A Beginner’s Guide To University

Students can fall easily through the cracks at university, and the stress and anxiety can cause a lot of mental-health issues.
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If you are reading this and you are about to start your first year of university or college, congratulations!

After spending a year studying law at university, I decided to put together a simple guide to help others who may be starting their first year.

The First Week: Welcoming/Orientation Week

During the first week or so of university or college, you will be extremely busy, exhausted and overwhelmed!

This is the time of the year when every single student body, student leadership, university management figure and faculty staff member is involved in welcoming first-year students, introducing themselves to them, and showing them around campus to help them learn the ins and outs of university life. The faculties usually have student assistants and lecturers or professors who introduce the students to their chosen modules, and the textbooks they need to purchase.

Students in residences, dormitories or halls will in addition enjoy a fun, informative welcoming programme that allows first-year students to get to know one another and form friendships, while including them in their new res community. It is a great opportunity to get involved, and I strongly encourage everyone staying in college or university accommodation to partake in it.

However, it is important to note that introverts or individuals suffering from social anxiety should also have their own space, so that they do not feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

Purchasing Textbooks and Stationery

This is one of the most interesting and stressful challenges for students. In the first few weeks, your lecturers will encourage students to buy brand-new textbooks immediately.

Although I usually agree with this, I believe it's best to speak to mentors and senior students, to ask them how frequently they used the various textbooks and how necessary each one is. University textbooks are exceptionally expensive, and it can be very difficult for a student to afford them all.

Once you know which textbooks you really need, you can save money by finding out if any seniors are selling their first-year textbooks –– most tertiary institutions will also have a second-hand bookstore, and there are also sites online that sell second-hand textbooks.

Stationery can also be quite expensive, so plan what you'd like to use versus what you need to use –– how essential are each of those highlighters, pens, books and files? Does it make more sense to use a computer, laptop or tablet instead?

One of the most amazing aspects of varsity is that study groups become extremely effective, especially if you form a great group of friends who study the same modules or degree as you.

Living Away From Home

Despite all the exciting freedom and independence you feel embarking on a new life away from your family, living away from home can be daunting at times.

Firstly, remember that there are other first-years around you who feel exactly the same way -- so never feel that you are alone when you miss home or feel uncomfortable in your new accommodation.

It can take weeks or months to get used to your new space, so do not stress if you feel the anxiety has not subsided as fast as you wanted it to.

A great psychological help for me was to personalise my room by decorating it with things that I like –– pictures and quotes from the bands, artists and social justice movements I enjoy.

Chat with roommates or neighbours as well, and try to organise gatherings that make the environment more friendly and comfortable for everyone.


The most important part of varsity, of course, is to further your education by obtaining a degree or diploma. Academics form a crucial part of your college life and often, students forget about its importance and focus primarily on socialising.

Students can fall through the cracks at university easily, and the stress and anxiety can cause a lot of mental-health issues, which I feel aren't discussed or focused-on enough at a university.

One of the most amazing aspects of varsity is that study groups become extremely effective, especially if you form a great group of friends who study the same modules or degree as you. Form study groups with people who have the same work ethic and diligence as you do. You can teach, test and help one another.

On an individual level, figure out what the best study methods are for you. It is extremely important to prioritise attending lectures, and constantly taking notes when in them. Do not be afraid to email or speak to your lecturers if you are confused, and other students or seniors are not able to answer your questions.


One of the best and most exciting parts of varsity is all the chances to socialise, make friends, find potential partners and have a lot of fun . During the first few weeks, you will find that you –– and all the other first-years –– aim to make as many friends as possible.

Do not worry if you find that some of those "friends" later begin to drift away and you lose contact with them. Focus on building relationships with people who are willing to put as much time and effort into them as you are.

You will find that there are some individuals who are still in that immature, "high school" phase of their lives, who are willing to cause unnecessary drama. Avoid people like that, and focus on the people who you know are going to be good, healthy, positive individuals in your life.

One of the biggest problems for students is how to manage their finances.

Issues on Campus

Throughout the world, there are major injustices taking place and many of them are brought up, discussed and protested about on college and university campuses.

In South Africa, for example, the issues of rape culture, free education, racism and decolonisation are major, and many students are directly affected by them.

If you are a privileged, ignorant individual, prepare yourself for these issues –– and I strongly encourage you to enter university and societal spaces with open minds, so that your bubble of privilege and ignorance can be burst and you can open up to the various struggles that marginalised, oppressed and less fortunate groups face.

It is critical that respect and acknowledgement are given towards marginalised groups, and that spaces on campus are empowering ones.

My biggest piece of advice: never think that you know everything. Start your year at university with the mindset of wanting to learn and grow.


One of the biggest problems for students is how to manage their finances. For the first few months, you think that your allowance is massive, so you can afford to buy anything that your heart desires.

Wrong! This is a common misconception –– sometimes, we forget how expensive things truly are.

It's best to look at the total amount that you have per month, and divide that up into various sections –– such as stationery, toiletries and cleaning, food, clothing, socialising, etc. It can become difficult if you run out of money halfway through the month.

However, keep in mind that there is usually a donation or assistance office/committee that can help you out, if you find yourself in a financial dilemma.

Finally, remember that university is all about becoming a young adult who is prepared to learn, grow and become ready for the big, bad world. You will make mistakes along the way, and you will face challenges that may seem impossible to get through, but know that many individuals have gone through this ordeal before.

Set goals, plan ahead and remember that there will always people around you to help. You are not alone at university, regardless of how you feel.

May your university career and your future be prosperous, successful ones and I hope that you will become the leaders that our world desperately needs.


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