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What to Expect

Going to college or university is a big moment in your life. You’re leaving the familiarity of school and starting something quite different. So it would be normal to be feeling a bit nervous about it.

Truth is, you’re going to enjoy yourself and you’ll find your feet pretty quickly once you’re there. However, knowing what to expect before you start will definitely make the transition easier.

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What will my timetable be like?

Perhaps the biggest difference between higher education and school is that, at college and university, you have far more independence.

 

You’re used to a full timetable at school. You’re there five days a week, from 9am until mid-afternoon. A bell rings to tell you to move to your next class. You follow the instructions of your teacher and risk getting into trouble if you haven’t completed your homework.

 

At college and university, it’s a different picture. Your timetable will vary depending what course you’re studying – some involve more class time than others – but in most cases you’ll have far fewer classes than at school. You might start at 11am one day and at 9am the next. You might finish at 5pm some days, have 3 hours off in the middle of the day, or have a day off entirely.

 

The result is that you have a lot of time outside classes – it’s up to you how you choose to spend this time. In other words, it’s your responsibility to manage your time wisely. Your tutors will guide and support you but they probably won’t chase you up for coursework. It’s up to you to complete your work in your own time, in the library or at home.

 

At college and university you have to take responsibility and be self-disciplined enough to do the work. But you’ll have the time to balance this with social activities too. Most people really enjoy this sense of freedom.

 

What are the classes like?

 

Again, the type of classes you have will depend on what course you’re studying.

 

College teaching might feel quite similar to school – you’ll have one ‘lecturer’ or teacher for each subject you are taking and they’ll normally guide you through the coursework in a classroom-setting. You’ll be encouraged to do more work for yourself though and to discuss topics with other students. If you’re doing a practical subject, much of your time will be spent in practical workshops or on placement in the workplace.

 

University teaching will feel less familiar. Most courses are taught through lectures, seminars, and tutorials:

 

During a lecture, the lecturer will talk about a subject for just under an hour, addressing a large room of between 50 and several hundred students. These classes usually form the backbone of a course, introducing you to the main topics and themes.

As a student it’s your job to listen to the lecture and take notes on the information you consider most important. You may have the chance to ask questions but mostly it’s about listening, note-taking, and reflecting later on what you’ve learned.


Seminars give you the opportunity to look at an aspect of the course in greater depth. In a group of around 10-15 students, a tutor will lead you in a discussion of a particular topic.

In preparation, you’ll have been given some reading to do on the subject. You’ll come with your own opinions and information, ready to discuss them with the group.

Your tutor is probably the closest thing you have to a teacher at university - they’ll encourage discussion and help with any questions or problems you might have.


Many courses will also involve practical tutorials or workshops. You’ll watch demonstrations, learn new skills and techniques, and practice them with other students.


 

What about the workload?

 

People often expect a big jump when they move from school into higher education. They worry that the workload will be huge and the standard expected will be very high. However, although you’ll be studying at a higher level, the work won’t be as intimidating as you might think. The real difference is in the way you are expected to go about it.

 

Particularly at university, in addition to what you learn in lectures and tutorials, it will be your responsibility to do your own research. When it comes to preparing for essays, seminars and exams, you’ll gather your own information on the topic by reading relevant books and articles. You’ll form your own opinions and interests based on what you’ve read in the library and what you’ve heard in lectures.

 

You’ll develop your research skills and your ability to think critically about subjects and problems – your tutors will want to see that you can think for yourself, analyse information, and pose arguments and solutions.

 

If this sounds like a big ask, don’t worry! Your tutors and lecturers will help you, especially in your first year. Nobody expects you to be an expert at these skills from the start but you’ll develop them quickly. In fact, a lot of people find this way of learning a lot more engaging and liberating than sitting in a school classroom… 

 

   

What’s it like to be a student? 

 

It’s quite different to being a school pupil. You’re a young adult and your lecturers and tutors will treat you as one. With more independence in the way you learn and study, you’ll have much more freedom to enjoy all the different opportunities that are open to you as a student. There’s a lot more to college and university than the work.

 Have a look at our info on Student Life.

Learning the language

You've maybe heard a few words being chucked around that don't make much sense to you yet. Seminars, matriculation cards, Freshers' Week... We've put together a glossary of higher education terms to clear up any confusion. Take a look.