You got into university, congrats! All those tests and early mornings and hard work has finally paid off and it’s time to think about the next big step in your academic career.
A bit of a heads up may be helpful so you can make the most of your time and achieve the success you have always dreamt of. So we have provided some useful tips for navigating university life and making the most of your experience.
Teaching format at university
Perhaps the most obvious difference between school and university is the: teaching/learning format. Of course, this depends on your university, your course, your teaching staff… But, you are most likely not going to be in a classroom with a set number of students and a teacher relaying to you a national curriculum, testing you at various points in the year on clearly laid out subject matter.
You will have less student-teacher contact time than ever before. Whether you are attending lectures full of hundreds of students on the speaker’s personal research, going to seminars where open discussion and debate flows like beer at a crowded bar in Freshers’ Week, attending tutorials (often one-on-one!) in which you go over work prepared in advance, or labs where you get down to business at your own pace – learning at university is an entirely new experience. It is designed for you to use your adult curiosity and passion for your subject to question and even contribute to the field, surrounded by people interested in doing the same.
Managing your time at university
At university, no one is going to be peering over your shoulder to make sure you get to the library and get some work done. No curfews, no one checking attendance… you suddenly have literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to yourself. It’s not like your parents will be able to keep tabs on you with report cards and parent-teacher meetings anymore either. It’s now completely up to you to adjust to your new environment and lifestyle, balancing this newfound independence properly. Take the time out for your academics (arguably the main purpose of attending university…) as well as your personal (and equally important) endeavours. Not that cramming was a particularly good bet at school, but by the time your university term ends, you won’t have a step-by-step curriculum with all the points you need to know laid out in front of you. University exams are usually a test of your opinions on the faculty’s own research, and the application of your knowledge of it; you obviously won’t get that knowledge unless you get out of bed and go to your lectures, attend your tutorials and do the extra reading.
Use whatever method works best for you to stay on top of things. Having a planner or using an app like Google Tasks or Calendar to keep track of what you need to be doing for when (no friendly deadline reminders anymore, unfortunately) is a good start. Make friends on your course so you can motivate and help each other. Let loose and have fun, but don’t forget to buckle up and knuckle down!
The content of your university course is probably going to be more noticeably difficult and detailed than anything you’ve been exposed to up to now. You’re cutting down from multiple subjects to focus on one or two. You are an academic adult and will be treated as such. For some, it might even be an entirely new subject! Take everything in your stride, and try not to be too worried by the nitty gritty details, especially in your first few months as you lay the groundwork for later. Focus on the bigger picture, the aspects of your subject(s) that you enjoy, and your interests will develop naturally from that.
Keep asking for help if you need it
Even though you might not be being ‘looked after’ in the same way you were at school, it’s perfectly okay to ask for help if you need it. Your institution will have lots of support services available, often free of charge, that can be confidential, continuous, anonymous, anything! Although they might feel more distant than the schoolteachers you saw every day, don’t forget that your lecturers, personal tutors and course organisers want you to succeed, they want to pass their baton on to you. Get in touch, ask for clarification if you’re not sure. Also remember that everyone else around you is in the same boat! You’re not competing against each other for anything. Share the load, ask for help.