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How to make the most of student life

Female studying outside

Student life is hard to define. Is it lazing around on campus lawns with friends? Is it reading the student newspaper in the campus coffee shop? Or is it mainly late nights in the library finishing your assignments? The truth is that student life is different for everyone. You will only get a sense of what it truly means to you once you’re amongst it. In this section we expose some of the myths about student life to ensure you don’t enter your studies with too many grand illusions. We also give you some tips on making the most of your precious time as a student.

In this section we cover:

The truth about student life

It’s likely that you’ve heard some of the student myths floating around, so how much attention should you pay to them — if at all? To give you a bit of a head start on what being a student might be like, or might not be, we’ve listed and debunked some of the most common uni student myths below.

Ps get degrees
While ‘just passing’ every class will earn you a qualification, many students use this as an excuse to do the bare minimum. Without a doubt, the satisfaction of earning a top mark is well worth the hard work. Keeping a high average certainly comes in handy if you intend to do further study, and high-achieving students may even be eligible to access scholarships and additional study opportunities such as exchange programs. While individual subject marks don’t count for a lot once you graduate, think about how much better you will look in a job interview if you can demonstrate that you put in the hard work, rather than just scraping by.

Students are all poor
Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you have to live in a run-down share house with seven hippies eating mi goreng packet noodles for every meal. Although money can be tight when you’re studying full time, many students actually manage to live quite comfortably (keeping their dignity well intact) through a mix of part-time work, careful budgeting and (if they’re lucky) government assistance. See Student income for some budget-friendly tips. You might even be surprised at how fun it can be living on a budget. Just embrace the time that you’re at uni and think about your potential earnings once you come out the other end with your degree.

It’s okay to start an assignment the night before it’s due
While many students claim to do this (some even managing to miraculously end up with a decent mark), starting an assignment the night before it’s due is never a good idea. You should aim to start a standard (say, 2500-word) assignment at least two to three weeks before it’s due. Allocating one week for research, one week to write it and a couple of spare days to review and edit is a good formula to stick by. At times where you know there will be a pile-up of assignments (like the end of semester), try to get an earlier start. Leaving an assignment until the last minute is a recipe for disaster because more often than not you won’t realise how much work there is to do until you begin. If you don’t get it done in time, you will lose marks for late submission; if you do get it finished, there will always be the niggling feeling of how much better you could have done.

Tertiary study is all theory and no practice
Many denounce study as a waste of time that leaves students with little to no experience of real life. But the reality is that most institutions these days strive to give their students an experience that will prepare them for the real world. Many courses incorporate internships, study tours, visits from guest lecturers working in the field and industry projects for real organisations. These opportunities will give you a real advantage when it comes time to find a job.

First classes are always useless
Many students skip the first couple of classes because they assume that no assessable content will be covered or that there are better things they could be doing (like catching up on sleep). Missing the first class often means missing out on vital background information, details about your assignments and valuable opportunities to make friends with fellow classmates. There are a number of reasons why you should be in the habit of going to every class — not least of all because you are paying big bucks for the course, so you may as well enjoy it. In some cases, attendance may actually form part of your mark, so you might want to save skipping classes for when a real emergency occurs (no-one wants to be the boy who cried wolf).

Getting the most out of your student years

If you think that being a student is all about hitting the books, take comfort in knowing that this is far from the truth! While there will definitely be times when you need to wave goodbye to your social life, your student experience is much more than essays and exams. And although it won’t always seem like it, your days as a student will go very quickly — even too quickly, some might say. So how do you make sure you get the most out of your studies before you graduate?

Set yourself some goals
While this probably isn’t the most fun you’ll have as a student, what better way to get motivated before classes start than by making a few (realistic) goals? It might be as simple as vowing to improve on your results from the previous semester or to try every eatery on campus with your friends. If you don’t have specific goals in mind, start with the basics. Being on time to class and taking note of exam and assignment due dates are both great examples.

Avoid doing the bare minimum
Being a student isn’t just about showing up to compulsory classes or making an appearance in tutorials every couple of weeks. Try to attend all your classes (no matter how early in the morning they are scheduled), keep up with the workload (including course readings before each class) and don’t leave assignments or exam study until the very last day. If you need to miss a class or don’t think you can meet an assessment deadline, it’s best to have chat to your lecturer or tutor so that they can provide assistance, but remember to do this ahead of time, not within hours of a due date or compulsory class.

Choose subjects that interest you
The beauty of post-school education is that you choose what you study and have a say in the types of subjects you take (depending on your course structure, of course). The best tip is to choose subjects that interest you and to avoid making your choices based on your other circumstances (your desire for a bludge subject or a Monday morning sleep-in, for instance). Look for subjects that challenge you or allow you to further develop an area of interest, and don’t be afraid to explore those outside of your immediate faculty. Why not take on a philosophy elective as part of a science course, a music class to break up your law degree or add a language elective to a business degree?

Get involved on campus
Graduating students often regret not getting involved on campus. While this doesn’t mean you have to set up your own club or chair a society, you might want to consider submitting an article to the university magazine, volunteering to show new students around campus during O-Week, signing up to help organise the faculty ball (or at least buying a ticket) or perhaps joining a student society or sports team. There’s more to student life than sitting in lectures, so look for opportunities to get involved from day one.

Take advantage of work experience programs
Many of the skills you’ll need once you graduate aren’t taught in a lecture theatre, which is why many students seek out work experience while they are still studying. Not only does this look great on your résumé and help you make industry contacts, but it can also give you a better idea of the type of work you want (or don’t want) to do. If your course doesn’t include a work-based program, have a chat to your course coordinator or the career service on campus for assistance. They will be able to point you in the right direction, and may even be able to put you in touch with industry contacts that are willing to take on a student placement.

Consider a study abroad or student exchange program
What better time to experience the world than as a carefree student? Most institutions offer students the opportunity to study overseas for part of their course. Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, from short study tours as part of a subject to a full semester or year completed abroad. Overseas study gives you the opportunity to travel, experience a different way of life and make new friends from all around the world. If you choose to study in a non-English-speaking country, you can also expand your language skills. Of course, there is also the opportunity to add ‘life experience’ to your résumé, something that many employers value from graduates straight out of uni. See Study abroad and student exchange for more information.

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