Things I wish I knew before starting University

August 11, 2018 / by / 0 Comment

It’s that time of the year again. The summer is almost over, and the fall semester is almost here.  For those of you who are about to start their first year at university, it’s what I hope, a really exciting time. I hope you can’t wait to live out your dream of lying down on that lush green lawn with a racially diverse group of friends, laughing over some unimaginably funny joke that caught you off guard (the closest i have come to this was a long time ago in the Centennial Garden-no picture of that glorious day survives). Or maybe you are waiting eagerly to use that richly furnished and technological advanced learning space that the university has to offer, maybe to discuss that exciting math problem on your assignments (what’s a an HKU students favorite dog? A Chi-wah-wah).

business-conference-learning-7095All university admission brochure tropes aside, this must be an emotionally charged time for you. Ambivalence is perfectly normal right now, with fears and expectations about this novel phase of life melding together to produce a strange mix of feelings. Luckily, quite a few people have written about their experiences, made video guides or even written books to help you through this time.


I am going to talk about a few things that I personally think are pretty useful for someone starting off and might help you navigate through your university beginnings. I do not purport to have learnt these lessons in their entirety (read: at all) and this is a note-to-self as much as it is a rough guide. Each and everyone has a different university experience and I can’t possibly posit that mine represents that of the majority. Read with an open mind and like it is true for everything you read on the internet, exercise your best judgment (I really shouldn’t need to tell you this; fake new is so 2016 eksdee)

1.    Ask

I am not completely comfortable asking for extra ketchup for my food or calling to make an appintmentment and I am highly suspicious of people who are. Nevertheless, something I had to learn the hard way was that the mere act of asking goes a long way.


Didn’t get the course you wanted? Ask: email the professor or ask your seniors what you can do to get that sweet course.

Don’t know how to fill a form? Ask: You wont end up having to fill the form multiple times.

Want to work in lab you feel is interesting? Ask: Email the person-in-charge and tell them why you are interested in helping out.


But it isn’t just things that you are actively looking for that you should be asking question. Try to engage in conversations when you get the opportunity. Ask how that hallmate got into photography and you might stumble upon a personal awakening. Ask how the professor got into his discipline and you might realise academia is your calling. Ask that friend where he got that burger and he might just give you a bite. Ok maybe not the last part.

2.    “I will work when I get back to my room” is a lie.

As you settle into your schedule and stretch your legs once orientation week is over, you might find yourself thinking about heading back to you room and studying there (after a much deserved break). BE VERY CAREFUL. It’s easier to slack off and take a nap in your room than it is in the Library and on the flip side It’s much easier to work when hundreds of people around you are grinding away. Try sticking to a schedule and figure out where you work best. Don’t fall into a loop that might be hard to break.

3.    Academic Procrastination is real

I don’t know how much procrastination you have dealt with in your school career but I had done more than my fair share. From having to pull off an all-nighter to submit my uni apps to writing supplemental essays right before the deadline, I might have had misgivings that university wouldn’t be any worse (Spoiler alert: I WAS WRONG). I had no clue how much more potential there is to procrasinate at univeristy where there are a thousand other things you could be doing. I don’t claim to be an expert on the psychology of procrastination but again there’s a lot of good advice floating on the internet. Go, Watch that TED talk, go look at your own patterns, figure out an anti-procrastination strategy; just do whatever you can to prevent it.

4.    Deadlines and planners

I admit there is an unreasonably huge number of dates you need to remember to stay on top of everything. Quizzes, mid-terms, reports, meetings and tutorials; all have their own schedules and deadlines and it gets really easy to miss them. Get organized and write them down; set notifications if that’s your thing and minimize the chances of feeling the need to punch yourself when you forget to apply for readmission at your hall (or any other thing for that matter).2018-art-calendar-775779

5.    Emails

You might not have felt the need to regularly check your emails in your past, naive, worriless life but as you step closer towards that coveted tertiary education, you need to keep an eye on your digital communications: email, messages, letters, pigeons or pagers. Setting up an email forwarder to get all your emails in one inbox makes it easier for the lazier ones among us but if you want to keep your inboxes separate for some reason, no one’s going to judge you.


A lot of the emails will be irrelevant to you but a choice few of them will contain vital information making it worth going through all the other junk. And if you don’t find a single one useful, at least you will come out of that pile hyper-aware of university happenings.

6.    You are not alone

I know it sounds cheesy but the truth is you’re in a cohort of a few hundred students just at your university, and countless more if you expand that circle. Chances are, someone is going through the exact same thing as you and it’s all the better to know that you’re not the only one. Be it problems like getting a proper meal schedule settled or feeling homesick, you can always find somebody who will not only understand, but can probably be there to see you through that phase. So reach out and discuss your problems with your friends and colleagues. You might be surprised by how much of what you think was specific to you is actually shared by others around you.


This list is by no means exhaustive but should give you a few helpful pointers. Remember that most of the people at the University will go out of their way to help you if you ask politely. Everyone was once a freshman (almost everyone) and will understand your situation.

In case you have any additions you might want to suggest to this list or want to ask something else, feel free to send me a message at

In the meantime, ENJOY THIS EXCITING TIME and don’t worry about making a few mistakes along the way!



Down for anything that let's me be creative. Mainly photography and engineering for now. As much as I want to say otherwise, I am the stereotypical millennial.