Student life is exciting, but it can also be bewildering – especially when it comes to the actual work. Here are some tips to help you navigate the challenges and make the most of your student experience.
"Peer support is very important," says Susan Joubert, a student development officer and clinical psychologist in the Faculty of Commerce. During orientation and all its activities there are many opportunities to make connections with others in the same boat as you. "Find people you can relate to who are not necessarily the same as you. Be open to connecting with a variety of people from the diverse UCT community," says Joubert.
Join one of UCT's more than 140 sports clubs and societies and meet like-minded people. However guard against committing to too many societies, warns Daniel Munene, coordinator of commerce's Education Development Unit (EDU). "Societies and clubs are a drain on two important student resources: time and money. Find societies that speak to your interests and restrict them to one and, depending on your academic schedule, another one," he advises.
Through the First Year Experience (FYE) programme, the university aims to ensure that every first-year student is matched up with a mentor, an older student who gives advice on anything from where to find the cheapest on-campus meals to how to get the most out of your lecturer. If you find yourself without a mentor, one way to find one is through Vula's FYE site. You can also speak to a student development officer in your faculty. Counsellors at Student Wellness are equipped with information to put you in contact with older students, who have made themselves available to mentor.
Ask for help
There is no shame in asking for help if you feel as if everything is getting too much for you. It is also best to ask as soon as a problem arises and not in your second semester, when it's potentially too late.
Student mentors have been through the university mill and have insider knowledge and an understanding of what you're going through. Talk to your mentor if you are experiencing challenges in any area, not only your academic life.
The student development officers found in most faculties are usually trained psychologists or social workers and depending on your needs they can direct you to the people who can help. In faculties without student development officers, you can approach your faculty officer for help.
"Students are entitled to approach course advisors, tutors or lecturers if they are struggling with their studies. It is our jobs to help them in such instances," explains Munene.
ReadDon't only read your course material, but make sure you read through all the information in your orientation pack. "I cannot overemphasise the importance of reading the information given to you at orientation. Keep it and review it so that when you are in need of support you know where to go," says Bonani Dube, a clinical social worker in the Faculty of Commerce.
She urges students to read their course outlines, which are also available online on Vula. "It contains everything you need to know about your course, including test dates. It is accepted that once something has been communicated to the students in the course outline, it has been said and therefore it need not be repeated."
According to Munene, Vula is the platform through which UCT communicates practically everything. "It is the university's MySpace, Facebook, Whatsapp. Treat it as one of your electronic platforms."
Vula is another vehicle to help you connect with fellow students through peer-to-peer forums, which can also serve as platforms to highlight problem areas in your course.
This might seem obvious, but it's amazing how easy it is to focus on developing your brain, and neglect your physical and emotional well-being. Staying healthy mentally, physically and emotionally is the key to successful stress management.
The advice is simple:
Your student experience is an important springboard into adulthood: good habits acquired and developed during your time at university will stand you in good stead as you take on the responsibilities and challenges of the working world.
Story by Abigail Calata. Photo by Michael Hammond
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