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What I Wish I Knew at Uni

Let’s face it – entering your first year of uni can be a daunting time. Maybe you don’t know what to expect, or how to approach things like studying, working or flatting. Possibly you’re past your first year and just feeling a little ‘meh’ and disillusioned about uni. Or perhaps you might be freaked out about what’s to come once that precious piece of paper is in your hot little hand and you wave goodbye to formal education for good.

We’ve tracked down a range of AUT graduates who have sussed the transition into so-called ‘adulthood’. They’ve shared their thoughts with us in hopes of helping us make the most of what could be some of the best years of our lives.

So grab a coffee, sprawl out on the grass in Albert Park, and read up on what these grads wish they knew when they were in our shoes.

Expectations of University

Like many others, Sharlene jumped straight into study after high school. “In my first year I just didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into or what I was doing.” The change in assessments compared to high school really took her off guard. “The first assignment is such a big leap from high school. When I got my first grade back I thought ‘shit, is this the right place for me to be?’”

One thing that surprised most new students was the amount of time you have free – depending on your timetable, you might only be at uni for three days a week. While this might seem like a dream, it’s also got the potential to be a double-edged sword. Tom says the amount of self-managed time you get means you have to have your finger on the pulse when it comes to time management to balance everything. “It’s easy to procrastinate because there’s an illusion of having heaps of free time to do things,” he says.

David strongly suggests getting a job. “You’re not going to be productive with the amount of spare time you have in uni, so earn some money and make something of yourself.”


Ethan found lecturers to be much more involved than expected. “Your relationship with your lecturer can get almost collaborative, as they are really guiding your learning.” Some students blame their bad grades on lecturers who don’t like them, but Ethan thinks this usually a myth. “They’re actively trying to get you to pass.”

It’s helpful to look at lecturers as more experts in their field than teachers. “A good lecturer is always open to new ideas and to exploring the materials you’re studying in new ways, not just going off the slides,” says Anneke.

Important Lessons

University is almost an educational paradox – you spent hours sitting in a classroom learning from course content, but sometimes the most valuable things you learn aren’t anywhere near the course materials.

With a desire to work in film, Ethan found learning to work in a group environment one of the most important skills he gained. “I learned empathy and to listen to people more. Working in television is so collaborative, so learning to navigate relationships is important.” He also learned practical filming skills, but wouldn’t say one is more important than the other.

However, that doesn’t mean your course work is useless. Tom found his Masters degree gave him strong problem solving skills. “I think the point of a Masters degree isn’t all about the contribution you make to current academic literature, but also how you learn to research, understand a problem, then provide resolutions for it. I think these are also beneficial in life in general.”


Thanks to scholarships, both David and Sharlene headed overseas to Asia on different university-associated trips. David went on an exchange to Japan on The Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia, while Sharlene went to the UN in Bangkok for the University Scholars Leadership Symposium.

Both say most scholarships are not as hard to get one as you’d think. “There’s lots of missed opportunities,” says David. “Past uni, you’re never going to have money thrown at you by just writing a 1,000 word essay.”

Extra-Curricular Activities

Getting involved in a club or activity is something none of our grads regretted. The only people who had regrets were those who didn’t do anything.

Ethan regrets not being involved in extra-curriculars. “I felt like I was really busy, but I probably wasn’t. I would’ve liked to have to done more in student politics, like, I had ideas and actually getting involved would’ve been really cool.”

Anneke would have liked to have written during uni but was held back due to a lack of confidence in her ability. “I thought I wasn’t good enough until I finished university, which wasn’t true. I think the writing thing would’ve come quite naturally and it would’ve been really easy to do in amongst my university work.’”

Study Tips

At the end of the day, the main intention of going to uni is to get educated, and hitting the books is a big part of that. If you feel overwhelmed by an assignment, remember to take a deep breath. “All assignments seem unachievable at first,” says Tom. “If you feel dreadful about doing an assignment, you will feel much better by making a start.”

Anneke recommends finding out your own groove with study. “If what works for you is sitting in a park, do that instead of holing yourself up in the library.”

Lastly, get a hard drive to back up important documents and write all assignments in Google Docs, says David. “[Google Docs] saves in real time and you can access it anywhere.”

Physical and Mental Health

Amidst the stringent budget, two-minute noodle diet, and blinding stress, it can be easy to make unhealthy choices. Your health is one of your main assets, so take good care of yourself.

Obviously, eating well and exercising is vital for good health. “The beauty of exercise is that it makes you listen to your body and shows whether your lifestyle right,” says Anneke.

Also, try to keep your ‘emotional tank’ full. Anneke recommends managing your time well and fitting in some activities that you genuinely love. “Many people say they’re unhappy and stressed, but if they re-evaluate and change how they spend their time after uni it can help.”

Anneke says to forget about about what is out of your control. “If you’re working hard and have done everything you can, then the rest is up to the universe and you can let go of that stress.”

Work and Money

Working and managing finances is another chunk of uni life it pays to keep on top of.

“Budgeting really helps,” says Anneke. “You feel better about spending money when you know how your finances are. David recommends getting books from the library instead of buying them and Ahkil says you should ensure studying, not making money, remains your priority. “Your part-time job is for your immediate expenses, not your future.”

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your part-time job seriously. “Show your employer you have potential,” says Tom. “The company that I worked for part-time during uni offered me a promotion after I graduated.”


It’s best to go into living in a flat with an open mind, a willingness to forgive others for being imperfect, and a recognition that you too can be an irritating human to live with. David recommends you being realistic about flatting with friends. “You probably won’t get a flat with your friends straight away because the market is screwed January to April. If you want to live with your friends, move into an existing flat, widen your social circle in the process, then look for a flat together later in the year.”

Do Grads Miss Being at Uni?

University can be some of the most nostalgic years for some people. I asked grads if they missed being at uni, and largely the verdict was yes.

Never again will you have as much freedom in your adult life as you do at uni, so make the most of it. “Being in an office for eight hours a day is really different,” says Anneke. “At uni you can get coffee and go sit in the park between lectures and you’re still doing what you’re meant to be doing.”

Ethan mainly misses the atmosphere of a learning environment. “I miss the buzz of the environment where people are excited about learning. Even when it’s really stressful, there is something fun about being in that environment.”

The friendships formed at uni is definitely one aspect grads value the most. Sharlene knows she will miss the people when she leaves for good. “Honestly, I can’t remember half the stuff I learned in class, but I remember the times I spent with friends.”

On the other hand, most grads didn’t miss the cost of being a student. David would love to study more but unfortunately, student debt does exist. “I don’t love studying enough to get into more debt.”

What Our Grads Wish They Knew

David wishes he knew you had more flexibility regarding your degree and subsequent career prospects. “I wish I knew the degree didn’t matter so much as I would’ve done something more passion-orientated. At work everyone is from all kinds of backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, Sharlene wishes she knew how different the assignment expectations would be. “Whatever your first assignment result is, don’t be too overwhelmed.” She says if you found it challenging, the chances are everyone else did too.

Anneke discovered learning is a continuing journey. “The learning process doesn’t stop at university. You never stop learning so really embrace it and get to know how you like learning, because you’re going to be learning for the rest of your life.”

At the end of the day, don’t rush through what could be some of the best years of your life. “Don’t look forward to it all coming to an end – enjoy the learning process and enjoy the relationships you form,” says Ethan. “Try to breathe it all in.”

Anneke Smith

  • Aged 22

  • From Hawkes Bay

  • Graduated 2017

  • Bachelor of Communications majoring in Journalism

  • Now a Court Reporter for the newspaper Hawkes Bay Today

  • Best quote: “For people who lack confidence, you’re capable. And if you’re at university, you are good enough.”

Ethan Alderson-Hughes

  • Aged 22

  • From Howick, Auckland

  • Graduated 2018

  • Bachelor of Communications majoring in Television and Screen Production

  • Now working at Unity Books and editing TedX videos on a freelance basis

  • Best quote: “Savour the process, take each day as it comes and enjoy the relationships you form.”

David Brownless

  • Aged 21

  • From Tauranga

  • Graduated 2017

  • Bachelor of Business majoring in Advertising and International Business

  • Now doing digital marketing for advertising agency FCB

  • Best quote: “There are no true challenges in life unless I put myself outside my comfort zone.”

Sharleen Shergill

  • Aged 22

  • From Auckland

  • Halfway through a conjoint degree of Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Communications

  • Currently in Chicago for a content marketing internship

  • Best quote: “What you put in is what you will get out.”

Akhilesh Pillai

  • Aged 28

  • From Mumbai, India

  • Graduated 2016

  • Master in Construction Management

  • Now a construction site manager

  • Best quote: “I think all students should get involved in an interest or club as it helps develop their character and connect with people.”

Tom Felix Zheng

  • Aged 32

  • From China

  • Graduated 2017

  • Masters in Communication Studies

  • Now does marketing communications

  • Best quote: “It’s easy to procrastinate because there’s an illusion of having unlimited time to do things.”

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