Advice That Would Have Helped Me in My First Year

Joshua Nai

This piece was first published in Edition 1, 2021.

Beginning university is an exciting yet overwhelming time. The sooner you understand certain aspects of university life, the less stressed you will feel. Here’s a list of all the things I wish I knew when I started studying at Monash to help you feel more prepared. 

Take Orientation (O) week seriously

I know that’s probably the last thing that a new student wants to hear. Why start studying a week earlier than semester starts? The answer is simple, it actually will help you later on. When O-week starts, your units for the semester are published on Moodle, which tends to include links to online lectures, assignment dates and the almighty reading list. When I was in my first-year I was extremely overwhelmed with the readings I needed to complete for each unit on a weekly basis, as the learning structure at university is different from learning at high school. Over time, I realised that using that one week before the semester starts can set you up for success later in the semester. Completing your readings earlier gives you more time to prepare for future weeks without falling behind and it gives you more background knowledge when you walk into your tutorials. You don’t need to read each text for the semester before it begins, just get yourself into a habit of organising your readings.


The library website is the best tool to guide you through referencing styles, especially when you need to use more than one style for the first time. Download the specific referencing guide you need, print it out and have it beside you when writing those first essays. When you do access a journal article or a book through the library website you can check how it is referenced in the specific style that you need. However, always make sure to double-check the reference. Referencing is something that isn’t usually taught in high school, since tests and SACs are the main form of assessment. University courses include many essays, meaning you will need to learn how to reference properly. Don’t stress, over time you actually begin to memorise referencing rules!

Books are available online and for borrowing

This may seem obvious but you don’t necessarily need to buy all your books in the first week of semester, especially if you’re enrolling in an elective that you aren’t sure you like yet. I remember buying textbooks straight away before changing my mind about electives and having to return them. Save yourself the hassle and see if you like the unit first. Most units provide reading lists with direct links to online journal articles and online book chapters, therefore, there will be times that you won’t even need to buy the physical copy. Lastly, take advantage of the library and borrow books, there are usually plenty to go around and all you have to do is extend your loan duration to keep it for the whole semester. If you do purchase new books, be aware that most of the time they are difficult to sell once the semester is over as most people borrow from the library or units change their set text, or are discontinued altogether.

Be careful with electives 

Most courses at Monash have space for electives, however I wish that I had been more careful with my selections. Although it is fascinating to try new units such as human rights and criminology, you need to have an idea of your major and minor to ensure that you have enough units to complete your course. If you try too many electives you may find yourself in the same position I was in, where you want to change your minor but don’t have enough units left. You can only erase electives from your course if you revoke them, which means that you have completed and paid for a unit that will not count towards your degree. Luckily, the team at the Arts Student Services helped me find a way to change my minor you can visit them at Level 2, South Wing, Menzies Building, 20 Chancellors Walk, Clayton Campus if you are enrolled in an Arts degree and need assistance with your course, or find your faculty’s student services office on the Monash website. Also note that most minors require you to complete first-year units, hence keep that in mind if you don’t want to have to redo first-year units in your second year.

Make time for Turnitin

There is plenty of stress and pressure when the time comes to submit your first essays, where you might be running behind and feel like you will finish only a few minutes before the deadline or you’ll submit it on the morning of the due date and not do any more university work for the rest of the weekend. However, you shouldn’t forget about an important factor, Turnitin, a plagiarism detection program which most units use when assignments are submitted. When you submit your draft, a Turnitin report will be created, however, this takes a while to generate. This program checks your work to see if you have copied anything without referencing it. If you have a high similarity percentage this means you may have accidentally copied something online and you will need to make some changes before you submit. However, when you submit another draft for a second time it will take longer, sometimes even 24 hours, to return a percentage. This could mean trouble if your first report was relatively high (generally the maximum is 15%, but you should strive to be well below this number). Therefore, try to give yourself enough time in case you find yourself in this situation. Then, you can at least see what your Turnitin percentage is before you make your final submission and begin your weekend. It could save you from a lot of trouble once your marks are released. You are able to see the Turnitin report when you have uploaded a draft, so don’t make the mistake of making a final submission before seeing your Turnitin report in the draft mode, otherwise you won’t be able to make any changes. 

University is for people of all ages

When I first started at Monash it took me some time to get used to the people in my classes who were not fresh out of high school like I was. In your tutorials you will meet people who have transferred from other universities, who have just come back from a gap year, people who have already completed another university course, international students and those who are coming back to university after starting families. University is a diverse environment where everybody is welcome to learn and strive to be their best selves. So, a little warning, not everyone you meet is going to be 18 and recently graduated from high school and that’s alright, it allows you to meet new people who have different experiences and interesting stories and wisdom to share. 

Login hack

Lastly, this is something that a tutor shared in my first year, and it’s something that will save you time whenever you need to log into Moodle. You don’t need to write your email address in the email address section of the login, just write your authentication code or authcate, for example, John Monash’s email could be and writing jmon0001 in the box will log him into Moodle, without having to constantly write out his whole email. This will come in handy because you will be logging into Moodle all the time!

Hopefully you find this is helpful as you start your first year at university. Welcome to Monash and good luck!


Photo of a person from the waist up, standing in a corridor and looking at something beyond the frame. They are lit by fluorescent lights that are partially visible.

Art by Joshua Nai

Tags : Artcampusphotography
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