The A-Z guide to succeed at university

In two weeks' time, thousands of students will be registering for their first year at University. The emotions are mixed shuffling between anxiety to excitement and back to uncertainty.

In two weeks' time, thousands of students will be registering for their first year at University. The emotions are mixed shuffling between anxiety to excitement and back to uncertainty. How does one prepare for this new phase in life? What should they expect? There is no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun ride because these will probably be the best years of your life. Before you begin packing your bags, here are the things that you should know before embarking on this journey.

Choosing a course

Amani Ikomezekudufasha, a third year student of Electronics and Telecom Engineering at the University of Rwanda (UR) – College of Science and Technology (COSTECH), says your career choice should not be dictated by parents.

“We are past the era where parents just want their children to become doctors and engineers because that’s who they are. The people that thrive these days are those that do what they like because that makes it enjoyable,” he says

Ikomezekudufasha adds that parents should be involved in this decision-making but shouldn’t be the sole decision makers.

“I am sharing this because it affects many students and they end up hating the university, blaming lecturers and teaching assistants for their failure yet in actual sense, it is because of their poor course choice,” he notes.

While the choice of a course seems to be the highlight of the start of university education, so is the choice of the university itself.

Martha Kamikazi Kivuye, a graduate of Computer Science from the University of Rwanda; Huye Campus says that there is need to know what one wants to learn from university and how to choose a university that suits that need.


When registration starts

After choosing a university and course, registration starts but while registering, many questions come to mind like residence, choosing friends and university conduct.

Jean Claude Mutabazi, a Student at University of Rwanda, Huye Campus offering Agricultural Science says that while looking for accommodation, it is important to consider costs but a pleasant reading environment should be a must.

“If your home is not so far from university, especially those that study in Kigali, it is way cheaper to deal with transport costs than accommodation and food that come as an extra cost for someone staying alone. A student must also think of how to get a place that gives him a nice learning environment which is the main reason they are at university in the first place,” he notes.

While many students prefer to move out of home in pursuit of ‘freedom’, universities hardly provide accommodation and students are only left with an option of renting in dingy neighbourhoods whose rate they can afford.

Peter Kalisa is a father of four children, including two at university in COSTECH but expresses his concerns about their accommodation.

“I stay in Musanze with my family and my two girls study at COSTECH. They got an apartment in a place close to their university in Nyamirambo because that is what we could afford but as a parent, I feel very uncomfortable about the arrangement,” he says.

He advises that for students who stay in Kigali, they should reside at their parent’s home. They still need their parents’ love and of course there is free food and accommodation.

While the struggle for accommodation is really tight, it isn’t the end of the road. One can find a roommate(s) that will help them morally and in sharing rent bills. The student is however advised to pick roommates very carefully.

Sandra Umutoni from Mount Kenya University, Nyamirambo campus met a new student during the registration process. She promptly liked her and invited her to be her roommate. Not before long, they were sharing a room at Muhima, 20 minutes away from campus. The arrangement seemed ideal but in less than a month, Umutoni was a stranger in her own room.

“My roommate used to have friends around all the time and it was really hard for me to read or even sleep because they used to leave our room late. I literally hated my room and couldn’t wake up early to read because I slept late waiting for my friend. My roommate was very rude and I was actually afraid of her,” she narrates.


On the other hand, she admired her friends that had roommates with whom they would revise and discuss together as well as pray. The day she fell sick, she had to move to her other friend’s room where she would get someone to take care of her yet she had a roommate.

Depending on the size of the room, most students that The New Times interviewed said on average a room is shared between three to four students.

Class and family at university

The friends we get at university are most likely to be the friends we shall keep for the rest of our lives. While at university they become the family that surrounds you in all situations and after, they become our peers, spouses and sometimes our employees or employers so it is important to choose them wisely.

We get friends because they have something better to offer us, says David Gatete of University of Rwanda, College of Education.

“It is important to get a friend that you know is focused. They usually aren’t the wealthy ones so you can always offer them what they don’t have and they will exchange that for an academic discussion before tests and exams and that helps in building a friendship,” he says.

Gatete continues to emphasize that much as education is what brings people to university, building friendships outside class is also important.

Class, tests and exams at university

While in class, students warn that ‘freshers’ should never throw jokes around in a class with a lecturer like they used to in secondary school. It will not only get the professors to identify them as unserious but could also get them thrown out of class for the rest of the semester.

“Professors love to be respected, they don’t want to be mocked, they enjoy a lively class and most of all, want to be treated as smart people and don’t like students that laugh at their mistakes,” says Nadia Umwiza from UR, Huye Campus.

Umwiza says that it is easy to be a professor and teaching assistant’s friend. They only ask for the basics and if you follow them, you excel in a class. She advises that students should always listen and consult.


What do people do for fun?

Concerts and dance nights do fill Friday nights at university, says Philipe Mugabo, a student at UR, Huye campus.

“Shows, concerts and pool parties are very common at places in Butare. You will find a fun activity every weekend that will be the highlight of the week. People also like going out and dancing away the week’s stress especially after exams. A few house parties can be organised midweek but all in all, Friday and Saturday nights are fun,” says Mugabo.

Mugabo also goes on to add that with Rwf 5000, one can have a good time with friends without necessarily drinking too much.

The food

One thing you can be sure about is that there is a restaurant for everyone around every university, assures Francine Mukarukundo, a student offering a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at Independent Institute of Law Adventists of Kigali.

“From Rwf 350 to Rwf 2500, you will find a place that suites your budget for lunch and every university attracts these kinds of eating places,” she notes.

In conclusion, don’t be overwhelmed with the freedom and lifestyle of university people. Most first year students get carried away by campus life and forget the main reason that brought them to the institution; to study. As much as it’s fine to have fun, you don’t want to be known as the person who is always nursing hangovers and failing exams. Don’t have too much fun until you forget who you are.


YOUR VOICE: What should a “fresher” expect?

Innocent Ninsiima, Youth Activist

Innocent Ninsiima

Being at university can be a life changing experience for so many people. Joining campus exposes you to situations that can push you to the limit; no matter your financial background. So I would say one should expect a whole new world filled with fun and temptations.

Claire Kodi, Businesswoman

Claire Kodi

Groups are helpful in discussions and group coursework. Try as much to contribute to the group course work and then later when you have a genuine reason for not being present, your group mates will be more understanding. If you haven't adopted the savings culture, please do. Personally I wish I had been told this then. By saving, you instill a level of discipline for yourself that will save you from future mishaps and financial debt.

Rama Isibo, Businessman

Rama Isibo

University is a whole new life chapter. It means being away from home, being responsible for your own education, making your own decisions, freedom and if you are not careful things like sex and drugs can mess you up.

Jiovani Ntabgoba; Masters’ Student

Jiovani Ntabwoba

At university, one must expect many more students than he or she was used to in secondary school. The subjects are also tougher; if you are a Science student, be prepared to building things and moving things/gadgets. On the other hand, there is a lot of independence. The fact that you don’t have to wear school uniform and you can get part time jobs is a plus.

Compiled by Dennis Agaba


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