My younger brother is a brilliantly bright Year 12 trying to figure out what on earth he’s going to do with his life. Ah, memories! It was only four years ago that I was exactly the same as him – except that he understands algebra.

With the benefit of my experience with the trials and tribulations of adult life, I decided to answer his most pressing questions about what he has coming to him at Uni. Since I’m pretty sure his questions will match up with yours, I hope this gives you some insight into what you can expect. 

How much of a change is University from high school?

To be honest, it’s a pretty big change. The work is different, in that you have to go into more detail and the referencing is far stricter. There’s a lot more reading. You’ll have less class time and more time for working at your own pace. You get to choose your path, so it’s more tailored to your interests. Additionally, you have to be very self-motivated, as lecturers won’t chase after you the way your teachers do now. 

But, the skills you’ve learned in high school will help you cope with this. Your senior years will have taught you to learn independently and manage deadlines. You will have learned how to talk to people and make friends. Hopefully, your parents have taught you to do laundry (though you, my dear brother, may need some more instruction in this field). You’ll learn more about these things as you move through life, but the foundations you’ve built will support you on that journey.

It’s a change, but it’s a good one. It’s the change that starts the rest of your life. After a couple of months, you’ll settle into the groove. 

What happens if I decide I don’t like my major?

You change it. Honestly, it’s that simple. You can even change your whole degree if you want to. Thousands of people have done it before you, and thousands more will do it after you. 

More specifically, you’ll contact your faculty’s student centre and ask them to change your major. They’ll give you some forms. You’ll fill them out. You’ll enrol in some different classes. Boom, new major found. It’s particularly easy to switch majors in your first year – in fact, you’ll find that most people do. 

It’s a good idea to make that decision as quickly as possible so that you can be sure to fit into the classes you want, but if you have to change later on, it’s usually workable. You’re talking to someone who left their Law degree in the third year, so I know a thing or two about the process. It’s much better to endure a bit of organisational pain and get a new major that you actually love, rather than wasting your time on something you hate. 

Are lecturers approachable/accessible?

Yes and no. Your lecturer will hold office hours that you can attend, and they’ll sometimes stay after class to answer questions. You can email them and ask questions too. They are intelligent, friendly people who got into this profession because of their passion for learning, so they are happy to talk to you. But, for most things, you’ll go to your tutor instead. This prevents the lecturer from having to answer every question from the hundreds of students they teach, and makes sure you get your question answered quickly. Your tutors can help you with work in more detail because they have more time. 

All the lecturers I’ve had have been lovely people, so you most likely won’t have any problems approaching them. They make a point of having times to hear from their students. They’re there to help, and if it’s a question only they can answer, you’re more than welcome to go to them. Their expertise is often invaluable. 

How hard is it to balance University and social interests?

You know that I don’t have a social life, so I feel like you asked this question to mock me. 

Joking aside, it isn’t that difficult. A lot of the friends you make will be in your degree, or other degrees, so they’ll understand that you have to make time for study. Hopefully, they’ll encourage and support you. It’s all about balance. If you hang out with your friends a lot one day, you’ll know you have to catch up on work the next, and vice versa. Have self-discipline, but also have fun. You can often kill two birds with one stone, hanging out and studying together over lunch or coffee. Finding good friends that are focused and driven, but still want to have fun, will make Uni way more worthwhile for you and your mental health.

Some people do find themselves getting a bit stupid and going out every night, neglecting their studies and ultimately failing to form meaningful friendships. To avoid this, make sure you’re looking after your health by getting enough sleep and knowing your limits. The people who fall down that rabbit hole will end up regretting it, so make sure to ask for help if you feel like you’re overdoing it. (Though knowing my brother, the only thing you’ll overdo it on is Chocolate-Chip Icecream. Sorry bro, it’s genetic). 

What are the things to look for when choosing a University?

  1. LOCATION: If you can (and want to), it’s a good idea to be as close to home as possible. If things go wrong, your parents will be there to help. Additionally, you might want to go to an area where opportunities in your field can be found. For instance, if you’re looking at studying Commerce, Auckland hosts the head offices of many New Zealand companies and local branches of multi-nationals. 
  2. QUALITY: Look up the university’s international ranking, notable alumni, prominent faculty members, and facilities. It’s usually worth a bit of sacrifice to get the best education possible. (For what it’s worth, the University of Auckland is the highest ranked University in New Zealand. Shameless plug over). 
  3. COST: Not just of the University itself (most in New Zealand are very comparable in terms of fees), but the cost of real estate/rent prices for accommodation, food/supermarkets in the area, entertainment, and other things that you’ll end up spending money on.
  4. STUDENT EXPERIENCE: Depending on what you’re looking for, each University can be very different to attend. See if you can talk to some students who have attended the places you’re interested in about the student culture and teaching at their institution. 
  5. Side note: No matter where you’re looking at, try your very hardest to get to their Open Day. No amount of Google Image searching will replace being able to actually look at the facilities for yourself. It gives you a sense of the culture, atmosphere, and value the institution has to offer.