juggling two balls to juggling six, and they’re on fire. Living away from home for the first time can be difficult. You’ll have to get used to being entirely in control of your own schedule. You’re entirely responsible for ringing the doctor, keeping the snacks replenished, paying the bills, getting a modicum of exercise and going to bed before two am. What’s more, the people around you likely experiencing exactly the same amount of glorious freedom / anarchy against normal daily routines. Some people will rebel against the norm for years — only exercising when running to hand in an essay on time, testing the limits of their livers and seeing the daylight as much as a vampire.
A good indicator of if you’ll struggle with adjusting to the level of independence you’ll experience at university is how much control your parents or guardians had over your life before university. If your parents did a lot of things like chores, planning or helping you make decisions for you (whether you wanted them to or not), you might be in for a bit of a shock. Now you get to run your own life!
If your parents encouraged you to be independent and make your own decisions, that’s a good sign you might not have so much trouble.
Then there’s a support network and new friends. Whether or not you have friends at the university you’ll be attending can make a big difference to how easy it is to settle in. If you’re surrounded by friends you’ve had for ages, you might not have so much trouble. If you’re alone and have to make a bunch of new friends while adjusting to creating your own routine AND getting used to studying, it might be hard.
Part of whatever you do next year is adjusting slowly to all of the new things you’ll try. Don’t expect to ‘get’ everything right away. So long as you keep turning up everyday and trying a bit of everything on your plate, you’ll be in the swing of things before long. There are heaps of support systems at university that are there to help you get through any bumps you might hit in the road.
6. ‘Home Sickness’ can be Depression
There is a very high rate of mental health problems among students, and unfortunately not all of the adults that work in the university sector understand how serious these problems can be. They often tout pamphlets describing ‘homesickness’ to students that are seriously suffering from mental health problems. Moving away to university can be very stressful and bring on hard times for some people.
Sometimes, students haven’t really faced mental health problems before and don’t recognise the symptoms. They may not have received any information at high school letting them know that depression is a serious, but common and treatable problem. Calling it ‘home sickness’ belittles their issue and may make it harder to identify.
Also, in a new city, they may not know where to go for help. If you’re going to a study institution, identify your student health provider, which is where students can access health providers, counselling and psychology services. These are often the best port of call if you feel like you’re struggling with mental or physical health. Just google the name of your institution along with ‘student health’ or ask at your institutions main help-desk.
7. University builds confidence in a safe environment
There’s a good reason so many people go to university straight out of high school. The beaten path is beaten for good reason — sometimes, striking out into the world alone is a terrifying idea.
University is like a training-ground for adulthood. You’ll go and be in the exact same boat as the people around you. You’ll have company at you get to grips with the ins and outs of adulthood.
If you do decide you want to go to uni, we hope you consider these takeaways:
Make sure you don’t just go to a certain university or hall, or do a certain course because friends are doing it. This isn’t good motivation to apply yourself to learning, and therefore you might end up wasting a butt-tonne of money and/or time. If what you want to do requires going somewhere not many of your friends are, you best believe there’ll be people in the same boat and with the same interests as you when you get there.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do, don’t write off waiting a bit, or doing something that’ll help you work it out. Even though some people act like it is, going to university the year after high school (or ever) is not a given. It feels like there’s a massive rush to get a degree over and done with in 3 or 4 years so that you can start your life. That’s not how it works in reality though. Many people change their minds and degrees. If taking a year now take a gap year working and/or travelling will help you to find a plan you’ll stick to, you might be better off in the long run than someone who switches degrees three times.
Don’t discount alternative education to university. University education styles favour certain skills, and not necessarily those which will help you get the career you are after. Don’t ignore polytechnics or other education options. Some people think that qualifications earnt not at university aren’t worth having. This is absolutely not true. Often, these qualifications show those that hold them have skills that students can’t learn at university. They may be taught in a way that is much more effective for certain students, who may not jibe with university at all. Choose the path that is most likely to see you through!