How to settle back into university after an extended break

It can be so easy to get sucked into the classic life script that follows leaving high-school – we’re supposed to go to university, get a bachelor’s degree in a society approved subject, then join a respectable company, where you continue to work until the ripe old retirement age of 65. However, life rarely works out as planned.

Maybe you were 6 months into your first job, when you realised that a marketing degree was your parents dream, while architecture is where your true interests lie. Or perhaps you’ve had an exciting and passionate career, but know you need your masters or PhD to take it to the next level. Whatever your situation, and no matter how short or long the time gap has been since you left university, the following tips and tricks have got you covered.

Remember to…. Relax

Whether you are worried that you will be the oldest person in your class or that you have forgotten the skills needed to excel, your fears are often untrue and are only holding you back. Upon returning to university, you are going to notice many people of all ages – gone are the days when you had to be in your teens or early 20s to study. While it may feel as if you are behind compared to the bright young sparks in your class, it is important to remember that you have a variety of skills and knowledge to bring to the table. The work experience and knowledge you have gained outside of the classroom will only serve to boost your standing in your lecturer and classmates’ eyes.

university tips

Don’t overload yourself

There is no need to overload yourself by taking the full range of courses that everyone else is doing. If at any point you are having trouble remembering any of the essential academic skills needed in university (i.e. structuring and writing an essay, referencing, etc.) or are feeling stressed or burnt out, then you should consider cutting back to part-time. Many prospective returning university graduates begin by studying part-time, specifically to avoid these challenges. Returning to university is a big step, so remember to give yourself credit, and if needed, allow yourself a more gradual return into academic life.

university tips

Learning workshops

An indispensable resource to new and returning students alike, is university learning workshops. Universities all around NZ will understand the stress that you will be undergoing as a returning student to university. Leading universities like the University of Auckland, Victoria University, and the University of Canterbury all offer comprehensive learning workshops that will help you brush up on essential skills like essay-writing, grammar/punctuation, exam techniques, and time-management. There are even workshops designed specifically for adult/returning students, like the Adult Student’s Academic Orientation offered by the University of Canterbury.

Join a club/society

Being around a bunch of excited 18-year-olds exchanging first-year timetables and gossiping about Toga Night might not be your scene. But with the hundreds of clubs and student societies available at campuses all around NZ, there’s something for all tastes. Joining a club is one of the easiest ways to feel as if you are part of the university community and to make like-minded friends. Is there a sport or skill that you enjoy or have always wanted to try? Take your pick from tennis and snowboarding clubs to French and debating clubs. Maybe you just want to learn more and make connections within your chosen field? Go ahead and join one of the university societies targeted towards your faculty. Lastly, don’t forget about all the student clubs/organisations that are specifically targeted to returning students!

university tips

Find a personalized study space

This is a crucial step in my opinion – the shift from working/home life to full study mode can be intimidating for anyone. What a personalized study space provides you with is a physical reminder to switch off all distractions and immerse yourself fully in your studies. Creating your own study space can involve anything from buying a new desk, clearing out an empty room to create a home office, or finding a quiet space on campus to make your own.


university tips

University is already hard enough as it is, without insecurities about whether you are ‘past it’ or have forgotten the skills needed to graduate. What these tips show is that there is always a way around each of your perceived problems – there will almost always be someone older than you in your class, and part-time study is a legitimate option for you. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to dive into university culture by polishing your skills, making new friends, and finding a space to make your own.

vickyWritten by Vicky Evans

When she is not thinking about her next overseas trip, Vicky can be found with her head buried deep in a book, writing, or binging on Netflix. Her obsessions include adorable cats, interior design, and indulging in ALL the sweet things.


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