The Survival Guide To University Life

Brief description: This is a survival guide to university life, intended for prospective or novice university students. This guide describes what I wish I had known at the start of the university but had to learn the hard way instead. It focuses on tips a uni student needs.


In January 2016, on a beautiful sunny day with clear Surabaya blue skies, I turned in the final, signed copy of my thesis. My professor did some last-minute checks on the sheets and pronounced it acceptable. After four years of toil and sweat, I was finally done! While clearing up my stuff, I was sorely disappointed that the heavens didn’t part, with trumpet-playing angels descending to announce this historical occasion. Then my prof commented, “And the sad fact is, you’re no smarter today than you were yesterday.” “Yes,” I nodded, “but the important things is that I am smarter than I was four years ago.”

I wrote this guide months after failing to graduate, after reflecting upon my uni student career. One thought that has repeatedly struck me is how much easier university might have been if somehow, magically, some of the things I knew when I turned in my thesis I could have known when I first entered university. Instead, I had to learn those the hard way. Of course, for many topics this is impossible: the point of university’s life is to learn those by going through the experience. However, I believe other lessons can be taught ahead of time. Unfortunately, such guidance is rarely offered. Before you’re going to university, you might end up showered by unsolicited advice from your parents wishing it was they who were about to go to university. Their advice might be useful but they’re hopefully outdated. While I had to learn everything the hard way, in the end, new university students might benefit from my experience of what I learned. That is the purpose of this guide.

Ten tips to surviving university life.

Meal planning and stay healthy: You’re caught out in the wilderness. A completely new environment and situation. Your life flashes before your eyes and you suddenly appreciate all the little things called health. That regular habit of someone woke you up in the morning and free food. Then it hits you. Food is the lifeblood of a uni student. It’s tempting to eat loads of junk food because it’s just so damn tasty! I usually cook indomie to treat myself after handing in that nightmare of essay deadline, but it’s important to eat well. Plus, the university is a great time to try out your cooking skills. A great tip is to get into the habit of planning your meals. I’d also recommend trying to share a few dishes with your roommate, will prevent you end up spending a lot and save you a fair wad of cash. If you’re going out more often, doing essays in irregular hours and sleeping in, you might find it hard to keep up your regular fitness regime. If maintaining your exercise schedule is becoming difficult, why not join the campus sports club or catch-up for walks to your campus. Stay healthy in university life is important because you can’t afford to miss class because of you’re sick.

Ask for help if you really need it: This goes for all areas of your life. If you’re struggling to keep up with essays, ask your friends or seniors. Needing help isn’t something to be ashamed of. You might need a crash course on an academic subject or a quick explanation of a new assignment. Reach out to your classmates, seniors, assistants, even lecturers. You’ll find your answer if you ask. But before you ask, do your homework on the subject you want to ask.

Know your limits: We all know hang out is just a part of student life. It’s easy to get carried away on nights out. Knowing when to say enough is enough is actually quite a tough skill to acquire and takes some good and solid will power. Try not to give in to peer pressure and stay out longer than you intended — you really aren’t going to miss much by going home at late night, no matter how much it might seem so. Allow you to pace yourself and make sure you’re fresh(ish) faced the next morning!

Make an effort to befriend your classmates: If you’re heading into some subjects at your campus, you’ll probably see a few familiar faces. But whether you’re surrounded by pals or fending for yourself, making new friends is one of the best parts of starting uni. You never know — you might make a friend for life. Don’t hesitate to strike up convos in class or make plans to catch up after class. As I quoted of Proverb, “He who hesitates is lost.”

Balance your studies, social and love life, and work commitments: if you’re combining study, work, and a social life, you might find that you start to feel burnt out. The most important thing is to prioritize your studies (your grades significantly influential), ensure you’re allocating enough to completing your studying, attending classes, and writing up essays. Don’t let your social and love life get in the way because studies won’t ask to break your heart or be gravely disloyal to you. And try not work more than you can’t afford per week — don’t get so overworked (keep in mind that you may be able to up your shifts in holiday periods).

Join clubs and attend campus events: Getting involved on campus is a great way to settle in, make friends, and even add to your resume. Look for activities aligned with your interest, like photography or football. On the note of being active, it’s better to participate being a leader. Let’s be realistic here, you’re going to be credited when your position is leading not following. Remember that one time as a leader is much better than thousand times as a member.

Find out more about your campus: If you’re studying on a big campus, it might take a while to get acquainted. Start with the main buildings where you’ll have classes, the library, the canteen, and the labs. Once you’re ready to explore, you’ll find everything from offices to exhibition spaces.

Money budgeting: You’re probably spending more time socializing and might have additional expenses, such as rent and gas. This makes budgeting really important. If you’re worried about how budgeting will affect your social life, see which activities you can swap for cheaper alternatives (coffee instead of lunch). A nice option is to put a certain amount of money on the different bank every month and assign this as your disposable income (for food, laundries, nights out, and other expenses) so this stays separate from your bills and saving. Yes, saving money in uni can be challenging but it’s not impossible. And this way, you’re much more likely to stay within the budget you’ve assigned yourself (because you have no choice, essentially). Keep track of all your money and you should be just fine and be independent.

Assess your work and assignments: It is very easy to leave your assignments and revision until the last minute, and I’ve been there (we’ve all been there actually) but it is important to be more organized at university, as there’s a lot more work involved in completing assignments. Don’t leave things to the last minute because even if you could do homework easily before, at university level assignments are more in-depth and take more time.

Enjoy your uni life while it last. Don’t be too hard on yourself. A tertiary study can be a learning curve and it might take you a while to get settled. Don’t expect to get perfect grades straight away and try to enjoy your time at uni while it last. Although this gives you time for work, seeing friends and the odd sleep in, you’ll need to set aside study time and make sure you’re taking time out to relax.


So in summary, the university is just the beginning, not the culmination, of your career. Don’t worry about making it your magnum opus (from Latin, ‘great work’). Just relax and stay focus.

The first year of university study is a challenging year. However, with accurate expectation, planning, right guidance and hard work, you are likely to survive and thrive. Good luck!

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Originally published at on October 12, 2016.

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