What to expect from your child’s first year at university

Going to university is a big step – not only for the student who attends but also for their family. As a parent, you want to support your child as they take this significant step, but you’re also aware that they need to make their own way through the new experiences and responsibilities that come with tertiary study.

To help find the right balance between these two impulses, it can be useful to know what your child is going to be doing when they attend university for the first time, and some of the challenges they may face.

With that in mind, here are some of the things that a first-year student is likely to encounter at university in four key areas.

Study

Studying at university is very different from studying at school, or even at TAFE. There are different ways of learning and teaching to get to grips with, for a start.

Most courses will involve lectures and tutorials, lectures being larger and more focused on an academic communicating information to students, while tutorials are smaller groups discussing ideas. (These are key teaching techniques, whether your child is studying online or on campus.) Many students will have practical workshops to attend as well.

At university, there’s also a greater emphasis on self-managing study time and motivation. Actual contact hours with academics are likely to be fewer than, say, at high school, but students are expected to undertake reading, research and assignments independently. It can be a good idea to work through some time-management strategies with your child before they start so that they can be confident about managing their workload.

Fortunately, Charles Sturt University (CSU) runs an Orientation Week (or O Week) for on-campus and online students in the seven days leading up to the start of the first study session. During O Week, students can:

  • attend academic preparation workshops
  • explore the learning facilities
  • meet academics and fellow students.

It helps prepare students so they’ll be more confident to take on the challenges.

Another difference that students find when attending university is the style of writing. Academic writing requires new skills (such as referencing) and the development of evidence and argument over longer pieces of writing.

This can be daunting for some students, but CSU offers dedicated support services to help. So if your child is concerned about their academic writing skills, encourage them to contact the ALLaN (Academic Literacy, Learning and Numeracy) team for assistance.

Plus, if your child is worried about making the step up to academic writing, you can encourage them to take a Study Link course that focuses on this transition before they start. These are great ways to build skills and gain confidence. And because they don’t count towards a degree, there’s no pressure.

Life

It’s not just study that’s different at university; life also takes a different turn during the first year.

Chances are, your child will be studying with fellow students from all over Australia and the world. If they chose to study on campus, they’ll be getting to grips with the pleasures and challenges of communal living. And there’s the whirl of requirements that come with now being very much in the ‘independent adult’ camp – from navigating new relationships to doing the laundry.

Such adjustments can result in some ups and downs, so it’s important to support your child when they reach out for reassurance.

Likewise, it’s important to make sure your child signs up with a local doctor. You can also encourage them to connect with CSU’s health and wellbeing teams, who can help them stay in good physical and mental shape.

Finance

Studying at university comes with a new set of responsibilities. Aside from the expectations around study, dealing with finance is often a major concern for first-year students. There are fees and costs like books to organise and pay for at the right time, there may be government loan schemes to navigate and then there’s a social life to fund.

This can be a stressful time, not only finding the funds but also perhaps managing a budget for the first time.

You can help by sharing your own budgeting tips and encouraging your child to keep a record of their outgoings so they can ‘balance the books’. You should also encourage them to research and apply for any scholarships they’re eligible for. CSU and partners provide millions of dollars a year to students to help meet the costs of study – and students can often apply for more than one.

CSU also has a financial support team that can help your child with budgeting, planning and applying for loans, as well as programs to help them find a part-time job if they want one.

Emotion

If your child has chosen to live on campus, they might well feel homesick. After all, for many it will be the first time they’ve lived away from the family homestead. Certainly, you can sympathise with that emotion, but encourage your child to engage with our Residence Life   team (who support students in making the transition to living away from home), and to join one of our many clubs and societies to make friends and become part of the uni community.

University can also be stressful. Meeting deadlines, managing workloads and getting to grips with the advanced level of study can put students under pressure.

Helping with time-management plans is a great way to support your child through these periods of stress. And as part of a schedule, ensure they plan some down time and exercise. A healthy body means a healthy mind, right? Most CSU campuses have free gyms and sports areas available to all students – those living on campus and those who live nearby who are studying online.

Plus, if things are really getting on top of them, encourage your child to make use of CSU’s free professional counselling service. Just talking it through can often relieve a lot of stress, especially around exam time.

An experience like no other

It mustn’t be forgotten, of course, that the first year of university is going to provide many highlights for your child.

They’ll be studying something they are truly passionate about, with academics and peers who share their enthusiasm. They’ll make new friends, have new experiences and find the opportunity to develop a whole new social circle. They will experience they joy of a good exam result, the satisfaction of mastering a necessary skill and the inspiration of discovering new knowledge.

Want to find out more?

We’re here to help. Register for one of our parent information evenings or chat with a Prospectice Student Adviser and have all your questions about uni answered.