How to start varsity/college on a high note

You’ve made it! You’ve passed matric and are ready for the next stage in your life – tertiary school! Being a student is fun and exciting, but it can be hectic if you’re not prepared for it. Here’s how to kickstart tertiary on a high note.

Attend orientation

Orientation typically begins in the weeks and sometimes months before classes start. Attending orientation will give you the best possible start, by allowing you to meet other students in your course, meet key staff in your faculty, learn about the services available to support your studies, where to attend classes and how to access your timetable. There are also lots of fun activities during orientation, so be sure not to miss out!

Find out about the latest COVID-19 protocols

Since the pandemic, institutions have been strict about COVID-19 regulations. Some institutions may require students to be vaccinated, tested, wear masks, study online, etc. Be sure to check out your Institution’s COVID-19 policies before starting the semester so you don’t fall behind.

Stay organised

Balancing the academic and social demands of tertiary education can be a challenge for even the most diligent student. But there are plenty of digital tools designed for students, and a little organization can go a long way to help you use your time wisely. Be sure to get organised, plan your tasks, attend all of your classes and actively participate in those classes.

Don’t be afraid to meet new friends

Tertiary institutions can push you to develop strong communication skills- from group projects, to communicating with professors. You can also find yourself working closely with people from different backgrounds and life experiences. Having friends in tertiary can increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost happiness, reduce your stress, and improve your confidence and self-worth.

Attending orientation week will introduce you to friends within your faculty, which can make your studies go by much easier. Having friends in the same class as you can help you stay accountable. It’ll also make studying better and you won’t feel anxious when group work and assignments come up, because you’ll likely have people you know in your group.

Tertiary studies can be a lot of fun, but with the adjustments to the new environment, it’s important not to lose track of what’s important. Remember to plan and write down the goals you want to achieve this year. All the best Choma!

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Messagea Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).

Tips for handling tertiary school

Choma, you’ve made it! You have passed Matric and ready for the next stage in your life…tertiary school!  Most of you will start university/college in February and will study different subjects or courses, meet new friends and engage in a lot more social activities such as joining the debate team. Being a student is fun and exciting but it can be hectic if you are not prepared for it.

I have listed some helpful ideas on how to handle your first year of university/college.

Get used to your new-found freedom

You may realise very quickly that there are less rules and guidelines. Most lecturers may not check to see if you have attended your classes or not. As a result, you may start skipping classes because there is no –one there telling you to attend. Meeting different groups of people may become exciting for some. Some of you will get a lot of attention from boys who will want to take you out. There’s nothing wrong with that chomas. But, if it leads to sex by the end of the night, make sure you carry a condom with you. The trick is not lose control over your life and remind yourself why you decided to go to university/college. This is what I call responsibility.

Find like-minded students

University/college is fun because this is where you get to learn about yourself; what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s also a time to meet new people who share similar interests to you. You may get to experience new and exciting things, like developing an interest in public speaking. Meeting like-minded people will help you become more comfortable in yourself and will help you express yourself freely. Join student societies which focus on your interests. This is where you can meet people who like the same things you do.

Balance it out

Finding a balance in your first year can be a bit difficult, especially when you’re still getting used to your new surroundings, a bigger work load and trying to find new friends. However, you need to find a balance in order to ‘survive’ your first year. If you find that you are spending too much time socialising, then you need to cut down on that so that you can focus more on your books if you want to pass your first year.

Work harder

In high school, you were mostly told what to study in order to pass. Tertiary education is different from high school in that you need to start thinking critically. The transition can be a shock for many. If you are struggling to keep up, speak to your lecturers, tutors or your fellow classmates for help.

Get over the language barrier

Being taught in a language you aren’t familiar with can become stressful and can affect your level of understanding the work. Find people who speak the language taught in class. For example, if your lecturer teaches the students in English then find people who regularly speak in English, do assignments with them so that you can familiarise yourself with the language. If there is a class which helps students improve on their English, then attend the classes there too.

Love what you do and do what you love

Choose courses that you are passionate about and enjoy them. Don’t let anyone tell you what to study. You may end up not doing as well as you should, you may even fail the year, because you are not interested in the courses.

Do you have any other tips for anyone starting their first year in university/college? Let me know in the comments.

What ‘First Year Spread’ is and how to avoid it

Whether you’re staying in res or living in a commune (digs), I’m sure you have expectations of how the next few years of student life will be. I understand that you will be mainly focused on your school work but make sure you don’t neglect your body as well.  Some of you may have heard about it and some of you will know about it from today. But, ‘First Year Spread’ is when first year students put on a lot of weight within the first year of university/college.

So, what causes this sudden physical change?

One reason may be caused by the change from high school to university/college. It is normally a stressful time for some because you’re away from home and there is pressure academically and socially. Don’t worry, that’s normal chomas. That is why most students find it easier to eat unhealthy foods to cope with this change.

Studying can cause a lot of anxiety. I understand how much pressure there is for you to pass your first year but pay attention to the meal you have. Is it too sugary, too oily or has too much salt?

Have you heard people talk about how unhealthy most alcoholic drinks are? Well, that’s because they have a lot of calories (the amount of energy in food). Drinking too much may result in you gaining weight. I’m not saying don’t go out and socialise chomas, but beware of the number of drinks you have every time you go out, ok?

There may be students staying outside of res who may not have equipment such as a fridge or a stove. This prevents them from keeping fresh foods or making meals. This may also contribute to weight gain because most foods that take long to go bad without being in the fridge are foods like coffee creamers, biscuits or chocolates which are bad foods. So if you can, save money for a small fridge and a two-plate stove.

The amount of schoolwork – assignments, exams and tutorials -, the social life and the huge amount of freedom can be too much. As a result, you may not be able to put in that extra time to prepare healthy meals.  You may even skip breakfast and grab an unhealthy lunch like chips and cool drinks after morning lectures. Then later in the evening have an unhealthy dinner with no vegetables. This contributes to weight gain.

How can you prevent ‘First Year Spread’?

Replace poor eating habits with good ones, replace your biscuits and chocolates with fruits or find a hobby; start walking or learn to play a new instrument. If you enjoy playing sports, then find out if your college/university has sport teams or activities for you to join. You may eat fast foods once in a while but keep your portions small and choose the healthiest option, whether you stay in res or live in a commune.

If you live in a commune, try and convince your housemates to cook with you – it might be fun! Cook enough food so that you can pack lunches for the next day, instead of buying something unhealthy on campus. If you feel stressed, get out of your room for a walk or visit a friend. For snacks, stock up on fruits; they’re delicious and, more importantly, healthier. If you don’t like the gym then look up exercises online.

I know it’s going to be difficult in the beginning, but you will thank yourself by the end of the year.

What NOT to do during exam time

So end year exams are just around the corner, some of you may have even started writing. Exams can be a serious pain, but they’re not going away anytime soon – all this is a build up to your all-important matric exams. Instead of seeing the negative, rather see exams as your opportunity to shine, to test what you’ve learned this year and to give those brain muscles a good workout. Attitude defines everything.

Apart from embracing a positive attitude to exams and NOT being negative or putting ourselves down. What other habits should we avoid during this period?

1. Don’t panic

Yes, exams are stressful but if you get anxious or panic your memory might not be what it should be. Be serious about your studies but also have fun. If you find yourself feeling anxious, take a short break and go for a walk or get some exercise. The exercise will increase blood flow and give you the energy to keep going.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If there is a concept or material you’re struggling with, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher or even your fellow student for help. Why not get your friends together for a study group?

3. Don’t skip out on meals or sleep

Taking good care of yourself is super important, but even more so during exam times. Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat nutritious meals. Food like eggs, bananas, fruit and nuts are great brain food and will give you extra energy as well for those long study sessions.

4. Don’t wait till the last minute to study

Chomas, this is the worst thing you can do. Trying to force all the material into your head at the last minute will leave you stressed out, tired and worst of all, you won’t remember anything anyway. Instead, draw up a proper well-spaced out study plan long before your exams. Give yourself time to go through the material slowly and carefully, so that you understand everything. Also, give yourself enough time to practise and work through the material, not just read it. This is extra important for subjects like Maths and Science where you have difficult problems to work through.

5. Don’t procrastinate

We’ve all done this, that pre-exam procrastination by cleaning your room, doing laundry, absolutely anything to avoid studying. Trust me chomas, you do not need to create the perfect study corner to get things done. Stop, focus, and good luck!

Balancing Books and Bae

So, it’s 2016 and your New Year’s resolutions are underway. You’ve committed to making this year one of your best ones yet! You’re excited to be starting a new year of school or varsity/college but you and your bae are still enjoying each other’s company (you’re practically joined to the hip!). You know that to grow a healthy relationship, you need to spend time with each other. But, you also know that studying and spending enough time with your books is just as important.

So, how do you balance your relationship with your need to learn? Balancing both can be tricky but it is possible chomas! Here is how:

Make a schedule

Plan out how much time you will need for your school work and how much time you need to spend with each other, and then schedule him/her around it. Write down your schedule. That way, it will be a little easy to stick with and neither your relationship nor your books will suffer. Your end-of-year results and bae will both appreciate this!

Have study dates

In order for this to work, you both need to be realistic about what to expect from each other. This means that you both need to be understanding enough to not distract each other from studying. Why not go to the library for a study date? You will find that it’s easier to focus on your books when you are in a public place that doesn’t allow disruption. It’s a win-win situation because you are spending time with each other while focusing on your studies. This way you are also both being positive influences to each other.

Be realistic and compromise where you can

There might be days where you feel frustrated and think that this plan of balancing your relationship with your books and relationship was just a dream – that’s normal. There will be days where you need to spend extra time with your books. There’s nothing wrong with prioritising your studies… Your partner will understand this if you are both on the same page.  Nothing and no one is perfect. But, talk to bae because nobody is a mind reader. Which brings me to my last point…


You’ll be amazed by how much you will know about a person and what is happening in his/her life by just talking to them! So you need to communicate with your partner in order to find out what is happening in his/her life – especially when it comes to school. Once that discussion happens, you will know when their assignments are due, when exams start and when school closes. This way, neither of you will be put in a difficult position of choosing whether to go on a date with bae or a date with your books. Both of you should recognise that school needs to come first. This way, when you do experience stress with your school work, he or she will understand. You BOTH need to be considerate of each other when it comes to this.

It’s always the small things that count. So having a WhatsApp profile picture of bae with the status update “Good luck on your assignment! Can’t wait to see you for ice-cream and a movie on Saturday!” will put a smile on your partner’s face.

Make 2016 the year where you can have it all, you just have to work hard at it!