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uni-life 5 min read

What to expect as a first in family uni student

By Emma 21 Jul 2019
Image of family laughing.
As I walked out of my high school graduation, it was a moment of pure elation. I had just finished thirteen years of education and was especially relieved to have survived the last two years of senior. But after graduation, I had a few months to sit and ponder my life. All I had ever known was school uniforms, a set timetable and structure. At school I was told that uni would be a completely different style of learning, but without any older siblings to turn to for uni advice, I didn’t fully understand just how different it would be.

In the week before I was to start, it really hit home that no one in my family had ever experienced or understood what uni life was like. I realised I had no one to guide me through the first big hurdles of university, like how to enrol in my classes online, what the differences between tutorials and workshops were, how to navigate the uni without a map plastered to my face like a tourist and, most importantly, where the best coffee was.

I found researching my degree on the university website was useful in regards to finding out what was expected and what courses I would be studying. As a full-time student, I learned I would be studying three or four courses per semester. Not all courses are the same at university. Some may have both assignments and an exam, some have a combination of online quizzes, assignments and exams, and a few have just assignments. This was something I didn’t know, and it was important for me to establish at the start of each semester exactly what each course required.
University also meant a lifestyle change. I got to choose what I wore, when I went to class (which should be all the time) and how I studied. Managing my time became, and continues to be, my biggest challenge. No one at university forces you to start your assignments or reminds you when they are due. You have to learn to motivate yourself and manage your own workload. Life also has many other commitments, such as family, friends and work, so you need to factor all of these in so that you can make time for a healthy, balanced life.

If you are the first in your family to attend uni, here is my advice to try and help make your transition to uni life an easy one

Explain the differences to your family and friends

My family were confused because I wasn’t attending classes from 9 to 3 everyday like I had done during school. At first they didn’t understand the concept of the individual student determining their study journey. Take the time to explain these differences to your family and friends so that they’re able to support you more and encourage you to keep up with your studies.

Find a mentor and get to know others at USQ

Seek out a mentor who has been to uni to help make those first few weeks less daunting. This could be a friend or a past student of your high school who can help guide you through the initial challenges of adjusting to uni. You should also make an effort to talk to people you meet throughout your courses and around your campus. At USQ, a large majority of students are in the exact same situation as you, with 60% of students being the first in their families to attend university*. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions or admit if you’re feeling a bit lost. Many other new students will be feeling the same way!

Explore your uni

Spend time at the university before you officially begin classes to familiarise yourself with the campus. Get to know where your classes are going to be held, explore the Japanese Gardens (if you’re studying in Toowoomba) and spend time socialising in the Refectory or common areas. Open Day is a great opportunity to see everything your campus has to offer. It’s also a good idea to invite your family and friends along to see the campus so they can understand where you spend your days and feel a part of the experience.

Plan your time

Familiarise yourself with StudyDesk and create a calendar with all of the assessment due dates for your different courses. This allows you to put your entire semester into perspective so you can manage your time and complete your assessments without anything getting missed or sneaking up on you.

Emma with her mum, dad and sister.
My mum, dad and sister were all very proud to see me go to uni.

Being the first in your family to attend uni can seem challenging and daunting, but it is an amazing adventure that can pave the way for other members of your family to follow your lead! By understanding what to expect and taking the time to keep your family or friends up to date with your uni experience, you’ll be able to enjoy your time at university as a proud first in family student!

For more great advice and tools to help you settle into uni life as a first in family student, check out the suite of resources available for current students.

The First in Family Project (Phase 1) is funded through the Commonwealth Government's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) in 2015, to improve the access, participation and success of students from communities under-represented in higher education.

*Higher Education Information Management Systems (HEIMS) data, Department of Education and Training, 2015.

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