So you’re heading off to study at a university, polytech, private institute, or wānanga? For many, it is an exciting time to start a journey towards a dream career and it’s a chance to leave home, explore a new city, and meet new people. But for most, it is also an extremely nerve wracking experience – will you make friends? Where will you eat lunch? What if you get lost? What if you don’t understand the information given to you in a lecture? It can be overwhelming.

However, tertiary education providers understand that the first year of study can be a difficult time for new students, and they are fully prepared with tools and strategies to help make the transition a little easier.

No one looking over your shoulder

Julian Rosser, a student recruitment adviser at Massey University’s Albany campus, says one of the biggest differences between school and university is that there is a lot more freedom and that students generally spend less time in classes than at school – but there is still a lot of work to be done outside of class.

“There are no uniforms, no bells, and often, if you don’t turn up to class, no one will know. Of course, not turning up to classes isn’t a good idea, though, since you’re spending thousands of dollars to be at university.”

One of the other most important learning curves about the transition from school to tertiary study is about being self-motivated and independent, which is especially important if you are away from home. At school, teachers usually keep an eye on individual pupils and chase them up to ensure work is being kept up-to-date, but at the next level, the responsibility for learning and success rests squarely on the students – you!

“There is lots of help available to students, but it won’t be handed to you on a plate. You have to ask for it. If you are prepared to seek out help, then you are likely to succeed,” says Rosser.

“This is a mental shift that students sometimes don’t realise for a year or two.”

In a room with 200 strangers

Paul Fenton, the director of student learning and engagement at Auckland University of Technology, agrees with the need for self directed learning.

“You have to be in charge of your own study schedule, what you study, when, and where – no one will do this for you. It is expected that you will be able to read and interpret course outlines and that you are able to organise your timetable so you can complete these tasks on time.

“It is also not unusual to find yourself sitting in a lecture theatre with 50, 100, or even 200 or more students – this is a big difference from school teaching settings. You may also have to attend smaller group tutorials, which are more like school, and you will be expected to work in groups with people you do not know on group presentations, assignments, or tutorial discussions – something that might be challenging to adjust to.”

Help is there – but you have to ask!

While there are a few changes to adjust to when you leave school and start tertiary study, there are also plenty of places and people you can go to for guidance, and their first lot of advice is to make sure you do use the assistance on offer. Jon Stokes, from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, says you should get to know your tutor, do your assignments as soon as you can, stay focused on achieving your goals, and find out what support is available.

“Talk to friends and whānau who have already completed tertiary studies to get their advice. What did they do? What would they do differently? Join study groups for your papers or programme to help build support networks and to help each other. Make sure you also make time to get involved and have fun, and whether you are studying at a polytechnic, wānanga, or university, there will be a number of ways that you can get involved in the community of your tertiary provider.”

The big O

Orientation is on the calendar for most tertiary institutes, and it is definitely a good idea to make it to the day (or week) so you can learn how your new college works and where your classes are. You might even make a few connections with other first year students doing the same course as you.

“Make the most of campus tours, orientation days, counsellors, study groups, social activities, clubs, study support, and classes that help you learn time management and essay writing,” says Rosser.

Your first 40-hour week

Another adjustment to make when it comes to tertiary study is the amount of time that you actually need to spend in class, completing assignments, researching information, and preparing for exams. A full-time student should spend around 40 hours a week doing course related work (including lectures, tutorials etc) which is a big time commitment.

Fenton says it is a good idea to talk to your friends, family, and wider social network to let them know that you need to focus on being a successful student, so their support and understanding will always be appreciated.

At the end of a busy week, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that come with tertiary study, but remember there are people whose job it is to help you get through.

“Tertiary study does not need to be a daunting process. You will make lifelong friendships, grow both personally and academically, and have your limits pushed, all while working towards your goals and aspirations. Look around at the many options available to you and consider what works best for you,” says Stokes.

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