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Adjusting to study

Students studying outside

No matter what type of student you are, entering tertiary study can seem like a huge adjustment. You may need to make some changes to your lifestyle, add to an already busy schedule or manage a few learning curves that you weren’t expecting.

In this section we cover:

The transition from school to tertiary study

Although some students breeze straight through it, the transition from school to tertiary study isn’t always easy. It may be that the work is harder or that subjects are unfamiliar, or perhaps the stress of a new environment or new commitments proves a little more difficult than expected.

Sudden independence can also seem like a difficult adjustment and may require some getting used to. Some students embrace the sense of freedom that comes with finishing school, but it’s not uncommon to struggle when faced with becoming self-reliant. Living away from home for the first time or living on a student income can also cause some stress. See Study destinations and Student income for more information.

Tips for school leavers beginning tertiary study

Stay organised

Tertiary study can be a bit overwhelming at times, but you can save yourself a lot of stress if you’re organised. This could be as simple as attending O-Week or printing off a map before your first week of classes. If you know that you have trouble digesting new content, why not get an early start by flicking through your textbook before each of your introduction lectures? You’ll hear this time and time again but it really does help to stay on top of assessment, especially towards the end of semester as things start to pile up. Allowing yourself plenty of time to complete assignments or study for exams will give you the best chance to succeed in your course while minimising stress at the same time.

Embrace change

You’re bound to come across more than a few changes as you adjust from school to tertiary study, so keep an open mind and get ready to embrace change. If you know that during school you struggled to keep up with your schedule, remind yourself that tertiary study is all about independence and take on the challenges that come with it — perhaps you'll learn to love getting organised and being on time. If you're moving away from home for the first time, think about the positives (no curfews or nagging about your lifestyle) and try to forget the negatives.

Ask for help when you need it

Too few students ask for help when they need it. Try to keep in mind that institutions offer a huge range of support services that can help you with any issue you’re experiencing — from personal issues to those of an academic nature. If you're not sure about the services your institution offers, see Student services and facilities for an outline of what may be available. This includes raising questions in tutorials too. If you don't understand something or need further clarification, speak up! It's likely that someone had the same question but was too afraid to ask.

Returning to study

If you’re returning to study, it can be difficult to hand your free time over to classes and assessments… especially if you’re already managing a busy schedule. Whether you’re beginning your studies a little later in life or you’re entering a postgraduate degree, it’s likely that you will face similar issues. Even postgraduates who are just months out of their first degree can find it difficult to adjust to a new teaching style and new content.

Tips for students returning to study

Be prepared to make sacrifices

Although the benefits of further study tend to outweigh any sacrifices made, you may find that you'll need to make some changes to your lifestyle when you begin your course. Some of these may be short-term sacrifices, such as committing to attend Saturday classes for a semester (which is common in postgraduate courses) or larger sacrifices, such as cutting back on paid work to study full time. You should also be prepared for assessment periods and know that they will be tough on your schedule — if you're involved in a group project, keep in mind that you may need to attend group meetings after hours or over the weekend and that you will need to work around your classmates' availability.

Look out for flexible options

Finding a flexible option can make a world of difference. This might mean finding an undergraduate course that offers night classes to accommodate students working full time or seeking out a postgraduate program that offers online study options. It’s worth looking into fast-track options too, as these can significantly cut down the length of your course. Some institutions offer optional summer or winter semesters, which usually involve completing an extra subject over an intensive period (perhaps two nights per week for half the length of a regular semester); others offer a trimester model, which involves the institution running on a three-semester schedule by default. If you’re lucky, an intensive subject might see you travelling overseas for a study tour.

Gain the support of those around you

This includes family, friends and your employer, as well as recognising the support available from your institution. It helps to explain why pursuing study is important to you and how it may affect these other parties. You may need to arrange to leave work an hour early one day a week, make alternative childcare arrangements a few nights per week or make sure friends understand that you might not be able to catch up during peak assessment periods. You should also look into your institution's support services, which include anything from academic counselling to financial assistance and child care. See Student services and facilities for more information.

Keep your expectations realistic

It’s easy to set high expectations of yourself, but it can be difficult to maintain them. This is especially the case if you are combining work with study. There may also be circumstances you can’t control — perhaps one of your subjects is known for very rarely giving out high distinctions or, despite your best efforts, you just weren't able to wrap your head around a particular topic. Whatever the reason, do not despair if your marks are less than perfect! Tertiary education is all about learning, so you're not expected to know everything from the outset.

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