Jenny graduated in 2015 with a BCom in accounting, commercial law and taxation (what an overachiever). Now, she’s working at Fonterra as part of the graduate programme. Here’s Jenny to share how to make the most of your first year, from spreadsheet planners to uni clubs.
I’d actually always been set on doing medicine, and more specifically biomedical sciences all throughout high school. When it came time to finally choose a degree, however, I went with commerce. I juggled a lot between the two options. With med, there was the question of what I’d do if I didn’t get in. There weren’t many options down that route that appealed to me, so it felt a little closed off. With a commerce degree, I saw more flexibility and yet stability. There are so many roles you can get into within in so many industries, and you have opportunities to travel.
Because I was set on med, I studied all the sciences for NCEA, but had always kept up accounting on the side. Level 3 Accounting sets the basic foundations for the first two or three accounting papers in uni. If you went into BCom without having studied accounting in high school, you would’ve needed to put in a little more effort, but I don’t think anyone was disadvantaged if they hadn’t.
UoA Jubilee Scholarship
Getting the Jubilee award involved a mix of demonstrations in leadership qualities, participation in extra-curriculars, along with reasonably good grades. For my references I asked my geography teacher and a close friend’s mum who I had worked with. It’s important to get references from people who know you well as a genuine reference is better than something more generic from a school dean. Editor’s note: the Jubilee Scholarship has now been replaced with the Academic Potential Scholarship.
First impressions of uni
Relying on myself to manage time was crucial at the beginning of my first year. It’s all up to you. You can decide to go to lectures or you can decide to stay home. On top of that, there’s also an increase in workload and readings compared to high school. All this meant I had to figure out new studying styles that better suited.
What worked for me
This is quite lame but being an accounting major, I used an excel spreadsheet to manage my time. I would slot in all my tasks such as lectures, and turn them green when I’d completed them. If I hadn’t done the task in the time I’d allocated for it, I would move it another time to catch up. For example, if I hadn’t attended a lecture, that block would turn into a lecture recording and would be moved to another time I’d allocate to listen it. Having recorded lectures really suited me. It meant I could manipulate how I wanted to use my time and didn’t have to conform to a schedule.
BUS101 and 102
Out of the first year core papers, these two stood out. These papers consist entirely of workshops for two hours every week. You’re assigned a team at the beginning of the semester and work together doing activities, readings and quizzes as well as projects that culminate in a presentation. I wouldn’t say I loved it as I’m more of an independent learner. However, it’s a very crucial to start adapting to this early on, because when you go into the “real world” you’re always working in teams. Communicating effectively, contributing in a meaningful way and taking care of your own responsibilities within a team are always going to be relevant skills. My biggest takeaway from those papers was to see things from other people’s perspectives. Some are aiming for A+, and some just want to get by. You need to try to see where everyone is coming from, and identify whether you can influence them to care more about the project in order to get the best result for the team.
Weekly accounting assignments
I had a friend who I checked all my weekly assignments with to see if my thinking was right before I submitted them in. This made a big difference and I would really recommend it.
First year of BCom is all core papers, but it is worth thinking ahead about your major early on. For example, for accounting there’s a non-core Stage I paper that’s required before you can take accounting at Stage II. A lot of accounting majors take that paper in their second semester (and take their general education paper later) or in summer school so that they’re ready to continue Stage II accounting in semester one of their second year.
Once I'd decided to pursue a commerce degree, I was always pretty much set on accounting. It’s the backbone of a business, and an understanding of the financial side makes understanding of other areas easier. My dad says it’s like you’re managing the heart of the business, which is corny but true.
Meeting new people
Unsurprisingly, first year commerce is a very large cohort. It’s hard to meet people in lectures because you sit next to them once in a lecture and might not see them again. The best way to meet people is through getting involved in clubs such as AIESEC and SavY, which are both really popular among commerce students. Editor’s note: AIESEC is an organisation that offers overseas exchange programmes as well as opportunities to work on local projects (see AIESEC Activate below). SavY runs free financial literacy workshops in high schools as part of its aim to promote good financial habits among all young people.
I participated in the AIESEC Activate program in my first semester. In teams of five with roles in logistics, finance, external relations, marketing and an overall leader, we were asked to hold an event around a social issue. This involved tasks such as contacting external sponsors, speakers, catering and booking rooms. AIESEC is a close knit community, with “bonding events” such as scavenger hunts, dinners or conferences that allow you to meet new people. My biggest piece of advice for anyone doing Activate would be to really set your priorities when you first meet up and commit to them as a team. For example, if a team member has a test one week, it may be better for them to miss the weekly meeting that week. That way you can pre-empt any scheduling issues that will inevitably come up later.
What I'd tell my first-year self
Look out for opportunities early on. Push yourself to be open to anything and everything. It took me until my final year of uni to push myself to go on a 360 study exchange and a AIESEC volunteering exchange (more on exchange programmes at uni in future installments). In my first year, I wasn’t as confident and was very comfortable in my bubble. In my third year, I knew I needed to get out there. Uni is a time where you can experience a lot of different things. Once you’re working, you might have money but you don’t have the time and flexibility. So while you’re at uni, take advantage of all the opportunities open to you.
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