After 13 years in the school system, thousands of students around the country have dumped their NCEA notes, tossed out their school uniforms and are readying themselves for year one of tertiary education.

The process of application and enrolment is easy these days. Navigating the websites of tertiary institutes is second nature to the latest batch of digital natives and, with the university year about to start, everything will have been sorted out online. By now, student loans and allowances will have been granted and accommodation arranged. But the question remains: what is student life really like?

There's nobody better than a current student to give the lowdown on what uni life really involves, and the likes of Unitec's SUCCESS, AUT's student ambassador and the University of Auckland's UniGuide programmes connect first-semester students with a student mentor, who can advise on everything from buying books, using public transport and where to buy a good coffee.

But to get a jump on things and find out what's useful and what's not, current Auckland Uni student Theo Larmer-Cottle tells it like it is.

Advertisement

Living at home vs flatting

Theo has one semester left to complete his BA, majoring in history and ancient history, and has lived at home through most of his degree but is about to move into a flat. He says living at home really helps with saving money, "which is essentially why I decided to stay home. You do miss out on the uni vibe a bit though. It's really just a balance between how rich you want to be and how much fun you want to have."

O Week

Orientation welcome programmes held at the end of February combine faculty tours with presentations and social gatherings designed to inform and connect new students with others. Theo mostly avoided O Week. "I think the only thing I did was take the bus in once to make sure I knew how to actually get to uni." He advises that O Week is "pretty handy because they give tours for new students, but at the same time you have to engage in those insufferable ice-breaking games, so do this at your peril."

Course materials

New students are given a list of course materials needed, but Theo recommends waiting to see if you actually need them. "I rarely bought course materials unless they were absolutely crucial, which they rarely were. Most people I went to uni with did the same." But for the materials you do need, Theo suggests Facebook as a good place to buy second-hand if you want to save money.

Working while studying

Like many students, Theo took on a part-time job to help fund his degree. He has worked for the past few years in customer services at Lotto NZ's call centre, a role he found through Trade Me Jobs. "That's probably the best place to find jobs. I know a lot of people use StudentJobSearch but I never made any headway through that, so if anyone out there is looking for a job I would recommend Trade Me." He admits it's not easy to work your way through uni but says it was worth it in the end.

"Working it around my studies is probably not the phrase I would use, I would say I just kind of adapted to it. Basically, money equals life, so just get the max hours you think you can do and wing it."

Transport and food

To save money on public transport, Theo says the tertiary discount (at least 35 per cent) that can be uploaded on to an AT Hop card is probably the best bet. "It can save quite a lot of money. Foodwise, it's tricky to say, because everything is pretty expensive but there are a couple of sushi places around uni that can be quite cheap. Either that or just buy a loaf of bread to get you through the week."

What to wear

Is there a secret dress code when it comes to what to wear to uni? Theo's answer might be considered a predictable male reply. "Preferably clothes." For clarification, I checked in with a female student. "People use uni as a time to express themselves," says Olivia, "and you can pretty much get away with anything. Some people wear super-nice clothes and makeup, and some literally go to lectures in their pyjama pants. But I'd say a comfy pair of jeans is essential, something you can put on quickly when you wake up late and have to be at uni for an 8am class."

Study groups

Theo says study groups can be helpful, but you need to study with the right people. "I studied with a close mate of mine all the time in classes we shared and that was super-helpful, but I'm not really one for studying with complete strangers. A lot of classes set up study groups, which are usually set up through Facebook, but that was never for me."

Student social media groups

Facebook is also the place to go for student social media groups, which can be useful for finding out what to do and when an assignment is due. "I really just used them so everyone else could ask the stupid questions that I didn't want to ask," says Theo. "They are semi-helpful. The stage 1 Facebook groups are very helpful but stage 2 and 3 people just can't be bothered."

Final words

"Don't overthink anything, and do whatever you like. Uni isn't something to be scared of, it's a pretty liberating experience. So just wing it and you will have fun. I cannot stress enough how much better uni is than school."