Starting University (Part 1): What to Expect

The first few weeks of university can be as daunting as they are exciting. The challenges that come with a change of learning environment can add to an already busy schedule of activities. Put simply, university is very different from school and college, especially in terms of what is expected from students both inside and outside the lecture theatre. Although some challenges will remain, knowing what lies ahead can help make the transition to university easier in those first few weeks. 

 1. Expect a change of learning environment  

At college, the aim of teachers is to ensure that their students achieve a basic level of education. A student’s entire day is carefully structured and planned. The role of university lecturers, however, is to provide students with the skills to explore their discipline themselves. In other words, lecturers are there to teach independent learning. This can lead to a lot of uncertainty from students about what to do in terms of research and essay writing. Although intellectual freedom is one of the best things about university study, it can be challenging to adapt to. It is therefore important to expect this change so that it does not come as a shock when your studies begin.  

 2. Expect to manage your own time

During your first term, there will be plenty of distractions and so managing your time accordingly can be the key to success. You should certainly expect less teaching hours than at school. For instance, some humanities courses may only require 4 hours of teaching per week. Even in the sciences, which have more hours inside the classroom and laboratory, students can still reasonably expect around20 hours of teaching per week. This leaves more than enough time for life outside the lecture theatre. Successful students recognise that this ‘down time’ should, in part at least, be spent preparing for class, researching the subject, and completing assignments. It is important to have a social life too, but our advice is to make sure you keep up to date with your coursework. Falling behind could mean more stress and longer hours in the library.  

3. Expect different teachin

The change of learning environment at university will involve a difference in the type of teaching style you are used to. At school, teachers follow a standard curriculum. Although individual teachers have different ways of expressing information, their classes are more structured than at university. Lecturers have much more freedom when deciding the content and way in which they teach. These changes can be hard to adapt to, but being aware of them will make university study less overwhelming.  

Overall, you are expected to work on your own initiative and learn independently. For example, by forming your own opinions and expressing these in tutorials. This means you must absorb a lot of information in lectures all at once, so brush up on your note taking skills! It is also important to note that teaching styles and expectations of students vary depending on discipline. Writing a biology report will be notably different to the style expected from a philosophy paper. Given this, be sure to familiarise yourself with your department’s specific guidelines.  

4. Expect more social opportunities   

Compared with school or college, university is bursting with social opportunities. These social aspects offer a different kind of challenge to new students. We suggest checking out the Freshers’ Fair as most clubs and societies will have a stall. University websites also contain a lot of information about clubs and ways to meet fellow students. Besides, trying new things at university can be great fun and you may uncover a passion for something new! Most importantly though, be yourself and you’ll soon make friends.


Need some tips on how to prepare for your first semester? See our blog post: ‘Starting University (Part 2): Top 10 Tips to Help Prepare’. 




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