Module 1 - Transition to Uni

Transition to Uni


University study involves an educational transformation that can positively change a student’s future prospects and quality of life. However, in order to undergo any transformation, you must experience a period of adjustment and transition. Commencing university is one of those major transition periods in your life that can be exciting as well as challenging, so it is normal to experience some emotional ups and downs in your first study period.

How will this module help me?

  • Welcome you to James Cook University
  • Understand common challenges that university students face
  • Gain tips and advice about how to succeed

How long does this module take?

  • 30 minutes

Welcome to JCU

Education matters. Especially during times of change and uncertainty.

As you navigate through what has been a challenging time over the past two years, you deserve to feel proud that your skills and experience thus far have given you the opportunity to develop and demonstrate levels of resilience that will stand you in good stead for the future. It is more important than ever now to get ready today for tomorrow.

During your time with us you will discover and explore new subjects, new ideas, opportunities and possibilities. You will learn how to build expertise to adapt to the demands of our changing world. You will meet students from across Australia and abroad while interacting with JCU’s world renowned researchers and teachers, all of whom are dedicated to creating a brighter future for life in the Tropics through education and research that make a difference.

For over 50 years, JCU has helped create this brighter future for and through students – like you – and graduates, and it all begins with Orientation. Your O Week program is designed to help you learn about JCU and all that it has to offer, so that you can reap the full benefits of your university experience from the very first day.

At JCU, we recognise and honour the sacrifices and adjustments you’ve made in recent times to get here. We are so very pleased to welcome you. JCU staff, student mentors and the wider University community are here to support you on your new journey. We are determined to help you reach your personal academic goals while studying and your professional goals once you graduate.

Enjoy your time at JCU and make the most of the opportunities that a fine university education can provide.

I wish you every success in your studies in 2023.

Professor Simon Biggs

Vice Chancellor and President

Acknowledgement of Country

Differences between High School and University

For most new university students, their last education experience was in secondary school, so it is important to understand what the differences will be in a higher education setting. University is an adult learning environment, which means there is a strong emphasis on students becoming independent learners and managing their own study responsibilities, as shown below.

High School

  • Attendance is compulsory and classes are held five days per week
  • 75 per cent classes and 25 per cent independent learning
  • Teachers deliver content face-to-face
  • Teachers direct learning and remind students about study responsibilities and assessment due dates
  • Teachers approach students if they believe they need assistance
  • Teachers highlight important information
  • Teachers will review draft versions of assignments
  • Assessment is more frequent and covers smaller amounts of material
  • Parents receive biannual reports with grades A to F, and have access to parent-teacher interviews


  • Students choose to enrol in university and class times and days vary
  • 25 per cent classes and 75 per cent independent learning
  • Lectures may be videoconferenced or delivered through online learning platforms
  • Students are independent learners responsible for managing their study workloads and meeting assessment deadlines
  • Students are expected to monitor their own progress and seek help if needed
  • Students must review course and class content and identify important concepts
  • Lecturers do not provide feedback on drafts
  • Assessment is less frequent and covers larger amounts of learning material
  • Results are only available to students and graded from High Distinction to Fail

Signpost with new life and old life pointing in opposite directions.

Highs and Lows of University Life

Commencing university is an exciting time and students commonly feel happy and enthusiastic about their decision to study a chosen field. Your first study period at university will be a stimulating experience, but it is also a busy time as you learn about the university environment, academic expectations, learning technologies, where to go for help, as well as your course content.

These new and exciting challenges can cause students to feel anxious and unsure at various times, particularly around assessment periods. You may experience a wide range of feelings and moods and feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster in your first study period at university.  Many students incorrectly believe that everyone is coping except for them, however, in reality everyone is riding the same ups and downs and you are not alone. So, remember to talk to your fellow classmates about how you are feeling (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as they will be having similar experiences and you can work through those challenging periods together.

Line graph demonstrating the high and low points feelings throughout of university life

Your First Study Period

Orientation Week

This week is your first official week of university life.  It is one of the most important weeks of your academic journey as the course introductions and skill development sessions provide you with a wealth of tips and strategies about how to survive and thrive at university.  These activities will help you meet peers in your course and understand academic expectations in order to succeed.  This critical information is not repeated in Week 1 or the rest of your degree, which is why O Week is deemed a compulsory part of the university calendar and eligible students receive their government benefits (Austudy, Abstudy) in order to attend all activities.

Top Tips

Subject Guidelines – read all your subject outlines in LearnJCU from front to back (multiple times).  They contain vital information about how to succeed in your subjects and academic expectations.

Mentor Magic – you will get a Student Mentor in O Week, who is an experienced, successful student from your course of study that volunteers their time to help you through your first study period.  They have been in your shoes and are here to provide advice, support, and tips on how to succeed.

Create Connections – be brave and introduce yourself to other students and staff.  Find some like-minded peers and help each other to succeed and feel a sense of belonging at university.  Also, remember to schedule regular time with friends and family to stay connected while you are studying.

Learning Online – familiarise yourself with the virtual teaching and learning tools that your lecturer will use, such as LearnJCU, Collaborate, and Zoom platforms.  It is important to embrace e-communication and be an active communicator during online classes.

Lectures Begin

In Week 1, you will get a better sense of your study commitments for the term after your introductory lectures. Some students find this week a bit overwhelming as your lecturers will summarise the next 13 weeks of teaching in one hour, which can feel like a lot of information. Treat it like a series of previews at the movies and just sit back and listen to the snapshot information. Each week throughout semester, you will get the full-length ‘feature’ presentation on a lecture topic where things will make more sense.

You might also feel that first dip in the rollercoaster this week as you start to experience a ‘reality realignment’ i.e. what you thought uni was going to be and what is actually expected. This is normal and you just need to put a plan in place to manage your time – students who stick to their plan and take it ‘one day and one task at a time’ experience less stress and are able to enjoy their study.

JCU recommends that students allocate a minimum of 10-12 hours/week/subject to study commitments. Around 25% of your time will be spent attending classes/webinars and the other 75% will involve independent study. This self-directed study will include academic reading, reviewing notes, completing tutorial exercises, group study, as well as assignment and exam preparation. For a full-time student studying three or four subjects, it is a significant time commitment (36-48 hours/week). It is helpful to create weekly and semester planners (see tips below) to stay on track and share these with your nearest and dearest (parents, partners, children), so there is a shared understanding of your study commitments.

Top Tips

Attend to Achieve – students who attend ALL classes maximise their learning and success.

Stay Ahead – read all set materials before lectures and complete any tutorial/workshop activities before classes/Collaborate sessions each week to help contextualise your learning.  Allow extra time for each activity in your first study period as things often take longer than you expect the first time around.

Plan for Success – go to the JCU Learning Centre website to create weekly study and semester assessment planners.  Treat university like a job and commit to your ‘weekly roster’ of study.  This routine will keep you on track, reduce stress levels, and make study enjoyable.

Kickstart Your Success – get a jump start on your first assessments in Week 1, so you have plenty of time to put a plan in place, get any help you need, and meet the deadlines without unnecessary stress.  The Learning Centre has a large catalogue of tailored resources to help with your first assignment.

Check In – do a weekly review each Friday to assess which tasks didn’t get completed, so you can decide on a course of action (do it on the weekend, move it to next week etc).  Also, reflect on how you are coping with different elements of your study and life and seek out support from JCU staff or peer leaders.

Pre-Census Date Blues

The first month of university is a steep learning curve and there will be a lot to do, see, learn and remember, so you may find yourself experiencing periods of fatigue due to mental overstimulation.  It is important to remember that university study is a marathon and not a sprint, so you need to pace yourself and look after your mental and physical wellbeing, which includes taking regular study breaks to let your brain process new information and revive.   You may also be juggling a lot of other competing commitments (paid work, carer duties, volunteerism, sport, family/friends), so be kind to yourself if you have a few hiccups as you settle into university life.  It is important to remember that you only have a finite amount of time each week, so some things may have to give – this will be discussed in the Wellbeing and Life Balance module.

Around Week 4, your first assignments will be due and you may feel a further dip down and a lack of confidence about your abilities – you may even question your decision to study at university.  These insecurities and negative feelings are common around assessment deadlines, so talk to your classmates and check in to see how they are coping for shared support. Remember, there are lots of free specialised support services at JCU to help you succeed.

Infographic showing words change, modify, transition, transform, shift, adjust in a cycle.

Top Tips

Ask for Help – don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.   Reach out to your lecturer or tutor with questions about your subject content or assessments.  JCU also has a wide range of free professional support services to help with your academic, personal and employability development.

Study Strategically – summarise your notes and readings each week into a one-paged typed sheet/subject – it will help you consolidate your learning and these synopses will become your exam prep notes (win-win)!

Study Space – create a comfortable study space with good lighting, turn off your phone, and limit distractions.  Ensure you have access to a good quality microphone and use a computer (not a handheld device) when participating in virtual classes.

Drop Down – Not Out – review your study load before Census Date and decide whether you need to drop a subject (or two) in order to be successful and remain at university.  Always seek advice about which subject/s to drop so that it doesn’t affect your academic progress, visa, or any government assistant payments.

First Assignment Feedback

After you receive some positive feedback from your first assessments, your sense of academic confidence will lift and you will feel inspired and motivated to continue.  Remember that university is a learning experience, and in your first year you will need to spend as much time learning how to study as learning your course content.  The Learning Centre has a lot of short, helpful booklets about active learning on topics like note-taking, effective reading, learning styles, mind mapping, oral presentations etc.

It is important to read your assignment feedback carefully in order to access the right support service to address any issues that were identified.  From the moment you start university, you are a ‘professional in training’ and these assessments are designed to help you develop important discipline and transferable skills for graduate employment. So, take the feedback from your markers as helpful areas for professional development, and not personal criticism.  Focus on the comments and not the grade/mark for the assignment to avoid making the same mistakes again and again in the future.

Top Tips

Regular Rewards – celebrate your achievements (big and small) and reward yourself regularly for your hard work and efforts.  Remind yourself regularly of your strengths and long-term goals to maintain a sense of purpose and focus.

Life Lessons – step out of your comfort zone.  Gaining a higher education requires you to be open to new experiences, perspectives, concepts and people – embrace your brave new world at JCU.

Helpful Habits – aim to stick to a healthy routine with regular sleep patterns, exercise and eating.  Study regularly and start assessments early – they often take longer than you think in your first study period.

Studying Online – JCU has created a wealth of tips and advice to optimise your experience and success with online learning.  Go to the JCU Current Students webpage and check out the ‘Studying Online’ information.

Lecture Recess

Students are given a break from classes midway through the teaching period to catch up on assignments or prepare for exams. It is a week to strategically set yourself up for the rest of the study period and upcoming competing demands and deadlines – definitely not the time to take a holiday (that will come soon). You should start to feel more confident with your course materials and have a sense of academic expectations around workloads and assessments.

Top Tips

Procrastination – motivation levels fluctuate, but one of the best ways to overcome a productivity plummet is to set yourself a short study task in a quiet space and dive in.  Set your phone timer to 10 minutes and start the task – quite often you will keep going after the timer sounds. See Motivation and Purpose module.

Study, Stop and Revive – plan university in shifts and let your brain and body have a complete break between shifts to recharge.  Also, allow yourself time for other activities like relaxing, exercising, and catching up with friends and family to optimise life balance and happiness. See Wellbeing and Life Balance module.

Mindfulness – regularly take the time to stop and be in the present moment and take a few deep breaths.  Challenge negative, critical thoughts that may creep in and replace them with positive, encouraging ones.  Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend.


After several months of teaching, students commence their final examinations, which can be another period when you feel anxious and unsure.  We recommend that students commence their examination preparation and revision a month in advance (Week 10) to optimise success and minimise stress.  Exam success is all about confidence in your ability, which can’t magically happen overnight through cramming – it takes time and effort to build over many weeks and months of revision.

Cup of coffee and biscuits
Person walking dog
Keeping active and taking breaks are important parts of managing your health during examinations.

End of First Study Period

Congratulations, you made it through your first study period at university and can now take a well-earned break. You may feel tired, but you will also feel a renewed sense of happiness, satisfaction, confidence and enthusiasm as you take the first steps toward your new life. The break is a great time to rest, but also reflect about what you would do differently next study period to get off the emotional rollercoaster and step into the driver seat for a more controlled journey ahead. Students who learn to manage their time, ask for help when they need it, and maintain a balanced and healthy life will increase their chance of success and be more likely to continue their studies.

Top Tips

Practice Period – give yourself one full study period to settle into university.  You have to invest a lot of time initially learning about academic expectations, researching, writing and technologies, as well as your course content, so be kind and cut yourself some slack if you have a few hiccups.

Independent Learner – JCU is an adult learning environment and students are expected to become self-directed learners.  Over the break, visit The Learning Centre website and discover how to further develop your academic writing, learning, mathematics, and study skills to continually optimise your graduate employment.

Employability Edge – students are encouraged to undertake career explorations and employability actions from first year to help them succeed in an increasingly complex and competitive labour market.  So, check out the JCU Employability Edge self-paced modules and the JCU Job Ready action plan during your break.


1. Identify three things you are looking forward to about studying at university.
2. Identify three challenges that you might face in your first study period and consider proactive steps you can take to overcome each obstacle.

Take the Quiz

Test your knowledge of the Transition to Uni by taking the quiz.

Take the Quiz
When do students commonly feel most anxious or unsure?
Is the information provided in O Week repeated in your first semester?
What should you do in lecture recess?
What is the optimal amount of revision time for exam preparation?