How to get through university

About a month ago, I was privileged to attend the graduation ceremony of my undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town. Sitting in my chair next to all the students I have spent the last three years of my life with, got me thinking about how much I have changed and learnt since that first lecture just over three years ago.

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My undergraduate years were certainly a roller coaster ride! Completing a university degree is a combination of extreme highs and lows. I’ve partied with friends until 2am in the morning, but somehow still managed to get to my 8am Economics lectures. I’ve also worked till 2 in the morning finishing essays that I had no clue what they were about. I have felt so overwhelmed that I ate my weight’s worth in chocolate chip cookies. I have climbed many steps, fallen down a few and I have purposely sat next to cute boys in the Library. I have met some of my best friends at university, but also lost a few. I’ve spent days working on important essays, only to find that sometimes I did better in those I wrote the night before. I started out with ideas, opinions and beliefs that I thought were right, only to discover that I was very wrong. I have challenged myself, I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded and I’ve procrastinated. I discovered and drank A LOT of coffee, (amongst other unmentionable beverages). Needless to say, these years have been some of the toughest, but most memorable and fantastic years of my life.

Since I can now call myself a university graduate (tap on the back), I thought it would be a good idea to talk about a few things I have learnt throughout my university career so far. Hopefully this may help someone as they too embark on the rollercoaster ride that is tertiary education.

1. The world is a lot bigger than you think and you are very, very small.

So you’ve just finished high school. You’ve aced those finals, you’ve met the love of your life at Spring Break. You can finally drink and drive (not at the same time) and you are extremely proud to have got into your University of choice. At this point in your life you’re one of two things; extremely naive or completely starry-eyed. Now that’s okay! It’s a great feeling to feel like nothing can break you. However, at university you realise that you are a very small fish in a big pond.  I went from being a top achiever to someone who got a negative mark on her first economics test. However, it’s not just about the academic side of things either. You realise that there are a lot of people in this world – some of them better than you at certain things. You learn that you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the crowed, but you also learn to become more humble with the knowledge that there are so many bright and fascinating people out there.

2. Don’t compare your journey to other’s 

As you start to get older, you are faced with many more decisions. Personally, I have found it very difficult to decide which route to take with regard to my studies and career path. I would compare myself to other people and wonder whether or not I was making the right decision. I would also compare my own successes to other people’s and this often made mine feel insignificant. However, I eventually came to the realisation that we are all on our own journey. In the end, we will all end up with very different careers that are best suited to us. Just because you were not elected Vice President of the film society does not mean that you will have less of a chance of having a successful career. That being said, it is still important to find ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd.So rather than trying to follow or compare yourself to others, shape your own path.  In the wise words of Fleetwood Mac, “you can go your own way!” This world values individuality – don’t forget that.

3. Don’t panic about the small things 

At university there will be a number of times when you feel unsure and uncomfortable. It’s a very big change and there is a lot more expected of you compared to your school days. There will be deadlines and tasks that you have to complete that you may feel will be completely impossible. There will also be times when you will not do as well as you expected to. However, this is all part of the learning process. The important thing is to try not to panic to the point where you loose control. A little bit of stress is good – it will help motivate you and encourage you to work hard, but it should not get to the point where it consumes you. At the end of your university journey, you are not going to look back and think of that ONE assignment that you scraped through. Never forget to look at your problems and stresses in perspective. Many of these assignments and exams are merely life lessons. It’s not always the mark that is most important.

4.  Make an effort to meet new people and make new friends 

I have one word. TEAMWORK. My friends have saved my life at university. Whether it be having someone to sign the register for you that day you REALLY couldn’t get out of bed, someone to share notes with, someone to form study groups with, someone to complain to or just having someone that you know will reply with “I haven’t started either!” It’s a great feeling knowing someone is in the same boat as you and is just as stressed. University is also a great place to meet different people from around the world. Before we leave school, we are often confined to a very small crowd of people. This can sometimes limit us by not challenging our perspectives, thoughts and beliefs, as well as inhibit us from learning important life lessons. I truly believe that each and every person holds a story, journey or piece of advice that can offer something to enrich your own life. So, at university, get to know as many people as you can. Ask them questions, listen, respect and learn.

6. University is not the be all and end all

Throughout my life I was told that it was imperative for me to get a degree. Not only that, I was told that I should study a business degree and that I would only be able to get a decent job if I continued to study even further after my undergraduate degree. Now don’t get me wrong, university is an incredible experience and I have noticed a huge change in myself. Over the past few years of my life, my mind has developed  in more ways than I would have ever imagined, as well as shaped me into the person that I am today.  I value the knowledge that I have gained so much. BUT, this does not mean that I will be any more successful than someone who has not done as well as I have at university, or even attended a university at all. This world requires innovation, creativity and passion. It does not need another accountant who lives for the weekends, and thinks success will fall into their hands just because they “studied business.” This world needs much, much more.  Exhibit A are some of the most successful people today. These include; the two founders of Airbnb, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, who both studied a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. Steve Jobs is a classic example of someone who did not even attend a university or college as well as Richard Branson, who did not even finish high school. The list goes on and on. Sometimes success just comes from being at the right place, at the right time, with the right idea. Do not let a certificate define your life.

I hope that you enjoyed reading through my little tips and words of “wisdom”. Although I’m a little bit terrified, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Good luck to all those who are about to embark on a new chapter in their lives. Be passionate, be genuine and most importantly, be yourself (in the least cliché way possible).


Here’s to all those who made my university career that much more bearable!



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