This year I started working at Student Hubs, the center for any university or library related inquiries at the General Library. You can imagine there is a very wide range of requests and people come in – PhD students juggling babies and their own brainchild, international students, staff researching niche topics, high school students coming in to explore their options or familiarize themselves with the campus, to students halfway through a conjoint wanting to completely change their degree. It’s very easy to get funneled into a particular stream of people (third year law students, in my case) and forget that there is a multitude of people going through the same journey but with different general rules. In short, our experience is not universal. In helping others with their engineering degree or part-time study, or transferring to study a language they are passionate about, helping people when they face extenuating circumstances or for people with families, prior degrees, and businesses who want to keep adding to the education shelf – I have learned a lot about the student experience.
My comments on this experience can be divided into two categories: practical advice and general observations.
Some papers can transfer over to a degree change, even if they are unrelated
- Some degrees are structured in a way that facilitate a degree change without losing all your progress: often many of your courses can transfer over as credits for your new program. E.g. some papers require 30 points outside of your degree – so two papers can transfer over.
Do things as soon as you have notice (being organized pays off)
- Procastinating on errands and tiny details is something people seriously regret (myself included). Staying on top of things means you won’t have to worry when everyone panics in the last two weeks of semester – e.g. getting a coursebook that is now sold out, requesting the chapters of a textbook that has a long line of requests, not having a campus card for the whole semester only to find out you need it for Inspera invigilated exams the day of. The most common and avoidable problems include not getting a coursebook at the start of the (e.g. getting a coursebook, getting a campus card). These can have terrible consequences and are pretty easy to avoid, so it’s better not to leave in the do-later list.
Be wary of deadlines
- For example, deadlines for scholarships (and requesting a reference), course enrolment, applications for concessions, fee payments, assignments, etc. If you need to apply for a concession do so ahead of time, before the course gets full. It’s always good to catch up with yourself every few weeks and ask yourself what is niggling at you or what you need to get out of the way that you have been delaying, what important things are coming up, and schedule when you will get this done. Jumping through these hoops on time will save you a lot of closed doors in the future, especially when it’s something you really wanted to do but didn’t prioritize it right.
Manage your time well in the short term
- Doing a little bit each day means you will always know how much you have left to do rather than assuming you can stress-do it the night before (doable, but often people are left regretful and knowing they could have done a much better job if they’d managed their time better)
If it’s an enrolment-related question and you have little time, check these resources for the information you need:
It’s much more reassuring to hear information from a student advisor, but if you’re pressed for time, what you need to know is usually online. Advisors aren’t actually allowed to give information that isn’t on an official website. The most useful links are:
Immigration New Zealand and the University’s page on entry requirements etc.
My Programme Requirements on SSO will often answer questions about what courses you can take that fit in your degree. If it doesn’t fit, you can always apply for a concession.
Course outlines give more detailed information on a specific course.
Program Requirements are quite useful to get an overarching view of your degree along with how specific papers can fit into it.
It’s also good to wait for a few business days once you’ve placed an inquiry with SSO or StudyLink before checking with the university – otherwise you may just get told to wait until it is processed online.
Check your Canvas announcements. Announcements sometimes have instructions for what to do if online exams don’t work, phone numbers, Zoom links, helpful readings, and updates on extensions/due dates. Remember, they’re your lecturer’s go-to way of contacting the class. It also usually pays to scroll through announcements before starting/submitting an assignment/exam to make sure you haven’t missed something important.
Your course syllabus may be more up-to-date than your Canvas calendar. Some lecturers are more specific about the number of required readings vs supplementary readings, add helpful notes in the syllabus, or due dates for quizzes or mini-assessments that aren’t included in the Canvas calendar.
Familiarize yourself with the campus (even if you are already a student).
- The University has a wonderful campus and is full of beautiful buildings – the Clock Tower is a lovely example of modernist architecture, as well as Old Government House (you may find its resident cat, Governor Grey). The Davis Law Library used to be a bottle factory and the law café is a great space to socialize (it also has a microwave for those with packed lunches, as well as the engineering building). There are plenty of nooks around the arts block, the law area on Eden Crescent, and around general library (the older buildings), while engineering and OGGB are much more modern.
Take a broad view of time and yourself.
- Sometimes it may feel that excelling at university is essential, and it’s all or nothing. It’s always good to remember what got you into your field of study and what your long-term goals are. You may not think the current moment is as satisfying as you wanted – but life throws new things into the mix all the time and we react to them, follow a domino-effect, and end up taking great detours. Some students at the university are in their eighties – imagine how well-stocked their mental libraries are, and how university is just one more thing in the pot. If there is anything I have learned from seeing the diversity of the staff and student body it’s that you have your whole life to find your niche subject. Sometimes all those detours are necessary to reach it. And having acquired a family, friends and acquaintances in all the different courses you’ve taken, seen yourself at your most vulnerable, out of depth, or at loss, means you’ve tested yourself and found your thing rather than thinking “what if” for most of your life.
Diversity is great
- It was lovely was to see how diverse our student body is – students of from 16-81 (that I am aware of), many are parents, some come from all over the world, sometimes New Zealand is the fifth or sixth country they’ve lived in, others can tell you about life in little-known places in Aotearoa. Each person had their thing – from the study of unique mushroom species in our climate, decolonizing medieval tales, identifying missing Indigenous people in New Zealand, Canada, the United States, bridge engineering, discrimination in the law, etc. I read an article that put it very well: the point of diversity isn’t the number of differently colored faces; it is to provide a rainbow of politics and upbringings and thought processes and understandings that might teach us, through our differences, how similar we are.
Remembering that we are each tiles in a big mosaic is great. I think the best way to approach it, as one of my lecturers told me, is not to see your personal success tied up with your success at university. Instead, remember that you came here to learn and for the experience.