How to make the most of your time at university 3

This week the new first year students are following a faculty programme introducing them to academic life at the NWU Potchefstroom campus. There is curriculum advice, sessions on study methods, time management, using the library services and my own on #EdTech tools and tips. In this spirit, we decided to offer some advice to first years (and senior students) about how to make the most of your time at university.

Prof Fanus welcomes first years to the faculty

Prof Fanus welcomes first years to the faculty

We find our inspiration in a letter Prof Jonathan Jansen wrote in the Times Live last year, addressed to a “Dear Jobless graduate”.  He starts off with a disappointed graduate saying:

“you are always telling people to study and get an education; well, my parents sacrificed much to send me to university and now, look, I cannot even find a simple job with this qualification.”

He goes on to explain that the reasons why JG, the jobless graduate, fails to get a job. It has little to do with the degree and a lot to do with what employers look for in a candidate – and by extension, what you do with your time at university. He notes that JG concentrated on passing, while other students focussed on excelling. JG repeated a few subjects a few times. JG also did not do much else as a student. The thin CV shows no evidence of taking the lead in a campus society, taking responsibility in vacation work, or making a difference in the lives of people.

In the end it is not getting the degree that matters, but working for it and adding value to it. Our advice to students includes:

  • You have worked hard to get into university, now you have to work hard to get out. This means basic stuff like attending the lectures, participating in discussions, doing the assignments, preparing for the tests and exams.
  • Doing this requires a plan, you need to get with the work schedule on eFundi and read the Prof’s e-mails.
  • Even though you are becoming knowledgeable in Economics or Accounting or whatever, you need to keep practising and improving key skills, like writing well or making presentations. Take a course in business writing or join the Toastmasters.
  • Where there is an opportunity, invest in the scarce skills. Learning Statistics, or a new language, is hard, but will look really good on that CV.
  • Get to know the lecturers. They are people who love their field and sharing their knowledge about it. They write letters of recommendation.
  • Participate in the value-added stuff. Join a society on campus, meet interesting people, attend the School’s seminar series, write that Budget Speech competition essay, make your voice heard on the blog or Facebook page. Start your own blog!
  • Grow your mind. If  you leave campus with much the same thoughts and opinions that you arrived with you did not read, explore or work hard enough.

Do you have some advice for students? Or maybe you are an employer – what is it that you look for in a graduate? Please leave a comment, or if it is a whole post’s worth of advice, send an e-mail and we can make a plan for a guest post.


  1. I’d like to add a piece of advice that I received in my first year which I am still using today. As a first year student, I attended a luncheon where Antjie Krog was the guest speaker and she said something that really grabbed me – she explained that we should view the university as a microcosm of the universe and grab the opportunity to learn all about it, and not just the specific fields such as Economics that we were studying. She told us that a university is a place where a whole collection of experts have made it their life’s mission to share their knowledge, and that we should use the easy access that we have to all this knowledge to our advantage. For example, if you’ve always wanted to know more about the Renaissance, or you’re baffled by the Big Bang Theory (the actual theory, not the sitcom!) – get in touch with someone at the history or physics department, and learn from them! Today I myself am a lecturer but I still embrace this philosophy. I quite often get in touch with my colleagues in Politics, Biology, Philosophy etc. to ask them for information about topics which I am interested in, and I have always found them to be very helpful and eager to accommodate someone who wants to learn. I’d encourage students to do the same – you won’t have the opportunity to have such a collection of willing teachers at your fingertips again!

  2. Pingback: University: worth it? | Economics is Everywhere

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