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Surviving Your First Year At Varsity


Are you a fresher feeling a bit insecure about your educational career after matric? You're not alone - many first years find university to be a huge adjustment. Even if you're financially prepared, the first few months can present a great deal of disorientation and anxiety if you’re not mentally prepared.

If you've ever wondered what life is like for a fresher at South African universities, then these pearls of wisdom from past students may help guide you to first year success.

After all, experience is said to be the best teacher.

University of Pretoria

For Henri Holtzhausen, who studied electrical engineering at Tuks, balancing coursework and social life was the biggest challenge he faced as a first year. "It was pretty mixed at UP," he says. "We worked hard and spent loads of time on campus between classes and practices but didn’t let that get in the way of having fun and making great friends."

Henry remembers feeling out of his depth on his first day as he found the campus to be immense and the student life something completely new. And, although he also disliked the workload, he just took it everything one day at a time. "You get used to it later on but at the beginning it can feel like a lot. But, at the same time, it was also one of the best parts," he concluded. Henri's golden rule: "You’re only at varsity once – and like all things in life, don’t walk away from it with any regrets. If you take all of it with both hands and run with it, then you’ll be more than okay."

University of Cape Town

UCT alumnus Jason Basel recalls student life on the slope of Devil's Peak as a bustling hub of creative individuals. If you've ever seen a photograph of the scenic upper campus of UCT, you can easily imagine Jason's description of students rushing off to class, quipping over a cup of coffee, snoozing on the grass or having intelligent group conversations.

Jason enrolled as a Bachelor of Business Science undergraduate, without experiencing that "scary first day" on campus. "You don’t survive your first day, you just do it. There’s nothing to be afraid of, not one thing." Although his first year wasn't all that demanding, Jason advises that newcomers be prepared for early mornings and to not party their life away.

University of Fort Hare

Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, a graduate of UFH, says she struggled to figure out where her classes and room were. She also had initial concerns about making new friends as none of her high-school friends went to Fort Hare. Fortunately, she met her husband who helped her adapt to university life. Looking back at her first year, Bulelwa remarks: "I wish I’d been more prepared. However, everything I experienced in that first year was a discovery and an opportunity to learn about my own likes and dislikes.” Her insider tip for first years: "Balance is absolutely important. I came from a regimented high school career, and suddenly there was no one to check up on me, so you need to take responsibility for yourself."

University of Witwatersrand

Wesley Roos, a former Property Studies student from Wits, highlights the importance of attending orientation week in helping students to adapt to the new environment. "I spoke to everyone, asked a lot of questions and tried to really listen, not just for the sake of making conversation but because I was genuinely interested."

Wesley also says that his first year required a remarkable amount of independence and responsibility. He says that inexperienced students often need to figure out how things work for themselves. The only regret Wesley has is that he wasn't more involved in clubs in societies when he went to Wits.

His piece of advice to first years: "Ask a lot of questions, and really listen to the answers. With this approach, in your first few days, you will be on your way to being a popular, likeable and accepted individual in your first year. To survive academically, go to as many lectures as you can handle, take notes, but most importantly, get hold of past papers and memos”

You can read the full article over at's blog






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