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Eusebius McKaiser’s 13 tips for first-year students

Are you starting studies at a tertiary institution soon? Here are some tips that may or may not be useful. They are attitudes that helped me, and with hindsight I wish I had an older sibling or parent or mentor who could have told me these. Use them. Don't use them. Or share them with your child/sibling/mentee who is about to enter a tertiary institution: 

  • Join a debate club. Participate actively in extramural activities. Build an all rounder profile and CV.
  • READ for your degree. Don't rely on lecture notes as your primary study or research material for exams or term essays.
  • Do NOT be shy to put up your hand in lectures to ask for clarification or to engage lecturers critically even if others roll their eyes.
  • University and other tertiary institutions can be scary, alien, lonely environments. Do not panic if you struggle in first year. Reach out for help early. 
  • How you finish a degree matters more than how you start it. Don't despair poor first year marks. Aim to improve every year. 
  • Controversial but a deep belief I hold: choose subjects that turn you on. Don't try guess what's employability maximising.
  • Being nerdish is cool. Don't laugh with peers who say: "50% is a pass. 51% means you neglected friends". No no no.
  • I got my degrees with distinction. Brag about excellence. Don't only celebrate winning drinking competitions (though do brag about that too if you're at Rhodes)
  • Take risks, have fun and experiment. Kiss a boy, rugby lad. Walk barefoot, head girl. 
  • Tertiary institutional experiences are about more than academia: they are spaces where you can question your identity, beliefs, values. But "free at last" doesn't mean implode. Still, enjoy critical self-examination. 
  • Even distinctions don't guarantee employment. Build relationships widely. They are crucial after graduation. Boring academics call it "social capital". Develop plenty of it. 
  • Don't be afraid of failure. It's how you respond that matters; not having a student life devoid of anxiety, self-doubt, set-backs. The world remembers the output, not the back story.
  • It's one of the most beautiful and privileged times of your life – enjoy it.

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Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser is a political and social analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics. He is also a popular radio talk show host, a top international debate coach, a master of ceremonies and a public speaker of note. He loves nothing more than a good argument, having been both former National South African Debate Champion and the 2011 World Masters Debate Champion. His analytic articles and columns have been widely published in South African newspapers and the New York Times. McKaiser has studied law and philosophy. He taught philosophy in South Africa and England.

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