New Years has come and gone in the blink of an eye and without a second to spare, the “back2school” television adverts have started to roll in. It is at this point that most students finally drag themselves out of bed and once again register for the upcoming academic year.
However, for first-year students, registration is just a small part of the preparations that need to be done prior to coming to university. The increased academic pressures at tertiary level already create a notable difference between secondary and tertiary schooling. This difference is made more prevalent by the responsibility to establish both academic and extra-curricular timetables and schedules.
In high school, there were tasks that the scholar’s institution took the responsibility for. Therefore, with this newly transferred responsibility, the increased academic pressure, and the necessary mental preparations, a significant amount of initiative is required from a first-year student. Tackling these tasks may often prove to be a challenge, especially when determining where to start.
The simplest starting point would be to establish a schedule that is free of any clashes and allows adequate free time for the student to ensure balance to the schedule. Dr Eskell-Blokland, the Head of Department at the Student Counselling Unit, identified establishing a schedule and having the correct mindset as two of the more important aspects when preparing for university. The importance of these aspects were echoed by the Faculty Student Advisors (FSAs) at the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment, and IT (EBIT). This is to ensure that students “use their time wisely and get organised”. The EBIT FSAs also mentioned the importance a balanced schedule plays in achieving academic success. They explained that “it is vital that students have a balanced schedule in order to be productive in all areas of their lives and to achieve academic success” and therefore “recognising students as holistic beings”.
Once a schedule is established, the next step would be to ensure that the student commits to the schedule. This is where having the correct mindset plays a role. The FSAs also mentioned that “the two work in harmony together as opposed to individually”. Dr Eskell-Blokland added that “with the correct and constructive mind set, the scheduling will be easier to design and stick to”. This reveals that no matter how impressive your scheduling is, without the correct mindset it will be ineffective. Dr Eskel-lBlokland further highlighted that “when embarking on studies at tertiary level your identity as a student is not as easy as it might have been”. She further emphasised the importance of cementing the mindset that “you are first and foremost a student”. It is also important to ensure that this newly established mindset remains intact throughout the academic year. This is also why the FSAs recommend adopting a “growth mindset”, stating that “this mindset enables [students] to believe that they can overcome any obstacle if they view it from a growth and development perspective”.
With the correct mindset and schedule in hand, there are a few other aspects that will ensure that students are well on their way to getting uni-fit. The FSAs recommend that one of the first tasks students should engage in is research. This includes familiarising yourself with the UP Portal, ClickUP, the study guides relevant to your degree, and “becoming friends with your degree yearbook” to assist in the structuring of your degree. Utilising the services the university offers will go a long way in assisting students with the adjustment. From the student counselling centre to the student advisors available from each faculty, students have multiple channels to use when in need of any assistance, whether academic or otherwise. The important thing to remember is to “always ask for help when you need [it]”, as there will always be someone who has the answer to the questions one may have. The most important piece of advice mentioned by Dr Eskell-Blokland for students is to “become self-aware [and] know yourself”.
With self-knowledge in hand, a student will be better equipped to identify any problem areas in both the academic and personal aspects of their lives. Self-knowledge enables them to tackle the areas more effectively and promptly, and prevents students from falling behind and needing to play catch-up.