I just graduated and I had a pretty good time in university. I had good grades, a bunch of extracurriculars, went overseas, and made friends. Here's what I did and how you can do the same.
Before you start...
What are your goals for university?
Is it to network? Prepare for academia? Start a business? If so, then don't focus too much on the other stuff. For me I focused mostly on setting the foundations for research, so I made sure to have time for that and looked out for research opportunities. However, I also wanted to test out different kinds of work and jobs in general and do something about climate change. So I intended on starting something new or joining an existing extracurricular.
What are your options?
Check out all the programmes that your university offers. For example, mine had an overseas internship experience which can be used to fulfill my internship requirement, so I made sure to ask about that and account for that in my plan (I had to shift some classes around). I had a friend who managed to travel 7 times (most of her summer and winter breaks), sometimes sponsored – see if you can find any programmes like that if you'd like to travel.
Before I started university I planned every single semester. Yep, I planned my entire course load – it helps if you already know what you want to major in. Find some form of 'suggested curriculum' for your major and use it to help you put courses into your semesters. I had help from the school's administration for this; my first semester was basically planned with help from one of the school admins.
What will you do in summer?
You have freedom for 3 months each year; make the most of it. This is where your goals for university come into play. Try to focus on those things. If it's just to get a job, then look for an internship from the very first summer - attend networking events and follow up. If it's to start a business, then look into getting your product ready and getting customers. If it's for research, see if you can volunteer at a lab. You get the idea.
When is orientation?
If you're interested to attend orientation, be sure to find out early so that you don't miss registration etc. It's fine to skip orientation if you want to, though if you don't have prior connections, it's a good way to get some initial ones.
Staying on campus
I recommend that you give this a shot for at least one or two semesters just to see how it feels like. Plus, it's a way for you to grow - you can learn how to deal with household chores and experiment with different sleeping/waking and work schedules.
See if the university offers any financial aid and how best to get it. Plan for this aid if possible, and you can always call up your university to ask.
Your plan will change.
It's a lot easier to adapt to these changes if you already had something existing. In each semester I'd have to shift one or two courses around, but it was a lot easier compared to starting from scratch each. You could also review your goals to see if you still want those things, and to account for new opportunities.
Get help from seniors
University can be tough; I had a lot of help for my academics because my seniors (from orientation!) had a really good resource pool for my major, and I could bank on it and use it each time. They're also good people to approach for career and just general school and life resources. Of course, do pass on the favour to juniors – I ended up beefing up the resource pool for the people who took courses after me.
Get these sorted out, as much as possible - sleep should come first, followed by nutrition, and then whatever else you want. You can't perform if you're sleep deprived and malnourished. University is a good time to experiment with different kinds of sleeping and eating schedules, or anything else that you'd like. You can also take this time to set up a good process for yourself - for example, scheduling time to work out or make art.
Make good use of your career office to see what opportunities there are and learn more about different types of work. If your internships have shown you that you didn't actually like what you wanted, don't be afraid to change things up.
Make use of your .edu account
Many places offer discounted or free student stuff - do take a look through all of it and see if any would be useful for you. I really liked using my account to access research papers and journals, and GitHub's Student Pack is pretty amazing.
Don't be afraid to talk to random people and friends of friends - it's a good time to mix with people. You already have a common topic - the university.
Looking back at it now, I'm pretty happy with how my university experience turned out. It's set up a good base for me to pursue research if I still want to, and if not, well, with everything else.