Preparing for University Tips – contributed by Carpe Diem Counselling and Coaching
Next week marks the start of the semester at Edith Cowan University (ECU). I’m focussing on ECU particularly as it’s my nearest university and one to which I have close connections, having both taught and studied there. It seems a good time, then, to write some posts with some tips for those studying, perhaps for the first time, at university, ECU or otherwise – Preparing for University Tips.
I’ve had a long involvement with universities, from both sides. From 1991 to 1997 I was a lecturer at De Montfort University in the UK, before we moved to Singapore and I moved into professional accountancy training, and from 2012 to 2017 I was a sessional lecturer at ECU. From the student perspective, I did my first degree (in law) at Nottingham University in the 1980s. It was a very different world to today’s universities. My degree involved no use of technology (I didn’t even touch a computer until after I’d graduated and started working for an accounting firm) and library searches involved going through hand-written index cards in the law library and poring over dusty books of law reports. I went there as a school leaver, lived in university accommodation and, to be frank, was more interested in my social life than in studying; the only useful tip I can give you from that period is never to drink on an empty stomach.
It was many years later that I returned to university to do my MBA. (I’d taken my professional accountancy exams while working for an accounting firm after I’d finished my law degree.) It was a distance learning degree from Manchester University, with just a few hours of contact time per unit, that I did while working and, for the latter part, with a baby. Even later than that was my Masters in Counselling at ECU, as an even more mature student.
So I think I’ve learned a few things over the years, from the dual perspectives of teaching and studying. I’ve a lot to say on this subject (some would say, on most subjects) and so I’m planning to write three posts over the next three weeks. This post will concentrate on preparing for university before the semester really starts, next week will look at studying effectively, and the third will look at assignment writing. Later in the semester there’ll be posts looking at mid-term blues, anxiety and exam revision. If you’re reading this on Facebook, make you sure you like my page, so that you don’t miss any of these posts, and share so your friends can see them too.
Most universities hold orientation activities (ECU certainly does) and it’s well worth going to some of these to get familiar with the activities, services and support that are available to you. If any library tours are on offer it’s a good idea to go on one, and also to get your IT access and Student Card set up before the semester starts. In my experience, the library and IT staff are incredibly helpful. Unfortunately I’ve found the parking staff less so, so make sure you know where all the student car parks are and have the relevant permits set up. (With regards to parking, the car parks get very full in the first half of each semester, so have a Plan B about where to park.) Even if you don’t attend any formal orientation activities it’s worth making sure you know your way around campus and where the library, bookshop, and relevant lecture rooms are.
Blackboard is the name of the course management system used by ECU and many other universities. It’s here that lecture notes will be posted, plus other materials such as articles, assignment details, recordings etc. There will be a Blackboard site for each unit on which you are enrolled plus sites for topics such as learning support. Some of these sites may be active already and all should be active by the first day of the semester. Go onto the Blackboard pages for your units and see what’s there. Initially take a look at the announcement pages and the Unit Plan. The Unit Plan will tell you the lecture topics by week, the course text books and dates of assignments/tests. If you can’t get into Blackboard or the Student Portal, contact the very helpful IT people.
You can easily spend a lot of money on course books. Before you go to the bookshop and buy the recommended books, first see if you can get them cheaper elsewhere. You’ll see notices selling second hand books around campus and on Gumtree etc. and that can be a good way to save money, but just make sure that the book you’re buying is the correct edition and is still the recommended text for your course, as these change. Some universities may also have Facebook groups to exchange books. Online sites to try are Book Depository, which sells new books and has free postage worldwide, and Abe Books, which sells new and second hand. For some subjects, for example accountancy, you do need the latest editions as accounting standards change. But for other subjects, for example some units in psychology, you could easily buy old editions as the content is older (e.g. Freud). If you can’t find cheaper alternatives and are faced with buying a $150 book at the bookshop, consider sharing a book if you have friends doing the same units.
If you’re doing it right, you’re going to be pretty busy for the next few months. If you’re trying to combine Uni with work and/or family commitments it may make things even more complicated. Find out the due dates of your assignments/tests and plan (and book in your diary) the time to study for them. It can be a bit depressing to realise the extent to which Uni will take over your life, but you need to take a deep breath, throw yourself into it and defer anything non-essential until after the end of the semester. Its only a few months and it will go very quickly.
It’s important to use all the little pockets of time that would otherwise be wasted. You’ll probably find that you need to get to Uni early in order to get one of the aforementioned hard-to-find parking spaces. The time that you might otherwise spend sipping coffee and checking Facebook until your class could be spent on work. You may well be carrying around a laptop anyway, but I used to write bits of assignments using a Bluetooth keyboard and my phone as it was quicker than booting up a laptop. I wrote pretty much all of my MBA thesis (on culture, learning styles and impact on success in accounting exams) in IKEA café in Singapore. I’d drop my son at nursery and my husband at work and then have two hours before I had to pick my son up. I’d hole up in IKEA café as it was then (but probably not now) one of the few places without Wi-Fi so I could analyse my data and write without distraction.
Sorry, this isn’t going to be about what you’re thinking it is. As well as a Bluetooth keyboard, buy a freezer and a slow cooker or a very large pot (try IKEA!). If you’re lucky, someone else might be feeding you while you’re studying but if you’re wholly or partly responsible for cooking for yourself and your family it’s a good idea to prep ahead. I used to (and still do) make giant vats of bolognese sauce, chilli, shepherd’s pie, curry, soup and freeze loads of portions. These freezer meals would then be dinner 2 or 3 nights a week during the semester with easy stuff (such as grilled meat or fish) on the other nights.
Another very useful thing to buy is a laser printer. You’ll likely be printing out lots of articles and bits of e-books for assignments. You can (I think) print these out at the Student Guild if you take your own paper, but it’s a lot more convenient to be able to print them out at home as you need them. Laser printers are pretty cheap (inkjet printers are even cheaper, but a lot slower) but the toner is expensive. It’s a lot cheaper to buy generic toner from somewhere like Ink Station. Before you buy your printer, check out the price of the toner for the models you’re interested in and work out the cost per page. You can probably get a multi-function printer (with copier and scanner) for not much more than a basic printer, and there are many times in future that these will come in useful.
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Thanks for taking the time to read my top tips Preparing for University Tips
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