I found that I spent so much time and effort working to get into university that I didn’t really give much thought to what it was like when I would get there. Especially in terms of the work. I was told by lots of teachers in my sixth form that there was a much bigger jump between GCSE and A Levels than between A Levels and university. In lots of ways this is true as both university and sixth form expect a similar amount of work from their students.
However I found that there were two main differences inthe type of work. The first one, for my course (French and Spanish) at least, is that my teachers only mark big assignments, normally only ones that count towards your grade at the end of the year. Weekly homework is normally gone through in a seminar rather than marked independently by your teacher. And there are no detentions if you don’t complete the work. The teachers and professors at university are there to teach you, not punish you. They set you the work so you can get the most out of your course but it is up to you to do it. This is perhaps the biggest difference between school and university – you are now expected to be in charge of your own learning. So if you are too tired/too lazy/literally do not want to do the work you don’t have to. But I promise you that work is set for a reason. And so while maybe letting one or two French grammar exercises go is not the end of the world, it might help you avoid late night cramming sessions later in the year!
Another big difference between school and university is the way your course will be taught. I heard a lot about lectures, seminars and tutorials when I was visiting but it was never really explained what they were. My course (French and Spanish) is mostly seminars. These are basically the same thing as classes in sixth form. They are normally 1 hour long and have about 15-20 students in each seminar. Seminars are an opportunity for class discussion, to work with the other people on your course and to ask your teacher about any problems you might be having.
I also have 4 lectures a week. These are normally 1-2 hours (2 hour ones normally have a break in the middle) and are a lot bigger, some lectures can have 50 people or more in. In a lecture the teacher will lecture, i.e. talk to you on a topic, maybe with a PowerPoint presentation. Lectures can be a bit of a shock in the first semester as it is a very different way of learning. I was not used to being taught in this way and as the lecturer can talk for long periods of time I often find it difficult to concentrate. The best way that I have found to help me stay focussed is to take notes. This is especially important for the lecturers who don’t write anything down on their slides meaning you can’t go through anything you’ve missed later.
However when note-taking remember the key word is ‘notes’. Don’t write down word for word what the lecturer is saying as you will never be able to keep up. Just aim for key words and phrases and important names and dates which means you can also look up anything you missed later. Another technique if you’re really struggling to follow a lecture (which can happen sometimes in a two hour 9am French lecture) is to record it. Then you can listen to it later and take notes in your own time. However this does involve a bit of extra work and so isn’t for everyone.
When starting university I think it is important to be aware that things will be different and try to be flexible. Don’t panic if you’re feeling overwhelmed or you feel like everyone else gets it and you don’t. That’s probably not true. Everyone struggles a bit at the beginning but there is a lot of support out there for you. Also once you are used to it you will enjoy having more control over your learning and being trusted to sort it all out yourself.