If I’d Known Then…

Have you ever wished you could look into the future and reflect how far you’ve come since your first days on campus?

Have you ever wished you could talk to your former first year self and rearrange the past decisions you made?

The purpose of the First Year La Trobe blog has always been to offer words of advice, support and encouragement. As a third year I brought the voice of experience. As an international student Thea brought the insights of exchange. And our wonderful first year bloggers have walked the same steps as you, sharing with you their stories so that you may see you are not alone in the transition to university. I am so proud of all of our bloggers for giving up their time over the past 13 weeks to share their lives with you. I hope you’ve been able to relate to their feelings and experiences.

For my final wrap, I have looked back over the past four years of uni life and made a list of my top 10 lessons learned. It’s a note to myself in a way, to let go of the past and move on forward into the future with no regrets. More than anything else I have written this semester, I hope you can take these lessons on board and steer your path in a direction you feel 100% in control of, regardless of circumstance.

LESSON 1: THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF KEEPING UP

Accept that you will never manage to read all the assigned readings for the entire 13 weeks of your subject. For any of the four subjects, much less all four subjects.

Nor will you manage to catch up on all those missed lectures from illness or car breakdowns or essay deadlines. Don’t beat yourself up.

Browse the lecture notes to see if the info is relevant to your assessments and if not then forget about them. And unless the readings contribute to weekly assessments like quizzes, blogs or reviews that are graded, do only what you can, let any missed class work slide and focus on graded assessments.

LESSON 2: OUT OF THE TUNNEL INTO THE LIGHT

Emerging from each semester is like escaping from a dark tunnel. Your head will be heavy with knowledge but as soon as the light of freedom hits you, it will all fall away fast.

You will not be able to recall the tiny details of the subjects you’ve just learned, nor the assignments you’ve just written. It all goes out of your head like evaporating steam.

But, you will notice your thoughts and opinions on the topics have evolved, and if you think hard enough you will be able to overview the information you’ve learned. This is ok. No one will ever ask you what you learned in week 4 of politics or science class. They will ask your opinion on topics instead. It’s more important to focus on these.

LESSON 3: MAKE EVERY MINUTE COUNT

You need to start volunteering, doing internships, participating in clubs and conferences and building your experience right from first year.

If you wait too long you will have missed valuable opportunities to build and develop your skill set over three or four years, which is the difference between graduating with a lot of reference material, called life experience, to draw upon, and just having your degree. Which will not get you a good job.

LESSON 4: FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS

Join the clubs that interest you but if you don’t fit in with the members, find another club where you do. The people are what make any club who it is for that year. If you get along, great! If you can’t quite feel comfortable among them, consider other similar interest groups. Happy member = useful group member who contributes and enjoys meaningful friendships = referring back to this time later in life and in job interviews with a twinkle of enjoyment in your eye, that will help you connect with the listener.

Same with subjects – if you aren’t as happy and interested in a particular subject, consider the implications of leaving that class for something you are interested in. Have a word with your faculty and the teaching staff, make changes before census date, and if you need to, find a different subject, via variation of enrolment. Of course, there will always be cores that are dull but requisites to your overall learning. Put extra effort in here to make up for lack of interest. But know that the subjects that interest you most will be the ones you put most effort into each week, and will be rewarded with better grades. Better grades = better transcript = better employment prospects.

LESSON 5: LIVE CHEAP & REAP THE BENEFITS

It goes without saying that students don’t have much choice here as far as earning much money. It’s an obvious lesson in this respect. But living cheaply and comfortably has numerous benefits. They may not be as clear in first year when you are still adjusting to student life. Or maybe you are straight from school and are not used to having money in the first place. There are two lessons here:

Choose your work carefully. Too many hours or too exhausting and your studies will suffer and you will not be able to seize opportunities that university offers.

Living cheaply means you can afford to do volunteering/work for free if/when the opportunity arises. Maybe a few hours or a day a week volunteering, or maybe you will go on placement and need to work for free for a week or two there, or maybe you will find a summer internships. Either way, if you are living sensibly with your costs, it will be much easier to work without pay for a little bit. Same goes for travel in breaks. If you are living low within your means and can put away a little savings, so much easier in a year or two to go out and travel, or to pay an airfare and then volunteer somewhere o.s. Opportunities aplenty!

Sadly this is much harder for mature age students like me who have been used to a nice life, a comfortable income and a few little luxuries. It’s a hard lesson to learn, what to give up for the overall study benefit. Not every choice will always feel like the right one.

LESSON 6: SET SEMESTER OR ANNUAL GOALS AND ACHIEVE THEM

Perhaps the best thing that set me onto a higher path of fulfilment was to set annual goals for second and third year, that I went out and achieved. Goals gave me something measurable to work toward, something to ensure I was involved in things other than work and uni, and provided me with a host of opportunities to draw upon as I’ve started to look for grad jobs.

Pick a goal for each year or semester and achieve it. The obvious goals I refer to here are things like volunteering, leadership, mentoring, internships, career conferences, but also personal development like public speaking, teamwork or resume writing. There are also non-academic goals that help you feel like you’re on a good path. I’ve picked a couple of environmental goals to coincide with my academic goals: year 1, save the trees – I gave up unnecessary printing, learned to read readings on my computer, and bought hankies so I could reduce my tissue use. Year 2 – less carbon output – I gave up my car, and now I use public transport, cycling and walking exclusively.

They’re not meant to be menial like New Years’ Resolutions, but practical goals you can achieve by imagining some way you’d like to improve, working out 2 or 3 steps you can take to achieve it (like say, enrolling to be a Connect Mentor for 2014), and then going out and doing it. Easy.

LESSON 7: AVOID BACK TO BACK SUMMER & WINTER SCHOOL CLASSES.

Enough said. Don’t do back to back summer and winter school. 18 months straight of university will do your head in.

I am really struggling to stay motivated to finish my last three essays. I’ve been going since February last year. Needless to say, I can’t wait for my holiday coming up. I will exit the said dark tunnel and bathe in the light and empty-headedness mentioned above.

LESSON 8: BE SURE OF YOUR LOAD CHOICE

For most, staying full-time for 3-4 years straight is a no-brainer. Keep your head down and get it done so you can get out. For others, particularly mature-age students, there may be unexpected issues that arise that force you to defer, or financial restraints that mean deferring or going part-time is the better choice. What’s hard to realise at the time of decision-making is that feeling you will have in four or five years, when you still haven’t finished and you feel like you’ve been going forever. I urge you all to keep this lesson in mind for the future, because if you find yourself sometime considering part-time or deferment, it’s important to weigh up your implications carefully and what it will mean for your studies – when will it mean finishing – which year – how many subjects per semester will you do – how old will you be – what other things in life do you want to be achieving then – how will it fit in with your overall plans for life – what obstacles will you face starting your career at this later age?

If you defer or go part time, be as certain as you can, own that choice and don’t regret it later. Try to boost your career development if you can by doing things that will contribute to your overall degree:

  • Make the most of this extra time without study to do something in your field of interest relating to your degree, like a part-time or weekend job, or a few hours a week volunteering, so that you are still building on your skill set.
  • Read as many books about your role models as possible: Pick people you admire in your field, search Wikipedia for their journey from study to career rise, go to your library and find biographies on those people to gain inspiration.
  • Read up on books in your subject choices or degree topic. Vet science degree? Read about some amazing zoos or wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Development degree? Read about some of the amazing causes or organisations or cultures out there. Law degree? Read case studies of interesting lawsuits taking place in your preferred law area. Having a broad understanding of different facets of your degree will help you settle back in easily when you return to uni.

Don’t return to uni feeling like you’ve wasted that 6 months or year as far as academic growth goes. Learn as much as you can!

LESSON 9: LIFE HAPPENS

Illness, tragedy and unforeseen events happen. They will challenge you but the university is very supportive and there are understanding academics, helpful counsellors, cooperative financial staff, and a number of departments including your faculty who are there to help you work through your tough times.

I have had one deferment, two special considerations and another semester that has challenged my abilities to keep on top of work. Under the special considerations, one was due to life-threatening illness that made me miss half the semester. The second one was due to unexpected financial difficulties that made it incredibly hard to focus on study when you are faced with taking a casual shift to pay for your week’s meals, or meet the essay deadline.

I think these situations have bonded me to the university more than anything, reminding me that La Trobe invests itself in your education, through giving you the best academics and support services it can provide. Nobody wants to see you fail, and they will all work together to help you through bad times. Remembering this will help you be more willing to seek out the academics and support to get you through.

And remember that old adage: This too, shall pass.

LESSON 10: THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, THE BEST IS LAST.

University is the only place in your whole life where you will be offered such a massive concentration of opportunities.

Be open to them, fit in as many as you can and dream large. The benefits you will gain through the networking and the capacity building will leave you with so many advantages over other students: wonderful friendships, lasting experiences that will help your CV get noticed, memorable interviews due to your glowing talks about your experiences.

There’s no denying it. Participation will set you on a stable path to career fabulousnessness. Carpe diem!! Seize the opportunities!!!

Thanks for being a reader of my series of blogs over the past five months. I hope I have given you all the tools you need to not just survive university but leave ‘career ready’ to kick ass in the job world. Next semester I will be reposting the most important blogs for the benefit of semester 2 newly enrolling students, however feel free to refer back and use my information as a tool to help you at any time in your future studies.

A new set of bloggers will be on hand next semester to take you through the weekly journey. I hope you will stick around and follow them!! If you are interested in being one yourself, look out in July for a post seeking new recruits. We look forward to having you on board !!

Love your Wise Owl, Bec.

2 thoughts on “If I’d Known Then…

    • connectbec says:

      Well I hope you took all my questions into consideration! Although being younger they shouldn’t be as big a concern for you! Hope all goes well with your changes 🙂

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