Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Student Guide – An Introduction

So you got a university place.

First of all, congratulations! If it's anything like offer time at my house, you're probably opened the envelope (or checked the newspaper, or looked it up on the net), done a bit of yelling and jumping around, handed the letter to your mum, who has also screamed and jumped around and hugged you hard enough to break ribs, and then rung everyone you know to compare offers. Ok, so I'm a little more excitable than some people, but it was an important moment in life.

Then, you actually sit down and start to think about it. If you haven't been lucky enough to have siblings go through uni before you, chances are you have no idea what you are getting into. I can't count the number of times during my degree my friends and I used the words "I wish someone had told me XYZ". So, with 4 years and counting of university experience of my own, and the additional experience of my friends and family, I bring you The Student Guide!

Now, given that I live in Geelong, and go to Deakin University, the timing will largely be set around their academic year, and social posts will no doubt be littered with references to local venues. However, I will strive to keep the majority of the content helpful to uni students no matter where you are, or what you're studying! For those of you who don't know me personally, a little bit of background on my academic background, so you have an idea where future posts are coming from. I attended high school in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, took a gap year working as a bookkeeper, and then moved to Geelong to study a B. Forensic Science at Deakin University. After my first year, I decided that I didn't actually like my chemistry-heavy degree, and transferred into B. Science instead, completed in 2008. I graduated with a major in Forensic Biology, and minors in Physiology and Criminology. I completed my honours with the School of Medicine at Deakin University in 2009, and received Class 1 honours for my project looking at Cancer Cachexia. In 2010, I'm commencing my PhD with the same lab, on the same project, studying part-time while working to support myself. I lived in on-campus residences for 3.5 years, I've done the all-nighters, argued with the faculty, begged for extensions, had two computers die mid-semester, forgotten many a good night on the town, lived off less than $20 a week, and edited more essays (mine and others) than I care to remember. I'm hoping that during that time, I learnt something I can impart on others starting their journey into the halls of academia. Starting now…

I got an offer. What now?

Well, hopefully your offer from the university came with instructions on how to accept, defer or decline it. This is something to consider very carefully. If you got more than one offer, forget the degree itself for a moment, and think practically. Where are your offers from? Are you comfortable moving to a new area if you have to? If you have to move a long way, are you comfortable with not seeing your family for extended periods of time? Are you looking for somewhere totally new? When I moved to Geelong, I often didn't see my family for 5 months or more at a time, which was often difficult, especially as I had never even been to Geelong before, and knew no one. That said, it was also great to be able to start from scratch, make new friends, discover new places, and I had a great time. Once you've had a good think, consider the degrees themselves. What units do you have to do? Does it fit with where you envisage your career at the end of it? What electives can you choose from, and can you do electives from other schools or faculties within the university? Are there any conditions attached to enrolment? Is it a new degree, or has it been changed recently? This last night sound trivial, but newly introduced degrees will change a lot in the first few years while the faculty figures out what works best, and students tend to be used as guinea pigs to iron out the problems, which can be very disadvantageous to you.

Hopefully, you've decided which offer you're going to take up, so then there is the question of whether or not to defer your offer for 12 months. Can you afford to go to uni straight away, or do you really need to work to earn enough to meet that ever-changing Youth Allowance requirement through Centrelink? Unless you have parents that can support you, an amazing scholarship that will sustain you, or are planning to work nights and sleep through lectures, university can be hellish without Centrelink's support. I know, I did it for the first two years, so consider it very carefully. Speaking of Centrelink, put in your intention to claim Youth Allowance NOW if you haven't already, and start getting the paperwork together. The sooner the better, so you can figure out the best way to get around conform to their independence conditions.

Another consideration when deciding whether or not to defer is academic burn out. You've just finished at least 12 years of schooling, including 12 months of hard core VCE/NTCE/HSC study. Chances are, you want to have a bit of a break from the books and squinting at an essay in Word. For some, the summer is long enough, and they're ready to hit the ground running. However, taking 12 months also has its advantages. You can travel, or get into the work force for a bit, and make some serious money (some of which could end up in your savings account), decide if university is right for you, and grow up a bit. One thing you notice a lot is that many of the students who took a gap year approach uni with a different attitude to those straight from high school. Maybe it's just the extra year to get away from petty high school politics, or maybe it's a different approach to study, sometimes it's hard to put a finger on.

So, you've made a decision, now for the paperwork! Make sure you know what the deadline to accept or defer your offer is, as often late fees do apply, or you may even lose your place. This goes for any associated scholarship or accommodation offers too! Make sure you have all the things you need, and put them in the post as soon as humanly possible. Since I started my undergraduate degree, some admissions centres have started doing online acceptances, which makes things easier, but don't leave it to the last minute, as you may have to content with heavy web traffic, thunderstorms, black outs, or computers dying. If you're like my brother, he had to attend an interview with the university before he even received an offer, which had a whole bunch of other wonderful problems attached to it, but he couldn't submit any paperwork until after the interview had taken place. Some of the paperwork can be submitted at enrolment day, such as HECS-HELP forms and the like, so make sure you don't lose them before then!

That's all for now, but keep an eye out for new guides on Wednesdays, and feel free to submit questions or ideas for posts! I promise they will get better as we go!

Light, Love & Laughter,
Neysa <3

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