How to survive university


Purple flower taken in the afternoon sun
A random flower at the Auburn Botanical Gardens

Finding your way

In response to the incoming undergraduates starting in university in recent weeks as well as me officially becoming a graduate from UNSW, I thought It would be appropriate to write a prolonged guide on how I barely survived uni and how I think you can extract the best that you can out of your own experience.

For most of you, this guide may seem to mostly echo what you already know but hopefully somewhere buried deep in this post, you will find something useful for you.

For those not bothered to read through all this, below is a sarcastic down-to-earth video by Casually Explained that summarises the various experiences in university. Skip to 3:05 for the real talk.

Keeping on your feet

Overthinking about marks

What many people coming into uni, myself included, assume is that in some, way, shape, or form, is that you live and die by your marks. Let me get this out of the way for you right now, your marks don't matter as much as you really expect them to. Of course, they play some part in getting past job screening or allowing you to do some course with a mark hurdle, but in reality, you shouldn't define yourself by your mark, high school marks included.

This means that you are effectively working with a blank slate when entering uni and thus, you should be treating it that way.

This is your opportunity to do what you love without defining yourself by how well you did.

Determine what you want out of university

The value of uni comes out of what you really want out of it. For some, uni means it's a connective experience, for others, it's a way to get a job. Have a sit-down and really think about what you really want out of it, else you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Uni isn't just for studying, uni is an experience so you should treat it as one.

If you are determined to get a job, smash your classes, get your resume out there and learn valuable skills. If you're looking to make friends, join societies. Adapt the experience for you. Else, you'll be stuck questioning what you're even doing in university, a feeling that I'm much too familiar with.

Establish your study rhythm

Those who studied heavily during high school will understand where I'm coming from here. It's very important that you're able to establish some form of consistency with how you work. Create processes that suit your own preferences for how you study that allow you to digest content in your own preferred way.

Whether that is studying in the earlier hours of the morning before going to the gym, or breaking up the work in chunks, find your own way of studying in uni that is easily reproducible and hard to change. Also, be aware that the way you studied in other environments might not be applicable to how content at university is delivered so keep that in mind as you adapt in your first semester or two.

Enroll into classes like you're desperate

So the most common thing I really was guilty of at uni was leaving it too late to enroll in the courses I was going to do that year. I've been placed on agonizing waitlists, had to have timetables that were horrendous (think 9 am morning class then 6 pm afternoon class), and even not been able to take classes because their waitlists were full.

Fight for these places. The best courses are in the most demand so act like you really want it and fight for your place in your favorite course. Else you'll end up regretting you ever left it to that last minute.

Preview your timetable for the session

As an extension to the earlier point, there are plenty of planner tools available for you to plan out your semester/term. Whether it's a digital one like CSESoc's Notangles, or a physical one like this UNSW timetable planner, being able to decipher how your life is going to look like for the next 3-6 months is critical to allowing you to breathe.

Plan your electives

Similarly to your classes, you should plan ahead with what electives you're looking to take. If you don't know what electives to take, then make a shortlist of some electives that might seem interesting. Make it as extensive as it needs to be so that when it comes around to enrolling, you have everything prepared and ready to secure your seat at the lecture theatre.

Staying supported

There will be times when you feel overwhelmed with everything that is thrown at you, and that's okay.

I personally have felt that many times, where it felt that dropping subjects or out completely was the only way to ease the load. For this reason, it is vital that you are aware of the various support systems that surround you so that you have a shoulder to lean on when your back is against the wall.

For those in Australia, Beyond Blue, Lifeline Australia, Headspace, and Kids Helpline are places that you can call for support. For the people at UNSW, help is always available at UNSW Psychology and Wellness.

University is an option, not a requirement

One of my standing values when pursuing my degree was that if I ever started hating what I did for a semester/term, I should re-evaluate what I was doing as soon as it ended.

This also meant reconsidering if I wanted to continue studying full-time.

If there is nothing forcing you to stay at uni, and you feel like you need a break from it all for one reason or another, I'll be the one to tell you that there's no reason to keep trying to walk up a wall.

Taking a break from studying completely, or converting to part-time is a perfectly good option and you should value your own wellbeing above all else.

Help with homework

Apart from mental health, sometimes you just need someone to guide you through a tough topic. For this, there are a couple of options I would recommend seeking out.

Your tutor/lecturer

I know this is obvious but some people just refuse to ask their tutor/lecturer for advice about topics. They're there for a reason so take advantage of it! Don't let your pride get in the way, they're there to help you learn!

Open-source knowledge

Some gracious people (like Luka Kerr) have graciously open-sourced their knowledge to the world for everyone to use. Do some digging and you might find people, articles, or websites that convert content into something much more digestible. This is one I can wholeheartedly attest to since my Uni's Math Society has ended up helping me more times than I'd like to admit.

Word of mouth

Sometimes if you're lucky enough, you can reach out to people who have already done the subject that you're currently undertaking. Though this is not as reliable as the other two options, it provides what I believe to be the best way of learning; with friends who had background knowledge like you. I know at the very least, I would be willing to provide some knowledge for CompSci so feel free to reach out!

Familiarise yourself with campus

This is self implied. Most universities will also provide you with some form of app or map which will allow you to navigate the campus via your phone. For reference, below is a list of some campus maps in Australia (sorry if yours is not included):

This also means familiarising yourself with important places within University that you may come to visit for help. Some places are:

  • Student Hub
  • Major places of interest for your degree (certain buildings are associated with your degree)
  • Learning resources (computer labs, tutorial rooms)
  • Libraries
  • Toilets (thank me later)
  • Transport locations (bus stops, tram/train stops, and their walks, parking)
  • Places to eat

Find your home at university

By this I mean find where you are most comfortable at university. Find where you like to study, read, nap or work. For me, this was the computer labs and the upper levels of the UNSW Main Library. Also, try to find places that are not so far away from where you do your lectures because the last thing you want is to walk 10 minutes before you get to take a nap.

Get involved

For some people (like me) who couldn't get involved because of covid, not getting involved in uni societies and the like was something I very much regret now. Whenever you're comfortable enough, get yourself out there and get involved in some societies or volunteer to broaden your horizons.

Or not, it's really up to you. I mean I like to spend my nights talking to myself about buggy code so who am I to say what to do here...

Understand the finances

I very much am a firm believer in financial literacy. Sometimes this stuff is looked over in your university life but too many times have I had to explain what HECS or SA-HELP is. Do your research on how you are going to finance your university experience. Whether it is taking out loans, getting government support, leaning on a scholarship, or whatever it is. Understand the ins and outs of how you are going to survive financially.

Many people say that your young times are times to take financial risks. I agree though only to an extent. I believe you can only take risks when you are financially capable and responsible enough to do so. Note the lack of being comfortable but simply just capable. If you are capable of taking risks and are willing and responsible enough to, go ahead and buy that bitcoin drop or whatever. The important point about being capable and responsible is that you ensure that you won't starve when your risk goes bust.


If you're an Australian, understanding this area of finance is quite vital. These two types of HELP loans represent the two most common forms of student support the Australian government provides to commonwealth-supported students.

I won't provide my own wording for this section but rather, I HIGHLY recommend you to do some light reading on HELP loans in general, or at the very least, keep it in your bookmarks as a reference for later when these terms inevitable come up when you're enrolling.

Social Security

Many governments around the world provide support of some degree for disadvantaged and/or qualifying students through social security payments.

For Australians, this comes most commonly in the form of Youth Allowance, financial help provided to full-time students, apprentices, or young people looking for work.

You may be eligible for these types of payments in your own government. I would recommend again, doing your own research using accredited information to see if you are able to take these payments as they will allow you to have a greater level of financial freedom in your circumstance.

Learn what it means to be financially responsible

Some people say that buying $4 coffee every day is not that expensive but cringe when they hear people pay $5.99 a month for the Spotify student plan.

Well, sorry to say but for about 18 cups of coffee, you can have unlimited music and podcasts on Spotify...for a year.

For most, this is something that isn't cared about until much later but is definitely something you should consider as soon as you hit uni. I moved out of my parents in my first year and learned what it took to kept the bills paid, to make my meals (and think about what to eat 3 times a day), as well as what it took to be comfortable in life.

That doesn't mean you have to do the same, but I highly recommend learning what it means to achieve FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) and become financially literate.

Your future

I'm going to say this now, you have no control over how your uni experience is going to pan out. Your dream company may never respond to the application you spend hours perfecting, you may never have the marks you set out to get or make as many genuine connections as you thought you would. That's really just a fact of life. But what you can do is to do everything you can to maximize your chances of being successful at what you want to do. Ensure that you study lots to get high marks, reach out to industry programs to expose yourself to job opportunities, and join societies to meet people. At some point, you'll hit gold and achieve what you set out to do.


A table depicting undergraduate employment outcomes by study area
Undergraduate employment outcomes by study area via QILT GOS

In no way is your preferred ending to uni guaranteed. Statistically, approximately one-third of all graduates will NOT be employed in "managerial or professional occupations" (full-time) within four months after graduation (QILT GOS 2021).

That's not to be depressing but is a sign for you to take everything in perspective. Understand what it takes to be successful in your space and reach out to credible and respected sources and work towards taking paths that are both what you want, and what has been proven to be successful (if you are even following a path that is).

This train about my future has led me down a variety of paths, ultimately leading me to write this lengthy post about how I worked to find graduate jobs.

Educate yourself with information that pertains to where you want to be in your life, as well as what you want to become in your career. It's all about experiencing things within your domain, finding your niche, and excelling in that one area.

Also remember, there is no rush to get things done. This is your career and you should take it where you want to go. No one should hold a heavier weight to your outlook but yourself, and similarly, no one should put you down on what you want to do. Remember that there is a big difference between being constructive and destructive.


Kind of poetic that this is last...

For many situations, you are only able to be as successful as you can allow yourself to be. If you're constantly barraging yourself with things to do and not leaving any time to find out what you want to do for yourself, eventually, you'll finish your degree and still be as confused as you were about your future as when you started.

Make time for yourself, time to re-evaluate and reconsider. If you do, you'll come to slowly realize more about yourself, your feelings about what you're studying, where you want to be in life, and how you'll get there.

For me personally, this was quite easy as I was in lockdown for a good majority of my time at uni and thus, had an age to be philosophical about my own existence. Since this probably isn't the case for you, I would suggest setting meetings for yourself every so often to just sit there and write/think/browse about life and develop your opinions about your future one little bit at a time.

Good luck

This blog will obviously be updated as I learn new things, but you've reached the end!

Hopefully, this has helped you on your way to creating your ideal experience at university and helps set you on the path that you want to be on after graduation.

Feel free to share this with anyone that you think could benefit from it, or contact me if you think something should be changed or added (or comment below).

Good luck!