Campus countdown: Tips on how to hit the ground running at university

Think of orientation as a treasure map to your new world. Picture: Supplied.

Think of orientation as a treasure map to your new world. Picture: Supplied.

Published Jan 22, 2024


The clock is ticking for the Matric Class of 2023 who are set to start their higher education journey in the coming days. Starting university is exciting and challenging, but visions for this major next step in life and towards adulthood are often tempered by uncertainty.

Transitioning from high school to university can be a significant change for students. Several factors can make this difficult, and students need to understand and prepare for these challenges.

Increasing academic demands, personal responsibility, social changes, living independently, financial stress, decision-making, mental health, time management, different teaching styles and career pressure are some of the aspects that can affect students as they move from high school to university.

As the new academic year dawns, fresh-faced students across the nation are stepping eagerly into the bustling life on campus.

Yet, beneath that excitement, there’s a whirlwind of questions and a bundle of nerves - both for the students and their equally anxious parents.

According to Dr Linda Meyer, Managing Director at IIE Rosebank College, “It's completely normal to be a bit unsettled as you start this phase.”

She shares some wisdom for navigating the new terrain.

Dr Linda Meyer, Managing Director at The Independent Institute of Educations’ Rosebank College. Picture: Supplied.

Make the most of orientation opportunities

The key, she advises, is to jump head first into orientation. There’s a misperception that orientation is just a casual get-together but, really, it’s the opening act of your university education.

“Think of orientation as a treasure map to your new world. A great opportunity to get familiar with the campus, meet new people, and learn about the resources and services available to you. It is also a chance to have fun and make friends before classes start.”

Try to attend as many orientation events as possible and don't be afraid to ask questions or seek help if needed.

Orientation is designed to help you transition smoothly and successfully to university life.


University systems and logistics will differ significantly from what you were used to in high school, said Meyers.

For example, you may have to register for courses online, use a student portal to access your grades and assignments or follow a different academic calendar. You may also have to deal with financial matters, such as paying tuition fees, applying for scholarships, or managing your budget.

To avoid confusion and stress, ensure you understand how these systems and logistics work, and keep track of important dates and deadlines. You can also consult your academic advisor, student services, or other staff members about any issues or concerns.

Get to grips with the tech environment

Technology plays a vital role in university education, especially in today's digital learning environment.

She points out the importance of being ready to use a variety of devices, software, and platforms for coursework, communication with professors and classmates, and accessing online resources.

Her advice for students transitioning to university includes preparing for different learning modes, such as online, hybrid, or blended courses.

To prepare for this, ensure you have the necessary tech equipment, and familiarise yourself with the tech tools and platforms your university uses, such as email, learning management systems, video conferencing, and online libraries.

If you encounter any tech problems or need any tech support, find the support you need to iron out these issues as soon as possible.

Manage expectations

University expectations are different from what you experienced in high school. You will have to deal with more academic rigour, more independence, more responsibility, and more diversity.

You will also need to carefully balance your academic, personal, and social life and cope with various challenges and pressures.

To meet these expectations, you need to develop skills and strategies, such as critical thinking, research, writing, time management, self-motivation, self-care, and stress management.

You should also set realistic and achievable goals, seek feedback and guidance, and celebrate your achievements and progress.

Don’t stress about academics too much in the first week or two. Everyone is still finding their feet. Just ensure you get to grips with your new environment and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Develop time management strategies

Time management is one of the most important skills for university success.

You will need to manage your time effectively and efficiently and prioritise your tasks and activities. You will also have to deal with multiple and competing demands, such as assignments, exams, extracurriculars, work, and social life, said Meyer.

To improve your time management, plan, create a schedule, use a calendar or a planner, set reminders and alarms, and stick to your routine.

Remember you are now accountable to yourself, and your success will depend on your ability to be disciplined and consistent.

Join cultural clubs and sport teams

Joining clubs or sports teams is a great way to enrich your university experience. You can also meet new people, make friends, network and socialise.

Joining clubs or sports teams can also improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and provide much-needed balance to your academic work.

Finally, it is important to know that help is available and to seek support timeously, whether it be for academic or personal reasons.

University can be challenging and stressful, and you may face various difficulties or problems along the way. Most good higher education institutions will have the necessary support services in place, to assist you with challenges you face.

“If you feel overwhelmed, confused, stuck, or unhappy, don’t hesitate to seek help timeously, whether it be academic or mental wellness support. Seeking help timeously is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and courage,” said Meyer.