Amy Eksteen

This week I have the privilege of graduating. I studied psychology for four years at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I am a Registered Counsellor with a Bachelor of Psychology (Counselling) degree with Cum Laude.

My time as a student, to say the least, was extremely challenging, but by the grace of God and many hours of hard work, I achieved what I set out to achieve. With many late nights and early mornings, thick textbooks, never ending notes, literal tears and one stress induced stomach ulcer later, my dedication, discipline and hard work paid off.

Being a student, being around students and learning a lot about students in my six month internship placement at NMU’s Student Counselling Career and Development Center, really helped me to realise that being a student can be one of the toughest phases in your life. This realisation has made me want to dedicate this post to all of the students out there, studying at a university or from home, who are working hard to obtain a higher qualification – the students out there who are facing difficult circumstances in their personal lives while still trying to prioritise their education.

Today, this post is dedicated to “15 tips to make student life easier”:

  1. The right friends – It’s so important to find the right group of friends. Friends who are supportive, encouraging and caring. You might find yourself studying a long way away from home, so finding a group of people who feel like family to you can be rather beneficial. It is even better if this group of friends/some of your friends study the same thing you do. Keeping in regular contact can be an especially helpful way when needing to stay up to date with information about your course. Having the right friends is also an awesome way to support and feel supported by others.
  2. Be healthy I’m not the type of person that prefers to be in the kitchen cooking, but the best decision I have ever made was to learn how to cook, especially healthy, budget and student-friendly meals. I think that when you are a student, it is so easy to get caught up in your work, that the quickest and often unhealthiest food and lifestyle choices are made. I would recommend investing a lot of time in a good grocery shopping routine and coming up with easy and healthy meal plans along with time set aside for some exercise. If you look after your body, your mind is sure to benefit from it. It will also help your overall stress and confidence levels.
  3. Budget I think that this is one of the most important tips. I’m sure many of us can relate that student life is tough, with overly expensive textbooks and minimum finances to work with. This is why learning how to budget and planning out where your money goes every month is helpful. This is how you can ensure you have enough money put aside for all of the necessities. Practicing budgeting also helps build healthy habits when it comes to finances in your future.
  4. Preparation and organisation- In other words, be proactive. Start early on assignments and tests. Make use of a diary and a calendar. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, ask someone, who is usually prepared and organised, for help. I also recommend inquiring if your university offers workshops about time management, stress management or ways to prepare for exams, as a few examples. Workshops are a great way to meet new people, gain support, learn from others and personally grow. I know that at Nelson Mandela University’s student counselling, many different workshops that cover a variety of mental health topics and personal growth opportunities are offered.
  5. It’s all about balance Sometimes when we’re caught up in the life of a student, we tend to only focus on our work. It’s so important to look after all of the areas of your life, that cater to your body, mind and soul. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, you’re exercising and eating right, but that you’re also prioritising time to see friends, your hobbies, contacting family, resting and having fun.
  6. Set goals I think setting goals is important because it is a way to stay motivated and focused. What I find helpful is to write out one simple/most important goal for your day, week, month and year. For example, your goal for the day could be to attend all of your classes. Your goal for the week could be to spend an hour every day learning for an upcoming test. Your goal for the month might be to start your assignment earlier than usual and your goal for the year might be to pass all of your modules. Start small and have these goals written down somewhere where you can see them often. Sometimes we need subtle reminders and sources of motivation/direction.
  7. Prioritise I think it’s really good to figure out your priorities as a student – to figure out what’s most important to you. When I was a student, I decided to prioritise my degree more than anything else and I feel like it really helped me to stay focused. I recommend writing your priorities out on a list from ‘most important to least important’ and sticking it on your wall or mirror, sometimes looking back on this list can help you make fruitful decisions.
  8. No means no This is something I had to learn to do – to learn that “No” is just a word. I think this tip goes hand-in-hand with sticking to your priorities. Sometimes it is hard to say no to friends, family and even to ourselves, but it’s important to understand that we are allowed to say no and we are allowed to be assertive in order to look after ourselves and our priorities in the end.
  9. Know where the essentials are To name a few, know where the library is, the closest coffee shop, the nearest vending machines and most affordable places to access food, where your classes are, the best printing places, the best parking spots, where your faculty is situated, where your lecturers offices are, if your university offers a student counselling and/or where the university clinic is. In other words, don’t skip orientation.
  10. Combat stress – It is so easy to constantly stress as a student. It is therefore important to learn your stress triggers and how you can manage your stress, especially before important presentations, tests and exams – trust me, test and exam anxiety is a thing and many students battle with it. Find activities that can help you to relax and that actually work for you. I feel like it is important to set time aside to ‘destress’, for your mental health and your overall experience and success as a student. Stress can either make you or break you. A few ways to combat stress can include journaling, exercising, drawing/painting, listening/playing music, relaxation techniques like deep breathing and/or attending counselling.
  11. Home is where the heart is I feel like this is an important tip, especially for students who live and study away from home. Homesickness and loneliness can be a very real experience for some students. Sometimes when you feel stressed and overwhelmed by work and student life in general, being able to contact family and friend’s from home is a way to escape, to feel comforted and supported. I recommend putting time a side, even if it is once a week, to spend time talking to those who feel like family to you.
  12. Comfort is key I made this a tip because this turned out to be such an important aspect for me. I believe that your place of residence – your living environment as a student needs to be as healthy as possible. You need to feel safe and comfortable. I know that this isn’t possible for all students, especially students who are living in res/student accommodation, but I do recommend ensuring that you get along with your roommate/the people that you live with, that your safety is catered to, especially if you are a female and that you are happy and living in an environment that will help you thrive. This is important because it can directly affect your mental and physical health, therefore affecting your education as a result.
  13. Become a referencing proThis is a tip because referencing is one of the most important skills you can learn as a student and yes, I believe that it is an actual skill. Learn as much as you can about referencing as early as possible. This will ensure your assignments and later on, any research that you do, will be of a high standard.
  14. Never stop learning – I think this goes without saying. Being a student is all about learning, learning about different topics and about the different people around you, but I think that it is also important to invest in learning about yourself – learning about student life and who you are as a student. Learn about your particular learning style, how you prefer to take notes and study, your strengths and areas where you need to develop as a person and never stop asking questions.
  15. Be kind to yourselfI made this the last tip because I think that it is the most important. I’ve said this many times and I will say it again, being a student is challenging. Your time as a student may be one of the most challenging chapters of your life. We can have endless lists of goals, we can prioritise as much as we want, we can be organised and overly prepared, we can budget and plan, we can do all things by the book, but if we aren’t being kind to ourselves, if we aren’t looking after our mental health then we aren’t focusing on what is most important. Your happiness comes first so don’t forget to show yourself a little bit of kindness every single day.

I hope you enjoyed my top 15 tips that can be used to help make student life easier. I hope this post made you feel comforted, supported and maybe a little motivated.

Good luck for the rest of the year xx