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The years one spends at university can have far-reaching impact on the rest of one’s life.

Going to university has never been more important for young people. In a world of growing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, increasingly challenging demands are being placed on young jobseekers.

This means that the three to five years you spend at university are some of the most important years of your lives. It is a special time period set aside not only to equip yourself for a career, but that you develop yourself intellectually to become a better person and a useful member of society.

Unfortunately, many students do not optimise their time nor properly dedicate themselves to intellectual pursuits. Although they may achieve the all-important degree at the end, it is possible that they do not maximise their learning experiences along the way. So, if you are a university student or about to become one, here are some ideas on how you can avoid common mistakes and take full advantage of your years at university.

First, many students mistakenly think that learning is confined to the classroom. They often do not read the prescribed material or do their own independent study outside of what is delivered in class. In fact, you should spend at least twice the amount of time outside the formal contact hours to supplement what you have learned in class.

This means preparing ahead of each class by reading ahead, bringing questions to ask and ideas to share.

At the end of each class, you should explore further the topics and ideas presented in class. Your goal should not be to just do the minimum necessary to obtain your degree, but to master your field of study.

Second, many students do not realise the opportunities they have to overcome their weaknesses. Although it is normal to not like a particular subject or a professor, or to find a particular class tough, you should not avoid such challenges. The university is an opportunity for you to learn to confront things that you are unfamiliar with, dislike, or which you fear. For example, if you dislike oral presentations, you should consider such assessments as opportunities that allow you to turn aweakness into something you are at least reasonably competent at. When you invest diligence and willpower to address the areas you are weakest in, you can actually develop an interest in those areas over time.

Many students are also withdrawn and take a passive approach to learning. Perhaps out of fear of being wrong, they rarely share their thoughts or ask questions. Others resort to relying on other students when doing group projects, copying other’s work and even paying to have their work done for them.

These are all counter productive to your goal of becoming a learned person because it is in the process of doing the hard work that you maximise your learning. instead of taking the easy way out, you should view each challenge as an opportunity to gain a competence. While the real world can be unaccepting of mistakes, the university is a safe zone for experimentation and risk-taking. it is a great staging area for you to actively test yourself to your limits and to learn from your failures.

It is worth while to consider that your ability to learn is limited by your openness to new knowledge. Be aware that you have a set of unique modes of thinking and behaviour, views, ideals, values, attitudes and understandings, and that being open to learning means to consciously subject all these dispositions to questioning during your university years.

At the same time, you should not mindlessly accept everything that is taught to you, but to develop criticalthinking skills to challenge ideas and defend your views. The ability to form your own ideas and views while appreciating other perspectives provides the basis for “learning to learn”, which should be the overarching goal of your education as it has great carry through.

Lastly, during your university years, you should aim to develop yourself intellectually in every way possible. This means exploring disciplines outside your major of study. If you are a business student majoring in marketing, you should try to develop a reasonable level of competency in other business areas such as finance and human resource management.

In fact, you should also consider developing a range of skills and competencies to complement your core area of study. For example, a business student would benefit from learning computing skills such as writing codes, as well as creative skills in the areas of design and multimedia.

You could also consider starting a simple online business which requires very little startup capital, but can return valuable hands-on business experience. Taking up challenges like these enable an immersive and holistic approach to your university education, which will not only improve your marketability, but will also give you greater capacities, latitude and flexibility in your career.

The three-to-five years you will spend at university can have far-reaching impact on the rest of your life. Thus, it is to your great benefit that you consider very carefully how you will take control of your education to get the most out of it.

Rodney Lim is a lecturer with the Faculty of Business, design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus

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