10 Tips For Kids Starting Uni (That I Wish Someone Had Told Me)

Kids, it's about time you listen to the wisdom of age. Throughout my ripe, knowledge and experience-rich twenty two years, I've earned a couple of degrees and learned a couple even more things. Recently I've realised how helpful these things are, and that I'd have liked to have known them quite a while ago. 

So these are a collection of things I really wish I knew when I left school and started my university life, back in the dark ages (of 2009).

First, a slight disclaimer - these things I learned have obviously come solely out of my own experience. I started my double degree in Arts (French) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University in Melbourne, with a trip to Collège Glendon in Toronto for a semester exchange doing the more artsy side of my degree. I hope a lot of these can be transferred to any higher education experience, but there are likely important things to know about your own degree that I can't tell you. For example, I don't have much to say to American kids who will leave home when they're 17 to go live where they study. I still half think that's just craziness.

So, in no particular order...

1. University is harder, academically. 

I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you. 

But really, there will be those subjects that are ridiculously easy - for a lot of people, their entire first year will just be rehashing everything they did in their final year of high school. But you'll also come across subjects that twist your brain and leave you in a quite literal puddle of angst and snot. But isn't that the point? You're here to learn, and you didn't get this far to not secretly relish it. 

Just to add salt in the wound, a reminder that your grades actually do count. Your academic transcript is at least half of what will get you a job that's not mopping floors or into a graduate program. Any self-respecting one of those won't want to know you if you don't have a credit average (60+), and you can't do honours without a distinction average (70+). If you fail, it's not a matter of grumbling about your lower average or hiding the report card from mum, you have to spend six months retaking the entire subject. That'll probably mean being at university an extra semester. 

Oh, and about averages - be very careful. I don't know how to math, but for some reason if you lower your average substantially (and this isn't if you fail, it's if you just get one or two Ps), it is extraordinarily difficult to get it back up again. I've seen people sobbing over their A that's not an A+, because a GPA is a delicate flower that dissipates into a thousand pieces of hope and future if you brush against it with anything less than your best work. 

The good news is (yes, there's good news!) there's a heap of help at uni. But it won't land in your lap, you have to go out and find it. You have access to people who will look over your CV for you and teach you how to find and use library resources you didn't know existed. Who will literally look over every assignment you'll ever have to do and make it better a.k.a make it more like what your marker wants to read because it doesn't matter if you write a dissertation on how to systematically solve world hunger, if it doesn't adhere to the assignment criteria, they will fail your arse. Never be afraid to find help, or to ask questions; not only is it everyone's job there to answer you, uni is probably the one place where there actually is no such thing as a stupid question. 

Remember: you're spending a lot of your time, effort and money doing your degree and getting into a lot of debt, don't crap around. It's not cute.

And if I ever, ever hear you utter the phrase "Ps get degrees!" I will personally come and haunt your ass as the Ghost of Dumbshit You Future. 

2. Do the extra-curricular stuff. 

Now I know everyone from your mum to your high school teacher to that overly-enthusiastic member of the university lacrosse team has told you this but really, you should probably do it.

I didn't.

I came out perfectly balanced, happy and successful, but I really think I could've gotten a load more out of my life at uni if I had joined the clubs, groups and teams in all their varied and wonderful forms. I do also mean this in the clichéd way the above would have drilled you with (new friends! new experiences! new knowledge!) but I think there's another side to it - the fact that being a part of the university life will encourage you and round you out like nothing else.

When I went to Toronto I went the whole nine yards and joined everything I could get my hands on (mainly because the alternative was not knowing a soul within about an eight thousand kilometre radius but my point still stands), and I think I feel more a part of Glendon College after those 5 months than I ever felt with Monash, for which I feel only a superficial "...yeah...ehhh". 

Feeling like you're a part of something is important, and you can't do so unless you get your hands dirty. It'll help you in other aspects of your uni life too - if you care about your uni and your time there, it'll definitely show in your grades (please see: my "ehhh" Cs when I definitely should've could've had Ds). 

I think I lost a good opportunity - what other time of your life will be like this - young, energetic, experiential? (hint: none). 

Also, you'll have a hard time finding a famous business leader/intellectual who didn't use their time at uni wisely. 


I cannot express this point enough. Do it. Just do it. Be Nike, for  frak's sake. 

Delay your new car or moving out for a year and just go. Leave. Why are you still here? GO. 

It doesn't matter where, honestly. If you study a language, awesome, but go anywhere and I guarantee that you will become so much more than you are now. 

Let me spell this out for you. Just the planning and organising of an exchange will teach you a lot. You get to travel, see the world, study in a different place, live in a different place, make actual life long friends, navigate a different culture, likely learn another language, and get so far out of your comfort zone that when you come across any hardship for the next twenty years you could probably say to yourself "hey yeah this is hard but remember that time I was still practically a kid and went on a plane by myself to live in a foreign country for 6 months" oh no wait you can totally say that because that's what you did.  

It looks magical on your CV. It'll be the cheapest six month holiday of your life. Your uni will probably help you, your government will probably help you. You're still young enough that asking or receiving helping money from family is still okay.

There is literally no downside to this situation.


4. If you need a semester/year-long break or a gap year, do it.

Take care of yourself. There's no shame in not coping or not being ready for uni or other big changes in your life, or even realising you simply don't want to be there. Also, don't let anyone tell you differently or force you into doing something you don't want. You don't need those people. 

5. Don't spend money at uni on food (poisoning).  

Don't do it. Also, it's a lot of money you don't need to be wasting. Learn to cook and bring it in. Actually, just learn to cook in general. That's some (seriously) legit life advice right there. 

6. PLAN your course. 

So, you're a uni student. You're studying social work, science or some such, and all your subjects are compulsory, organised and laid out for you each semester and your timetable is perfectly automated twice a year.

Well, screw you.

For the rest of us, planning your course is a bitch. 

These are the documents I come back to every year:

All you'll get is a list of points you have to complete filed under various and vague faculty descriptors - it's a lot of confusion, frustration, juggling, math and despair, and it's completely up to you. Muck it up and you can, again, inadvertently add another 6 months to your degree. Go to the careers people and get your hands on a course outline and keep it detailed and meticulous (see above for how not to do this). 

Still in the realm of planning, another good idea is to carefully look through the handbook/guide to every subject you're going to take - whether you're deciding on an elective or checking out a compulsory unit, make sure you know all the requirements and assessments you're going to have to do. Sometimes there's a weekly quiz worth 10, 15, 20% of the whole thing and someone might mention it once but that's it and you get to the end and surprise you don't have 20% of your grade and that didn't happen to me at all nope. 

The guide might also help you plan your course better - I'd highly recommend not being that guy that purposefully avoids subjects with 8k word reports or group assignments (protip: learn how to work with people, uni is a pretty good place to maybe start thinking about doing that) but you can ensure you don't unknowingly enrol yourself in several brain-meltingly difficult subjects at the same time. Talking to older students about what those kinds of units in your course are is also a good idea.

Do these things. Your future self will thank you dearly. 

7. You often won't need the text book. 

If you have a reader - usually a small binded book of photocopied readings available in the library for about $20 - you'll definitely need that, but the textbook...for about half the time, maybe a little less, not so much. Sometimes it's because you just genuinely don't use it, or there's enough copies in the library to kind of...cycle borrow. Or even come into uni an hour or two earlier to borrow the book from reserve and do the readings, if it saves you $200. 

Lecturers will say you need the textbook, even when you sometimes don't (twist: sometimes they've written the textbook). Take a week or two to work it out.

Of course, sometimes you really do need it. You'll know when you do. It's usually when the textbook is all linked up to an online program that you must do half the assignments on, and you can't access it without the book. Sneaky, eh. 


See how that was in all caps. Yeah. That's how important this is. 

Why are you doing this? What do you want to do after your degree? You need to bloody think about this. And seriously. 

If you have no plans, of course I'm not saying you should just get out now why bother, because getting a degree gives you so much more than a piece of paper, but I think it's fair to say people would like a job after their slog, and considering for most this is the main reason they're doing it in the first place, this is a pretty damn important point. It's also something no one ever really seems to talk to students about, I find a lot of people are just left floundering by themselves wondering what to do next. I suppose it works out as a survival-of-the-fittest thing i.e. if you're not motivated enough to find stuff out for yourself then it's your problem, but still. 

Essentially: waiting until the end of your degree to start thinking about what to do after the degree is way, way, way way, too late.

For example, did you know:

  • The application due dates for top level graduation programs are usually in March/April of the previous year (as in if you'll be looking for a job in 2014 good luck with that because you should've handed in your shit over a year ago in March 2013). 
  • Quite a few graduate programs, internships and work experience placements only accept applications from penultimate year students - yes, this means that if you're doing a three-year course you'll need to be handing in your application for job things early in your second year at uni. 
  • A lot of businesses won't even consider your job application (see especially: law) unless you've been an intern there first.
Which brings me to my next point: do a bloody internship or get work experience. At the end of the day, your degree will only teach you so much and I guarantee you four weeks doing a real job will teach you more about your industry than four years at uni. 

If you can't find anything, email the HR department of a company you're interested in and ask what programs they run and what they can do for you.

You need to think about what your CV has in it when you present it to potential employers, and what you have to say to them.

For example, these are the kind of questions you'll be asked in job interviews/applications:

"What were your two favourite subjects and why? How will this knowledge help you at <company name>?"

"Describe a time you were responsible for a challenging project or task? What obstacles did you have to overcome and what was the end result?"

"Tell us about a time you had to help a co-worker with a difficult situation. Structure your answer with context, your action, results and measurable evidence of the outcome." 

"Describe a time you had to adjust to significant change in your life? How did you approach the situation and what were your key learnings?"

And, of course, the classic yet continuously all-terror-inducing, "Tell me why I should hire you." 

If you're nearing the end of your degree and can't think of answers to these questions off the top of you're head, you need to work on that ASAP. 

Oh, and don't get me started on psychometric testing. 

One thing that will significantly help you in not sounding like a naïve douchenozzle is to...

9.  Get a job.

At the most basic level, there are four things that will ensure for a competitive real-world job application when you get out there:

1. Not coming across as a sullen, disagreeable idiot.
2. Good grades.
3. Volunteering.
4. A job. 

Pretend you're in a company's shoes: would you hire someone who's had no work experience, at all, ever? Yeah. You'd be surprised how much you learn by simply operating in an office environment or having to construct emails to clients. At the very least, not having a uni job makes you a bigger risk to potential employers. 

Of course, try to do something that is somehow linked to your degree, so you have some transferrable skills when you properly enter the workforce. If you're studying law, be a clerk. Teacher, coach a school soccer team. Marketing student, be a disability support worker.

Wait what yes I'm weird. See, even if like me you find yourself in a job not really related at all in the slightest to your goal industry, at least be able to justify how it did you good and will make you an asset to a company - being a DSW taught me team work and how to be calm in stressful situations, both of which are pure gold to people looking to hire other people. 

And lastly, volunteering is important as it demonstrates you are well-rounded, care about things other than yourself and are willing to put actual time and effort into those things. Every job interview I've had thus far has remarked on my volunteering work, and is very impressed by it. Because if you think about it from their perspective, someone who has lived around two decades and has never, ever cared about anything enough to help out with it for free is probably not someone you want around in your company.

10. Networking.

Oh, it's my favourite. Time to confirm the thing you already knew: networking is important. I'm so sorry.

 I'm not very good at it. Very few people are. If you're introverted or just simply not good at chit chat (or both), networking will be hell.

Protip: deal with it. 

Seriously (a lot of this time of your life will just be about adaptation). You're not going to get very far if you can't teach yourself to talk to and manage people and relationships, as well as leveraging them. You might be the best candidate ever for a job but if they just don't like you or you come across weird and deflated, they won't care. Bye. You can read about my fun dealings with this kind of crap in my previous blog post here. 

In my experience, networking is about three main things:
  1. Getting a network. Go out, meet people, talk to people, introduce yourself, make an impression, be sociable, get their contact details, find them on linked in.
  2. Maintaining a network. Keep in contact with them. Update them on what you're doing, where you're at and what you're interested in. Send thank you emails. Don't stop bugging them. If you want it, keep at it. If you don't get a response, sometimes it's not because they hate you and you're the bane of their existence, most of the time your email/voice message just slipped their radar. Try again. 
  3. Leveraging a network. They're not just there to have coffee dates with - what can you learn from these people, how can they help you to get where you want to go? People will be flattered if you see them as someone to look up to or as a source of information towards your career goals. A lot will want to help you. Some won't. Learn to deal with failure and disinterest. Be confident, even if you don't feel it. Fake it 'til you become it.

Overall, one of the most important things to remember is that everyone you meet - students, lecturers, industry leaders, coworkers, deans, potential employers, librarians, new friends, old friends, CEOs, cleaners, bosses, baristas, that chick who's constantly irritatingly chirpy and is on the committee for everything, the seedy guy who says nothing and disappears mysteriously when you do a group project - they're all just people. I guarantee your problems and their problems overlap at least 80% of the time.

 There isn't some magical key to success and adulthood that everyone has unlocked and you haven't (though I also guarantee it will sometimes feel like it). 

Also, don't judge people. You don't know their story. 

Uni is a time when you'll learn more about yourself than in any other period of your life. And that's you're most valuable asset. Get into it.


  1. The only point I would add would be "use university support!" So many first years are too terrified to go to their tutors outside tute hours and after lectures but they are really a massive asset to have. They can clearly explain and help you through that gruelling lecture that went straight over your head. They can help explain what that totally backwards question in the middle of your assignment meant. Use anything that the university already has in place to help you. My university had assignment tutors on certain days of the week set up in the library and they would go over your assignment for you. They didn't change the content but helped with referencing and setting out and you could ask any questions you wanted. They were usually professors from the arts department so if you were doing an arts subject they could give some great advice. All assignments I did and took to them and then re-did with their recommendations I got a HD every assignment I did without their help I got a C or D.

    1. Great point - there are a couple of little things I've thought of since I posted this and that was certainly one of them. I think I may update this afternoon :)

  2. Awesome blog! I can't agree more with all of your points! I have finished almost 5.5 years at Monash now and wish I had known about more of these points :)

    I went on exchange to Sweden...definitely the highlight of my uni life!!

    Good on you for sharing and helping make a future generation more awares...

    1. Thanks so much - and I know, it makes me actually sad when people go through uni without the wondrous experience that is an exchange...

  3. Great job. Wish I could have read something like this a little earlier.

  4. Whilst points 1-7 are definately great advice for new uni students, I'm very impressed more so with 8-10. 8-10 applies to so many people outside of university who have finished up and are now on the job hunt.
    I have in the past run an internship program at a previous workplace and provide advice and mentor a large number of people new into the workplace or looking to break in. Everything you've expressed in points 8-10 mirror a lot of what I tell them!
    Now it's not to say you're too late if you finish uni without any work experience/internships/actual life experience outside school/uni. But it definately helps sell yourself! So if you haven't gotten ahead of the curve and got that experience, you're going to need to work overtime in the networking and hard work once you finish! Job don't regularly just fall into your lap!

    Congrats Tallulah on a fantastic article! I'll defiantely be referencing it!

    1. Thanks - yeah, people inadvertently put themselves at such a disadvantage when they get out of uni, when they really don't have to be.

      p.s. your blog photo made me laugh a lot, it's great.

  5. Great read! Was just curious, which programs want you to apply in March of the year before? :S

    1. Off the top of my head...the big four banks, the big four accounting firms (this is why I say top-level programs)... management consultancy Accenture is one of those that only takes penultimate year students. Others like L'Oréal will go around August, and ad agencies start their recruiting around September... just do your research and be really, really careful!

  6. Awesome article - I'm just starting my degree so it's particularly useful:)

    1. I wrote it for people like you! Thanks for reading :)

  7. I'm from Maldives and will be going to Monash (caufield) for the masters of professional accounting and masters of business law programme in June/July 2014.

    This post was very useful. Really appreciate the time and effort you put into this for 'us'.

    Thank you

  8. Hey out of curiosity, how did you get the summary pictures on your home screen to be a specific picture rather than just the first pic on your blog post? Whichever pic I use first in my blog post entry happens to be the photo that appears on the home page summary thumbnail. But yours shows a different pic.

    Please let me know

  9. Number 11. Learn how to block doorways, footpaths, thoroughfares and especially how to be completely oblivious to the concept of two way traffic. Because other students and staff love that!

  10. Completely agree with all points...
    I met a german girl on my France exchange. Now I live in Germany and am about to study a Masters. A simple exchange can really change your life!!
    All your other points are all spot on!!