Heading Into First Year at University? Here’s What You Need to be Totally Prepped


The most exciting time of your life awaits you. You’ve put your schooldays behind you, and you are ready to head off to university. This is not just a change of scenery, it's a leap into a new chapter of your life filled with challenges, growth and unforgettable experiences. To ensure you make the most of your first year, it’s essential to be well-prepared. Read on for some hints and tips to guide you through your first year at varsity.

Tips On Being Academically Prepared For Uni

Your first big decision is selecting the right subjects so choose wisely. Take the time to understand your interests and career goals. Our universities offer a wide variety of programmes, so explore your options before making a decision. This can include talking to academic advisors, attending open days, virtual campus tours, and taking time to investigate the career paths that your choices can lead to.

Studying at university is very different from studying at school. There is no one to hold your hand, and you need commitment and plenty of self-discipline. To help you on your way, here are some tips to help you develop useful study habits.

  • Create a study schedule: Plan your study time around your classes and other commitments. Consistency is key.
  • Practice active learning: Engage with the material actively. Take notes, participate in discussions, and ask questions.
  • Use the resources at hand: Make use of libraries, online resources and study groups. Don't hesitate to seek help when needed.

Balancing classes, assignments, and a social life requires effective time management. Here are some strategies to help you stay on top of your commitments:

  • Prioritise your tasks: Identify the most important tasks and tackle them first.
  • Set realistic goals: Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable goals.
  • Make technology your friend: There are a host of free apps that can help you organise your schedule and keep to your deadlines. Use them.
  • Don’t procrastinate: Leaving your assignments to the last minute can cause stress, so ensure you begin them as early as possible.
  • Take breaks: Avoid burnout. Give yourself breaks during your study sessions. They will help you stay focused.

How To Make The Most Out Of Campus Life

Part of the university experience is building a social circle. The friends you make at university could well end up being friends for life. The following tips can help you connect with your fellow students:

  • Participate in orientation activities and events – it’s the best way to meet new people.
  • Join clubs and societies that interest you. Whether it be sports or outreach, it will bring you face to face with like-minded people.
  • Be open and approachable. Smile, introduce yourself, and be open to forming connections with people from different backgrounds.

Balancing Social Life With Academics

Making friends is important, but not at the expense of your academics. It’s important to find the right balance between socialising and studying. Here's how:

  • Create a schedule: Allocate specific time slots for both academic and social activities.
  • Set boundaries: Learn to say no when necessary. Don't let social activities interfere with your studies.
  • Take care of yourself: To maintain that healthy balance, make sure you get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation.

Financial Planning Tips For University

University life comes with its own set of financial challenges so you need to learn to budget effectively:

  • Creating a budget is your first step to financial well-being. Outline your monthly expenses, including accommodation, food, entertainment and personal needs.
  • Don’t spend unnecessarily. Keep your eye on what you spend your money on. It may be difficult to have to miss that expensive concert, but you need to stay within your budget.
  • Have an emergency fund. If you can, save a little every month to help you cope when those unexpected expenses arise.
  • Take time to find out what scholarships, bursaries or financial aid might be on offer. The SA government provides financial aid through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for students who struggle to pay fees.
  • Part-time work can provide extra income, practical experience, and networking opportunities. But before you rush off looking for part-time work think about issues such as the impact it may have on your academic performance, and that it can increase stress.

How To Manage Your Mental Health And Wellbeing

University life can be demanding, and your mental health and well-being is a priority. Recognise the signs of stress, anxiety, and burnout. These can include irritability, loss of interest and avoiding friends and family. Don’t hesitate to get professional support. Many universities offer counselling services specifically for this purpose. Asking for support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Techniques that can help you manage your stress include mindfulness (which helps you stay in the present and reduces anxiety), meditation, and regular exercise.

Practical Preparation

If you are taking the huge step of moving into student digs, make sure you are moving to a safe area and that there are safety features (an alarm, burglar guards) at the accommodation you select. Meet your potential housemates before making a decision. Communicate and behave thoughtfully to keep a calm and happy atmosphere in your new home.

Attend Orientation Week

Orientation week is your first introduction to university life. At Varsity College, for instance, you can expect campus tours, which will help you find your way about the campus. Information sessions help you learn about academic programmes, campus policies and support services. Of course, there are plenty of social events that are not only fun but a great way to meet new people.

For many people, the busy student years can be one of the most rewarding but also challenging periods of their lives. Being properly prepared and knowing what to expect from the start will go a long way in making the journey easier and more enriching.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.