Survival Guide for the First Year at University

11 minute read

Starting college or university can be an exciting step in one’s life; for others, it can be a scary and stressful transition from high school into the unknown, especially if you have decided to study abroad or halfway across the country you reside in. For those who are starting university this summer, we have outlined a survival guide for the first year at university. Take a look at our 8 tips on how to make the most out of the time of your first year at university.


Keep a Planner or Agenda

📆 A key time management tool is a planner or agenda to help you schedule every significant moment of your day.


📆Whether you opt for a physical or digital planner, there are plenty of ways to personalise it! Make it colourful or choose different fonts and styles to help you schedule your minutes of the day. This will help you see how you are spending your time and ensure that you are maximising every moment and prioritising studying for assessments.


📆Although your classes for your chosen courses will be scheduled, it may be useful to add these to your calendar to get a clear image of your day. This way, you can restrict events that take place at the same time.


📆A planner or agenda isn't only for course-related tasks; it's also for allocating time for yourself, socialising with friends and family, going to the gym, or joining a sports club.


📆The perk of having a detailed planner is that your time won’t be used for other activities. The last thing you want to do is accidentally neglect your studies, by forgetting to study for a test or not completing a tutorial assignment (these count for course points).


📆And here’s a pro-scheduling tip: once you receive your course materials (syllabus, outline), take note of any important dates for tests, projects, and written assignments, and schedule times throughout the semester or quarter you will devote to those fundamental deadlines ahead of the due date as a proactive measure to combat procrastination and late submissions (this can influence your overall grade, a 5% deduction can change your performance for an A to a B).


Related: How To Create A Study Timetable You’ll Actually Use

Use a note-taking system that works



✍️Throughout your whole primary and secondary education experience, you've had to learn how to take notes to retain knowledge for in-class tests and semester examinations effectively. Note-taking will be considerably more significant at the college or university level, especially if you take qualitative-based courses.


✍️You can either use your laptop (which might be faster during classes) or write notes by hand, this is at your discretion. However, psychology research shows that writing notes by hand helps with memory recollection, particularly with remembering conceptual information for a longer period of time. 


✍️Pro-tip: record your lectures. It may prove difficult to write down all the important information lectured by your college or university professor; recording your lectures can help you fill in any gaps in your class notes. You can use a digital recording device, such as a phone, or a laptop sound recording app.


✍️Make sure your class notes are legible and concise so you can make the most out of your notes when revising or studying. 

Never. Ever. Plagiarise. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, plagiarism is defined as:


💣Stealing the ideas or words of another person/author and using them as one’s own.

💣Using what another person has produced without crediting the original source.

💣Committing literary theft.

💣Using an idea of an existing source, and presenting it as new or innovative. 


Based on the definitions above, it is clear that plagiarism is viewed as an offence and as an act of fraud (stealing), and therefore should be avoided by all means. 

To succeed as a writer in college or university, you must learn how to communicate the ideas of others while giving due acknowledgement to the sources you use. You must also demonstrate your ability to use an idea, theory, or concept as the basis for your arguments.


Plagiarism is one way to sabotage this educational process, but more seriously, it can destroy your academic career since tertiary institutions won't think twice about expelling you from their institution.


So how can you avoid plagiarism:


  • Find and use multiple resources in your assignments and projects.
  • Learn how to correctly cite sources using outlines given to you by course coordinators, because different courses use different crediting formats (e.g APA, Chicago, MLA).
  • Illicit the help of programs and apps that detect plagiarism, these include Grammarly (subscription), Small SEO Checker (free), and Duplichecker (free). 
  • If your college or university has a plagiarism detection system, ask your course coordinator or tutor about it and how it works (some plagiarism detection systems let you check for plagiarism before final submission). 

Communication with your professors is vital

🗣️College networking is one of the most influential aspects of your education. 


🗣️Building genuine, professional relationships with your instructors will enable you to comprehend the demands of the course and create a strategy for meeting them.


🗣University professors can be used as references in your professional profile or curriculum vitae, especially if you have the same professor or two for the duration of your first qualification. Therefore, getting to know your professor will work to your advantage as they can reference your strengths and talents to help you secure a job or even a scholarship. Many students ask their university professors to write character reference letters for their scholarship or bursary application. 


Related: How To Apply For A Bursary 


🗣️You could consult your course instructor before taking any assessments or working on writing projects that significantly influence your overall course mark. The only thing standing between you and the unknown is your willingness to inquire. Prepare any questions you may have ahead of time to make the most of your time with them.

Always back up your work

One of the worst things that could happen is your laptop breaking down or you struggling to retrieve a file before or on the day an assignment is due. A few proactive steps you may take to ensure your work is always available are presented in the following section.


📂Always save your files in more than one place: your flash drive (thumb drive), email, laptop (or personal computer), or external hard drive.


📂Pro-tip: After completing a new section of an assignment or project, email yourself a copy and use a digital platform like Google Docs as proof of work completed should you forget to save your files on other devices. This way, you can always build from where you left off should your laptop decide to crash. Your phone is another excellent saving tool - use it. 

Make your health a priority

❤️‍🩹Your health is the foundation of everything, and neglecting it can have detrimental effects not only on your body and mental health but your studies and performance as well.


❤️‍🩹You will most likely face a frequent temptation to eat unhealthy food, they are easier to make or order at your favourite fast food joint. However, it is crucial to try everything you can to maintain a healthy lifestyle. by prioritising veggies and fruits, staying hydrated with H2O, prioritising 8-9 hours of sleep and finding time to exercise (even if this just involves walking). 


Related: Easy ways to improve your memory


❤️‍Employ the services available to you: most colleges and universities offer on-campus Health Centres that provide care for chronic and acute ailments. You can also get preventative and regular health care. When you are unwell or have any concerns about your health, go to a health centre for a check-up. Health centres are usually staffed with trained doctors and nurses.


❤️‍Do you have any reservations regarding your mental health? Even in higher education, mental health has become increasingly prominent, with a strong focus put on seeking emotional and psychological help when feeling depressed or in need of more professional emotional guidance. As a result, if you want more assistance during your academic career, do not be ashamed to seek it. Higher education institutions have these facilities for a purpose; they are student-centred and equipped to provide you with a safe space to express your thoughts and situations.

Be intentional about your career development

You should be purposeful about your professional growth from the very beginning of your tertiary education journey, which is your first year in college. You may approach this in several proactive ways.



🎓Schedule frequent meetings with your academic advisor. The academic advisor at your school may be an excellent resource for you as you navigate the college or university years and determine the course of your future.


🎓Every institution has a career centre where career advisors give FREE advice on your career prospects based on the courses you take, your interests and your career aspirations. Although at the end of the day, you are the person who dictates which path to take, career advisors are there to provide guidance.


🎓Attend job fairs. Attend any career fairs organised by your institution. They provide an excellent networking opportunity. These events are your chance to introduce yourself to possible employers; it's not unheard of for them to offer you an internship if they believe you're the right fit.


🎓Take charge of your education, and you will feel much more in control as a student. Remember that going to college is a choice, and approaching it with the perspective of "I choose to..." rather than "I have to..." will enable you to take control of your experience.


🎓Don't be afraid to drop a class that you're not interested in. College and university are about figuring out what you want to pursue, so if a class you registered for doesn't align with your broader goals, drop it. Disclaimer: Before dropping a class, it's critical to consider how it can affect your overall study time. Will it lengthen your programme by another year? Can you switch to another course that won't conflict with your existing schedule? Before making decisions that directly affect your education, always seek clarification.


🎓Do research before and during your first year at university. You may be able to develop a complete understanding of the requirements of your sector by looking into the backgrounds and track records of people in the profession you're interested in. Why? The level of education and training needed will be noteworthy to you.  You may use a variety of career path tools, such as GigZig from PayScale. Another excellent tool is LinkedIn, which lets you connect with other professionals in your area of interest.

Make Time to Socialise with Friends and Family

👫While studying is the main focus of college and university life, maintaining relationships with your loved ones can benefit your mental health. Being homesick during your first year of college is very common; however, you may manage it by scheduling phone calls (video conversations are even better) and sending letters home for special occasions (birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and so on).


👫At university, you will meet a diversity of people, so make time to hang out with the people you get along with and plan to do something fun that interests both of you, every once in a while to maintain a healthy study and social life balance.

👫Make sure you don't prioritise socialising above studying. It's tempting to attend every social event organised by your university or campus residence; nevertheless, don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) prevent you from studying for an upcoming test or finishing an assignment due the next day.

We have online tutors available as well as tutors in Johannesburg, tutors in Pretoria, tutors in Durban and tutors in Cape Town

Related Articles

Millennial woman with curly black hair tutoring brunette teenage girl

We help families find their perfect tutor

Help your child improve their grades and get their confidence back.