Carve your own path to the summit

Starting out at university is a daunting, exciting, challenging, rewarding experience. For most new students, there are a lot of mixed emotions. I certainly felt unsure when I started, but I found as I completed each assignment, I gained confidence and new skills. I uncovered some of the secrets to success.

I’ve been thinking about my journey since I graduated last year, and how the secrets I uncovered weren’t about writing academically or researching better (although those skills are important too!). I think the best way to explain is to share my journey with you…

My Journey

When I started my studies, I’d just turned twenty. I’d taken a gap year and I was learning how to make my own way in the world. This was proving trickier than it sounds.

All my life people had been pushing me up a hill. My family, friends and high-school teachers had given me what I needed, and hurried me along. We all celebrated at the end of that journey, but when I arrived at the top of the hill, I found an even bigger mountain.

I thought I wanted to start the next climb. It seemed like the right thing to do, but I was the first in my family to take on the challenge and this time no one was pushing me. I felt alone.

Skip ahead and I’ve finally scaled that mountain. On my journey, I tested many different paths to the summit. Some years, I studied full-time and worked part-time. Other years, I did the opposite or took a break entirely.

During my final year, I worked full-time, studied full-time, built a house and welcomed my baby daughter. This last sprint was challenging but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as starting out. It sounds almost impossible but I’d stopped using that word. Here are my secrets to success…

Secret #1 – Know yourself

Let’s get deep for a second. The real goal of university study isn’t to be smarter than everyone else in your class. It’s to be smarter than yourself, than who you used to be.

This is a learning journey. It’s a process before it is an outcome, and there are different ways to tackle that process. Learn how you learn, how you respond to pressure, what motivates you, the best ways to organise yourself. This is the foundation you need to succeed in your studies.

Secret #2 – Carve your own path

It’s not just a matter of knowing what you need. Use this knowledge to create an environment that will help you be successful.

Do you study best with others? Find a mentor. Join or start a club. Connect with people on Facebook to form a study group. And watch your student email for events and activities on campus.

Do you prefer to study alone? Find a study space near you. Visit the Library, online or on campus. Know where to find help. And watch your student email for tips and advice.

Is part-time study an option in your course? And if so, is full-time or part-time study best for you? Ask a student adviser, if you’re not sure.

Regardless of how you like to study, make time for your friends and family. Studying is hard and these are the people who will pick you up when you’re feeling down, and cheer you across the finish line.

Secret #3 – Rise to the challenge

This is the real clincher. It will get tough. It will take discipline. There will be times when you want to procrastinate. It’s usually these times when you need to dig deeper. To do that, you need a plan, like climbers need a map.

People don’t scale Everest in a day. They prepare themselves and break the journey down into multiple climbs. Work hard. Rest. Repeat.

This mountain is even bigger than you think. Don’t wait until you’re freezing at base camp. Use the resources from Countdown to CQUni and make a plan that gets you where you want to be. Decide what you want and don’t accept any less from yourself.

I felt alone when I started, and in a way I was. It was my journey. I could surround myself with people, ask for help and support, but in the end, I was the only one who could make that climb. It took me nine years to reach the summit, but I found the right path for me, and now I’ll use those skills to face new challenges.

Find your own way up this mountain. Know yourself, carve your own path, and then rise to the challenge. The question isn’t ‘can you do this?’ The question is ‘will you’?

Mae Swarbrick (

Mae Swarbrick is a current student, studying part-time in the Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Arts, and working full-time as Student Communications Officer. Mae's ongoing experience as a current student is invaluable in her role as leader of the Student Communications team. Combine this with practical experience in the call centre, Admissions and Student Communications teams, and she’s ready to share some first-rate uni hacks for new students. Follow Mae on #How2Uni.

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