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Dear First Year Me

Dear first year me,

Let’s be honest, I was scared shitless when it came to starting uni. Being the baby of the family and being part of a large group in college meant that I never had to strike out on my own. I was quite content for this to remain the case for as long as possible.

Except then all my friends went to Auckland and I was the only one who went to Massey’s Albany campus.

There’s nothing really like the thought of starting university and not knowing anyone. The thought of having no one to sit next to in class that you already know, or someone to hang out with in the breaks between classes, or someone to talk about assignments with was something that was quite daunting to face.

Thankfully, someone from my school was in the same degree as me, so this didn’t end up being a thing. But I hope it wouldn’t have been a problem even if I had gone into my degree alone. When you have a small degree and small class sizes and the same lecture timetable, you have to make an effort not to become some form of friends.

It’s one of many ways in which first year is both easier and harder than I thought it would be.

The jump in the amount of work needing to be done was something I hadn’t expected. Teachers at college stressed the number of assignments that would need to be done, how lectures were nothing like classes and how we had to step up in every way, yet they forgot to include the sheer amount of readings needed for each class.

Readings are probably the worst part of first year (and every year afterwards). Students can brag about pulling their first all-nighter or skipping classes to hand in an assignment or “regretting” a night out when there’s an assignment due the night after, but there’s nothing special about getting all the readings done before class. It’s just something that needs to be done, and readings have often been the most mundane parts of my degree. Yes, there’s been some really interesting material, but even the most fascinating topic becomes on-par with reading about tax returns when there’s fifty pages to get through before class tomorrow.

But my teachers, for all their warnings, didn’t mention the amount of support students would be given. Maybe at bigger universities or in bigger degrees, this wouldn’t be the case, but I never felt let down or like I was struggling in any way. And I think this would be the best part of first year for me – I was so worried about warnings that lecturers would leave you to your own devices, that everything was up to you, but this wasn’t the case at all.

Lecturers, or my lecturers anyway, managed to foster an environment where we learned to be independent but didn’t get left behind. They might have let us walk along the edge but they weren’t going to let us fall.

Otherwise everything was pretty much the usual things you learn in first year. Sign up to the Alban Students’ Association, they’re there for you, and the carpool scheme was a massive step up from having to deal with Auckland’s public transport system. Go to Fergs on Thursday nights at least once and then never again because even though you’re 18, everyone else will be 16 and you’ll feel like you’re middle aged. Fergs on Thursday nights is not something to be repeated, but going there for a drink and a pizza after class is something that should be. This pizza and the ease of buying food rather than bringing it means that weight will be gained. The Freshman Five is a real thing. Get involved in some way – uni is so much better when its not just a drive-thru.

These things are all important. They’re lessons I’ll take with me wherever I go next. But really, if there’s one thing I would tell my first year self, it would be this: It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish your degree.

Rather like seeing everyone’s engagement photos, or that time when your Facebook feed starts being dominated by weddings and pregnancy announcements, seeing everyone’s graduation photos when you’re still facing the rest of the year as a student makes you feel like you’re being left behind.

My degree was extended by choice rather than any failed papers, but even if I had had to retake papers, the extra year wouldn’t be a waste. I’m working and getting experience, and I feel like I’ll finish this year much more prepared to enter the workforce than I would’ve had I finished my degree in three years.

Finishing a degree as soon as you can is heavily emphasised, from how papers are structured, to how a university counselor tried to dissuade me from dropping papers, from Massey’s own eight year limit on a first qualification. And yes, I want to be out working as soon as possible, I’m excited to start a job which I will have been studying for for four years and dreaming about for longer. But there is nothing wrong with deviating from the three-year-degree timeline, and this is something I’m having to continually tell myself.

Just make sure to make friends with those in years below you. It’s much more fun than graduating alone.

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