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What are the Differences Between Secondary School and University?

Moving from secondary school to university can feel like a huge leap, particularly if you’re also leaving home for the first time. We’ve written this post to help you prepare for university life by giving you an insight into what studying at university is really like.

At university, you need to be self-motivated

When you were studying for your GCSEs and A-levels, your class teachers would have been quite heavily involved in your learning. They’d set you homework tasks, work through examples with you in class and generally make sure that you were covering all the curriculum coursework.

At university however, things are a little different.

You don’t always have lecturers or tutors providing you constant motivation to study. At university, it’s up to you to set your own study schedule, do your own research and make sure that you’re covering the topics that you’ll need to write about in essays and exams.

Finding the motivation to study when you’re used to being told what to do can take a little getting used to. We recommend that you create a study schedule and dedicate a specific amount of time each week to studying for each of your courses.

You should be aware of any online lecture notes that complement your classes and you should try to keep in close contact with other students on your course. Having a group of friends on your course that you can compare notes with will help ensure that you’re on the right track with what you’re studying.

You’re expected to do more independent study

When you’re studying for your GCSEs and A-levels, teachers tend to tell you when something important comes up. At university, however, most of your studying is done on your own, in private.

This is one of the biggest adjustments you’ll need to make at university, as it can be difficult to know whether you’re studying the right material.

We recommend that you make use of your university’s facilities, including the library, intranet databases, online courses and of course, lecturers and tutors. Just because you don’t have as much interaction with your lecturer as you did with your secondary school teachers, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use them as a resource for verifying that what you’re studying is correct.

Class sizes are much bigger

The first thing you’ll notice when you attend your first lecture is just how big lecture theatres are. You can plausibly go from being in a class with 25 students to a lecture hall of 250.

With class sizes this large, you don’t have the same opportunities to ask questions and teaching tends to be a lot more teacher-led with students taking their own notes. During lectures, we recommend that you also take note of anything that you don’t understand, as you’ll normally have the opportunity to ask questions in your smaller tutorial classes.

Although having larger class sizes can sometimes feel intimidating, it’s important to remember that everyone else in the lecture theatre is in the same boat as you and they’ll be finding the experience just as strange as you might be. As the weeks go on, and you get chatting to people in your classes, you’ll start to feel much more at ease with lectures.

You need to manage deadlines on your own

Remember at school when your teachers used to remind you well in advance when you had an assignment due?

Well, at university, it’s up to you to keep track of all your deadlines. Throughout the year, you’ll have to submit assignments as part of your course work and lecturers won’t always have the time to remind you when they’re due. It’s therefore up to you to gather all the information you’ll need about assignment dates and make sure that you start preparing for them well in advance.

You should also be aware of late penalties and what the consequences are of handing in late papers. You also need to know what the university’s policies are on extending deadlines due to illness.

If you need help, you need to ask for it

Unlike at school, where teachers always asked if you needed help and offered their assistance, at university, help isn’t always offered as freely.

However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not available.

If you need assistance with any aspect of your studies, you should always ask your course tutor or lecturer for assistance. Whether you have a single question, or are struggling with a whole topic, there’s always support available.

You just need to ask for it.

You should also be open to asking other people on your course for help if you’re stuck with anything because the chances are that they’ve come across the same problem. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

What do you see as being the main differences between secondary school and university? What adjustments did you need to make when you first started your university course?

You have to pay!

When you go to university, you have to pay for your accommodation, your living expenses, and your tuition fees (the charges you have to pay for your university education).

There's plenty of support, so there's no need to panic! From student loans to bursaries, the chances are you'll be entitled to some form of help you cover the various costs of student life.

You'll probably get lots of guidance from your school too, but even so, a lot of students go in with both eyes shut and don't start to get a handle on the costs until they're struggling to pay the rent. You can avoid this by educating yourself before you go.

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