My family want to know why? So I say why not!

What I wish I’d known before starting

“I wish I’d known perhaps some strategies like in regards to best ways to study. I guess they’re things you learn through experience but I guess all the things that you learn from experience you wish you’d known at the start because I think I could have done a better job of those initial things had I known the best way to approach them ... it’s kind of an oxymoron; you wish you had the life experience at the start so you could make the most of it”
(Lachlan, 24)

Here are some insights that you can benefit from – a bit of a ‘heads up’ on the kinds of things that undergraduate students in our study became much clearer about with the benefit of hindsight. These ranged from wanting to know more about academic stuff to the more ‘nitty gritty’ of everyday things at uni.

Let’s see what students had to say on what they wish they’d known:


    Oh, I wish I’d known that some subjects were compulsory … because right now I’m learning … some stuff I don’t know if I’ll ever have to use it in my career … and what engineering actually was (laughing). I really didn’t do a whole heap of research into the course that I was doing … I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I just thought “Oh I like maths”. There’s maths, there’s high school maths and then there’s like engineering …
    Ahmad, 19, on-campus

    Possibly a little bit more about the units. What was involved and having a little bit more to read about the particular units, a little bit more time to do some of the trials in there instead of sort of just like “Okay” and that’s it … I had to do a crash course on this and this to be able to get this, you know what I’m saying?
    Bethany, 59, online

    I wish I’d known what uni had to offer me. I’m disappointed with my degree. I think that I would’ve had such an interest in another degree or a different subject. So I wish I’d taken the time to look at that a little bit more thoroughly and thought about if I needed to do a degree which is specific to the industry I’m working in right now or do I have an interest in something else
    David, 34, online

    Okay. Probably a little bit more on the structuring of it all to the sense of I think to a degree there is help but I’ve found, like in particular with statistics, it’s all numbers. Just a heads up on, just a reminder I think because … it really reminded me that I’ve been out of school now for like 17 years and just been a working person and everything you deal with in your working life is not really academic …
    Donna 36, online

    I think I was just daunted by the whole thing. I’ve never been that bright unless I really, really apply myself but what I didn’t expect was so much science involved in nursing. Yes, I had no idea there was so much science involved.
    Emma, 32, on-campus

    (Laughing). I wish I’d been a bit more clued up on the mechanics of enrolment, I wish I’d been a little bit clearer on what happens, you know, that enrolling in the unit didn’t mean I was enrolled in the degree. That might have saved me a little bit of grief on down the track.
    Evelyn, 52, online

    … when I enrolled for this unit, the lady I spoke to was fantastic, she was really, really good. It’s just really important to have the right person to talk to before you start enrolling in units. I think they need to be aware of how much work’s involved sometimes and yes, be able to advise appropriately I think and replace with
    Hailey, 41, online

    I don’t think there was anything that has caught me by surprise in terms of the whole studying online however, with regards to like individual units, there have been programs that you’ve had to download and things like that … there’s a couple of programs that you need to download before certain units but that could just be me not reading the unit outline properly or something like that …
    Mandy, 25, online

    … I can’t really say the workload because I was warned about the workload. Maybe … the clinical placement in second year … and maybe I kind of wish I knew that before because … that has me just a little nervous because I don’t know what that’s going to be like … what your actual workload is while you’re on clinical and everything like that. I wish that someone could tell me how they’ve done it or anything like that …
    Marlee, 19, on-campus

    … I found it very daunting looking at a number of units and trying to work out how they fitted into a degree and what the undergraduate degree meant versus postgraduate and what I was actually able to do. I couldn’t actually work it out for myself; I found it extremely confusing not having that prior experience. I actually called up … and had a long chat with a girl on the phone about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve and she talked me through the units and … fully explained them.
    Misti, 30, online

    I also wish I’d known … when I started my psychology degree I didn’t know anything about doing post-grad studies so I wasn’t really aware that it’s important to keep your marks up and that kind of thing. I didn’t realise until quite late into my second year and so did a lot of my friends actually and they kind of wished they’d known earlier so they could have done better ...
    Natalia, 27, on-campus

    [I wish I’d known] what I want to do! (both laugh). I don’t know, probably just the amount of possibilities that there were. Cos I knew I’d just do a Bachelor of Arts but I never actually knew you majored or minored in anything in a Bachelor of Arts. I thought it was just one degree. There’s a Bachelor of Arts, there’s a Bachelor of Science. I didn’t realise there was so many various avenues within them.
    Seth, 21, on-campus

    I wish I’d known whether I was going to enjoy it or not and by that I mean I wish I’d known that I would have much preferred to do law than medical science so I could have probably done that first.
    Lachlan, 24, on-campus

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  • About improving their ACADEMIC SKILLS

    Essay writing (laughing). Yes, because we do a lot of documentation in what I do … basically everything you do is documentation but … with the computer, you learn, you know. The first day I struggled and then the second day it was okay … I learned so much. I’m very proud of myself … now I know Dropbox and essay submission online … I know the SOL, what that means …
    Allana, 30, on-campus

    How to do an essay or an annotated bibliography. Oh my God. Yes, that was a hard one and I still can’t do a critical analysis.
    Elle, 33, on-campus

    One thing that would’ve been helpful before I started is the referencing and things like that. Having to learn that whilst you're in the middle of writing is quite difficult … would’ve been helpful to have done before I started studying.
    Georgia, 32, online

    Just how bad the referencing is … if you could just write an essay and just put the author’s name and the page number and … not worry too much … I think … sometimes it can stifle your creativity with your writing because you’re so ingrained in getting it right, if you know what I mean with the referencing stuff that I think sometimes that holds you back ….
    Philippa, 53, online

    I think they should have taught us … a little more presentation skills … I know we were taught to not put to many words on a PowerPoint slide or whatever but we weren’t really taught how to properly present with a PowerPoint slide and a speech and how to go from this to that and discussion time in class after a presentation …
    Isabel, 19, on-campus

    … there’s a lot of stuff you learn about academic writing and how to structure essays and that sort of thing which, yes, that was a real uphill battle for me and it took me a while to get that but I don't think that’s unique to me … I was definitely thrown in the deep end with that … there’s a couple of units that are supposed to help you with that and I did one of them later which I wished that I’d done earlier…
    Phil, 29, online

    Writing essays is quite different … just how different academically it is to school … whereas high school seemed to be a lot of just writing fluff … at uni it’s a lot more like, “You did that wrong. You should probably change that.” And you’ve got to go and do it yourself. It’s very individual which I had no idea about.
    Seth, 21, on-campus

    Grammar. Spell check isn’t always right.
    Yvonne, 38, on-campus

    … looking forward, if I had have known how to do a thesis … we have project subjects and we have those things but nothing really prepared me for a thesis. I guess if I had have known how to do that or even spending more time on how to do a literature review because we don’t write reports – we just work with numbers.
    Kaleb, 22, on-campus

    I went to college and that taught me a lot of things but if I’d come straight into uni I would have wanted to know how to do Harvard referencing properly. The schools don’t teach you how to reference at all; we never did referencing in high school, never.
    Isabel, 19, on-campus

    There are units [preparatory units] I think you can do to learn this stuff but … … I didn’t know that until I actually started the course … and by then it was too late to do them. That would have been very helpful really. I think if I’d done those, it would have removed that nervousness. Yes, it is hard at first if you haven’t done a preparatory unit first.
    Roger, 56, online

    When I realised the level of academic writing they were expecting I thought they should've made that [preparatory unit on academic writing] compulsory.
    Monique, 49, online

    I saw through OUA there were prep units and I laughed them off. Now, I'm in my first study period I thought oh my god, how do you write an essay! I'm researching and I thought that's what those prep units were about. I just had no real appreciation for how different it would be and how much of a jump it is from college.
    Corey, 30, online

    I went to Prep before I started. It was fairly insightful and you got a lot from it …
    Benjamin, 47, online

    I’ve never used that [Smarthinking]. Other people I know have and say it’s good … because you’re never 100% sure what’s required until you have a few trial and errors I think … unless you use Smarthinking.
    Roger, 56, online

    They give you a lot of information about Smarthinking and you have your study buddy so you always feel like you can at least try and get in contact with somebody who’s in the same boat as you.
    Grace, 24, online

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    How much time you need to spend studying. I think I didn’t appreciate the essential study skills that are necessary for university and I did not recall learning them in college or high school.
    Corey, 30, online

    I wish I knew… probably would have been nice to know … the workload … that there would be certain expectations to like week to week … it was like before any of the assessments were due I was stressing about how bad I was going …
    Ellen, 19, on-campus

    … I underestimated the amount of time but when you read all the literature, they do say that it’s 10-12 hours a week per unit … although that’s not necessarily right. I find that particularly when assignments are due it’s a lot more than that.
    Gemma, 42, online

    Well I suppose there was some naivety as to how much work there was going to be … some people have the option of doing two subjects or deferring something but with nursing you don’t have that choice. It’s full time, four courses.
    Hannah, 33, on-campus

    … prior to starting? I guess how much work you should put in … I guess I would kind of wish I had have taken a gap year because just going straight from HSC back into study, it was really full-on so I wish I had have known that.
    Kaleb, 22, on-campus

    Such as just basically university life, what it was going to be like, how much work it was going to involve. Again, I wouldn’t have had anything really to compare it to but definitely I wish I’d known what the workload was going to be like.
    Lachlan, 24, on-campus

    … But, you know, if someone asked me “Well what’s it like being at university” then I guess I could give them some information in terms of what it is like, keeping up with workloads and how different units tend to have different workloads, … doing essays and that sort of stuff. They’re some of the things that I wish I had known before …
    Phil, 29, online

    I guess I wish I’d known what the workload would have been like before I started but there’s no real way to tell that unless you do it. If I could have gone in with the knowledge of “Hey this is what term is going to be like if you do it just one term at a time”, I’d be like “Oh, okay, cool, well I can manage that”.
    Ray, 22, on-campus

    I wish I’d known just the amount of reading … not just the textbook because you’ve got to do a whole lot of other stuff as well. I went into it thinking, you know, “Oh that’s okay, it’s a chapter a week. I can do that” but it’s really a whole lot more than that …
    Gemma, 42, online

    Being the first one at Uni it can sometimes be a case of "oh, just do the essay" but it's a lot more difficult than just 'doing it', a lot more work goes on behind the scenes and I don't think people understand that …
    21 year old online

    … when you’re doing your HECS and everything is going through your head. It’s like “Oh yes, log on here in a couple of weeks when the subjects come out” and you’re just like “What?” And you think that picking the subject is enough and you’re not told that you have to go back in and actually pick a time … I might have been but it wasn’t written down anywhere. My mother read that handbook back to front because she knew nothing about university and how I was going to be at university and blah, blah, blah, blah and we both missed it!
    Nicole, 21, on-campus

    At the information session they try and give you as much information as possible but I don’t think they quite prepare you for the amount of administrative stuff you have to do yourself. And that’s fine … it’s meant to be a self-determined learning experience but there’s a lot of stuff where they could give you a bit more of a hand - like this blasted verification - to point you in the direction of where the forms are for a start! … you have to go through every single thing on the internet and find it. There’s no help and that’s wrong. That’s an exercise in frustration that you don’t need … So that would be good if they gave us a bit more help with that.
    Adele, 62, on-campus

    I think filling out all the forms and stuff, like the paperwork and things like that, I’ve been surprised at that … but that’s not something that someone’s going to tell you … There’s a lot of paperwork and system and red tape and all of that kind of stuff … …just unbelievable the amount of stuff that I’ve got to go and find; marriage certificates and statement of services and all of this gear…
    Vicki, 41, on-campus

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  • About WHO TO ASK

    Talking to people, students, tutors, lecturers … it would have been nice in the beginning to help a bit more I think.
    Abbey, 22, on-campus

    … other students … and students of older years … second and third year students that you could ask for help … I couldn’t ask the manager or anything like that.
    Abbey, 22, on-campus

    Don’t be scared to ask people for help or for information, especially like specific things of how to set out study notes and how the exams are going to be different to the HSC. Yes, also don’t be scared to approach your tutors and tell them if you have difficulty speaking up in class, especially like me … just don’t be scared because people are there to help you.
    Aria, 18, on-campus

    … when you go to enrol in there the system pops back up at you and says “Oh you’re not really supposed to do that”, but yes, I think it would have been really nice to even be able to speak to someone who had tried the same thing.
    Barbara, 21, online

    There’s a lot of practical things about university itself that I wish that I’d known … I never knew where to access help and I was very scared about it so I wish that someone just had have been like “Okay, if you need help with this you go here, if you need help with this go here” or that “It’s totally okay to rock up to their office and ask the stupidest question” or maybe if there was … a mentoring program with somebody who’d been in uni for four years so that you could just meet with them and they could tell you “This is what it’s actually like. If you do this amount of work you’ll get these kind of marks”.
    Nelson, 22, on-campus

    So, I don’t know, maybe the more you read the more complicated it becomes or seems but yes, after a while of talking to somebody I felt a lot more reassured.
    Misti, 30, online

    There’s just a lot of like figuring out on my own but then … I feel like the figuring it out on my own has been good for me … but I also wish someone would have just said that you would change a lot and had have warned me that I would change my mind about what degree I wanted to do because I felt so silly for feeling like I wanted to study something different.
    Nelson, 22, on-campus

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    … a lot of people did engineering studies at school. I never even considered that. I never even considered that I would be an engineer so I just didn’t … I probably should have decided what I wanted to do a little bit earlier so I could have really focused myself into the way that engineering was going to lead me …
    Amy, 22, on-campus

    That there were bridging courses available. I feel like if I had been able to do a bridging course in certain subjects … like I’m doing okay in them now but I would have liked to smash them … but I wasn’t informed that “Hey, you know, you’re going into this degree next year but would you like to maybe do a catch up on math, maybe do a catch up on chem”. I wish that I had been told about those
    Angela, 20, on-campus

    Good question actually. A lot more science I guess. … to be honest I will say my preparation was good but I’m the type of person who wants the best marks and if I could have been prepared a bit better … with sciences and stuff, I think I would have done a bit better.
    Daniel, 30, on-campus

    … I guess if I’d known a little bit more… there are units I think you can do to learn this stuff but I didn’t really know that there were units so I guess that’s what it would be – had I known that there were those preparation units…
    Roger, 56, online

    I wish I’d got involved in extra-curricular stuff a bit earlier … I wish I’d gone on an exchange and I didn’t do that.
    Lachlan, 24, on-campus

    I had no idea about any of the societies and how involved they are with uni. Over the next few years I think I’m definitely going to get into those sort of things and maybe even try to get into student representative, cos it pays quite well.
    Seth, 21, on-campus

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  • About ENABLING courses

    I thought Open Foundation gave me enough room where I’m doing university level style of essay writing and it’s starting to train my brain into that for my first year of my actual degree … but yet, it gave me the flexibility to fall down a little bit at times and not get those great marks but showing me how to rectify that and because you are dealing with university lecturers, it gets your mind prepared for that four year degree to come.
    Marilyn, 31, Enabling Student

    So I applied for Open Foundation.  Very happy.  Very happy to be here. ... It was amazing.  I thought it’s the first time since my children have been born that I was doing something that furthered me, helped me to develop my own mind.  Actually though, getting the letter to say that I had a spot and I could complete my enrolment that was a big day and I’ve actually got the letter framed.
    Noeleen, 47, Enabling Student

    My mother has completed the Open Foundation course but she did that for her own self; she didn’t finish years 11 and 12; she had to take care of her siblings so for her that ... was very self-empowering for her and it gave her a lot of confidence in herself that she’d lacked prior to that. 
    Marilyn, 31, Enabling Student

    I don’t think I would have failed out but it definitely would have been more stressful had I not gone to college*. It just took you baby steps up to where you needed to be for university. It was invaluable. [*i.e. a university preparation course]
    Graeme, 31, on-campus

    … the university prep course really helped … It just touched on everything, even simple as telling you the difference between a lecture and a tutorial. I didn’t even know what they were … referencing, different ways and styles of writing is, how to read an academic journal, what an abstract is – I didn’t know any of that before that course.
    Hannah, 33, on-campus

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  • About the ‘NITTY GRITTY’ of university life

    Just the amount of support that you do have from either study groups or your tutors; I didn’t realise the amount of support you get.
    Bonnie, 23, online

    How to use computers, how to research things. Yes, mostly that.
    Emma, 32 on-campus

    Probably if I had have realised that my computer skills were lacking I may have done more preparation and perhaps come up to speed with that before I started. But other than that, no, I think it’s good to be challenged.
    Molly, 62, online

    Time management was one at first obviously. Going from TAFE which was very relaxed … then coming here - it’s “Next week assignment due, online assignment every week and quiz is worth 2% every week” – there was none of that. I think time management was one.
    Daniel, 30, on-campus

    Time management’s a big one that I’ve learned but I think I could only have learned that through trial and error … in terms of “Oh, it’s week one, that’s okay, it’s fine” and everyone thinks that and then eventually it’s Week 10 and then you go “I haven’t done anything” sort of thing. But I suppose I haven’t really learned that either because every session I go through I do the same thing!
    Eric, 22, on-campus

    What I wanted to do, study techniques, how to filter out what’s important. Nothing really about university per se other than … mainly just things to do with studying and prioritising and understanding how to organise your life but I got through all that okay.
    Ned, 23, on-campus

    Tutorial enrolments would have been really handy for us actually because I got the worst timetable.
    Kaleb, 22, on-campus

    Oh, tutorial enrolments. I had no idea how tutorial enrolments worked. When I came to uni I was fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who was already at uni and he’s like … “you’ve got to log on and do …”
    Nicole, 21, on-campus

    But, I think it’s every Wednesday or Friday … they have all the stalls out for all the different groups and that sort of thing. Yeah, definitely would have liked to know about that. Cos there seems to be a lot of support groups and that as well. There’s PASS, that was a good thing. Wish I’d known about PASS.
    Seth, 21, on-campus

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  • The ‘NITTY GRITTY’ of knowing what to expect

    I don’t know, just sort of what it would be like. Like I was expecting, I don’t know … like not too many people take lectures and stuff that seriously … you can miss a lecture if you just get your name marked off in the tutorial … it’s not really an issue because I still go to everything but just like a heads-up …
    Natasha, 18, on-campus

    I didn’t go to any of the open days. Straight away I went to try and learn everything about the uni. I was the guy that everyone asked questions like in the first few weeks like “Oh where’s this bank” ... I wish … it’s a very quick, it’s very intense, like usually with high school you have a year to do a subject but here you only have 13 weeks. … it’s not as easy as I thought …
    Neville, 18, on-campus

    Everything! (laughing) … just more of an understanding of how the university is actually run, how you’re actually supposed to learn - self-directed learning … the way they teach them in school does not prepare you for anything. The way they teach you at school is spoon-fed … whereas down here, this is like “Okay, here’s a theory, here’s some information on it. Now go and solve problems”. You have to do it … you go, “Okay, here’s a theory. Where the hell does it come from? What the hell does it mean?
    Liam, 20, on-campus

    Something else I would have loved to learn, loved to know before I came down here is more about the actual university and the area I was coming to …I came down on enrolment and like … if you’re coming from 500 kilometres away and you’ve only got one day to do enrolment … I didn’t have time to go exploring
    Liam, 20, on-campus

    I wish I’d known the defence force would pay for it all if I’d applied at the beginning of year one. That would have made a big difference.
    Stephen, 31, on-campus

    Yes, how much the bloody textbooks cost!
    Talia, 43, online

    I wish I’d known how much it was going to cost me,
    Lachlan, 24, on-campus

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  • The ‘NITTY GRITTY’ I wish I'd known about myself

    That you don't have to be super-smart to do it and I think that’s what I was always brought up to believe.
    Paul, 47, online

    I just wish I knew that it was possible for anyone. You know, I would have done it a lot before what I have.
    Tash, 24, online

    If I could have done it earlier like maybe when I was 23, I’d be stoked because of how old I’m going to be at the other end of it because age is probably the only thing that I look at when it comes to uni.
    Yve, 26, on-campus

    Yes, for sure. There are a lot of things – having the knowledge and the confidence that I do to actually get through university I would have liked to have known beforehand. I wasn’t very confident and I didn’t think I was smart enough to do what I’m doing. Had I known that I would have got into it a lot earlier.
    Gail, 23 online

    I think I’m very stubborn sometimes and I just assumed that it wouldn’t be hard being away from my family. I had this feeling of independence but I wish that someone had have just been like “Okay Nelson, it’s going to be hard being away from your family and you will feel very lonely at times” and I did … So I wish that someone had have told me all of those things I think
    Nelson, 22, on-campus

    Breaking up with the girlfriend is not the end of the world. I wasn’t as ugly as I thought. That was something I had to learn like I was always so self-conscious as a teenager – to be a bit happier with myself. I don’t know, probably those – just be a bit happier as yourself … and we should tell young people that too – you see too many young people that think they’re ugly and they’re quite beautiful, you know, personality as well … Yes, I wish I could have told myself that at a younger age, just to be myself … like be more confident, just bloody put yourself out there!
    Ray, 22, on-campus

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