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The move from school to university is fantastic: What surprises can a student expect?

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One of the challenges you can face in life is higher education and moving from school to university, and becoming a fresher at a university.

This new chapter in your life takes a strong will, courage, determination, and ambition to finish this life stage successfully.

It’s going to be a very challenging period.

Even after the visit during the open day, high school students will have many questions about the transition from school to higher education – from the life of a university student to the difficulty and benefits of the studies.

As well as studying for a degree, you will learn life skills, face fears, learn how to live on your own, manage a budget, and choose the people you want and need in your life.

It’s a normal reaction to have doubts, questions, and fear from this upcoming stage in your life.

Some anxiety and uncertainty are typical reactions when you are about to face something different, meet new people, or move somewhere new. Don’t rush to find answers to all your questions before the semester begins. Some things take time. Feeding your fears and anxieties will bring no results. Go with the flow, and you will experience your own student life; because every student’s story is different.

There are so many opportunities, so much to do, you have a lot of ideas, and everything is new, including the learning environment; as said, it can be challenging.

So, you know which university you’re going to attend, and, hopefully, where your accommodation is.


It’s up to you!

Assuming you know where you’ll be living, how you’ve planned to finance tuition, and what bills you need to pay (or are willing to take on). You also have to contend with a new way of learning and assessing; this will not look like school!

Understanding how university differs from school will be one of the first challenges.

Your lecturers and tutors will give you a framework and tools to explore your study area, but the rest is up to you. The initiative, self-discipline, library visits, timelines and goals are up to you to embrace and ensure you are on top of the work. It’s a lot to take on.

For many students, it’s their first time away from home, leaving friends behind and beginning a new chapter in their lives. The change is often terrifying and exciting as you and thousands of other young people get their first taste of independence.

Being a self-starter

In the first few weeks, you will likely feel overwhelmed at some stage. University is different from secondary education, where teachers instruct you. No one will tell you to do an assignment on time or even show up to class. It’s down to you to motivate yourself!

Tip: Starting sooner rather than later when developing assignments is the easiest way to alleviate the stressful periods of the semester.

New Teaching Methods

Many universities offer students a skills support department to help freshers adjust away from school and learn new expectations.

Tip: The key is to realise that lectures only provide a basic overview. They point in the direction from which to understand a specific subject.

Another significant distinction between the university and the school classroom is the measure of time spent receiving face-to-face tuition. Freshers regularly spend between 12 and 20 hours in lectures and tutorials during the week; this leaves enough spare “downtime” time for life outside of the classroom.

Tip: Successful students will quickly realise that “downtime” must include preparation, research, lab work, etc.

Life at University

University education is all about individual learning.

University is very different from life at school.

The lecturer only presents an overview of the material and advises on how to acquire additional knowledge. The student needs to find and learn the material and find a way to determine what is required. The lecturer only sets a date for the exam. The student needs to decide when will they revise and how. You will have to work all this out for yourself!

In the first year at university, freshers are anxious to ask questions because they are afraid that the others will consider them less intelligent; this is a big mistake.

Tip: It’s better to ask than suppose and make an error.

What do all former freshers know?

University does not only give you knowledge as a graduate; it’ll also teach life skills, how to become an independent person and how to be more responsible.

Independent Learning

School teachers aim to provide a fundamental level of knowledge through instruction and ensure secondary school students finish the work.

The goal of university lecturers is to provide students with a framework. They also offer the skills necessary to investigate further the academic subject from which the students can further explore it. For the unaware, this prompts one significant distinction between the two – nobody instructs you at university.

This sort of flexibility can go to an undergraduate’s head. Many freshers can’t believe nobody is saying, “do this paper by tomorrow”, “read section three tonight”, or “have you done your homework”. Yet, the most successful students will realise they must set their own goals and work smarter to ensure they keep up with the pace of study.


The workload in the first year of university is always a lot heavier than expected.

It’s a typical misinterpretation that there is very little work to do in the first year, particularly considering the transition from school to college.

New students can fall into the trap that since lecture slides, and in some cases video and/or audio, are accessible online, there’s no compelling reason to go to each lecture. That’s a mistake!

Tip: Borrowing and reading the notes from companions is not the same as going to the class; it can cause issues regarding completing assignments.

New students need to be self-motivated to guarantee that they hit every one of their deadlines.

Those who consider a first-class honours degree necessary for future employment prospects need to organise their work plan and ensure that they make it to all classes.

Coursework, assignments and projects

Gone are the days when you learned papers or quotes to pass an exam. Now, each piece of work is a research project.

Planning is crucial to success!

Students should also read widely on the subject and plan their assignment arguments.

It is easier if you break the assignment up into topics to make sure you highlight all of the critical issues.

A mindmap can be an excellent way to get started if you procrastinate or have trouble articulating your ideas.

Sticking to the word count is also essential. Exceeding the word count is not viewed as a positive by lecturers, and you will be penalised if you do not stick to the limit.

Tip: Make sure to use citations and reference your work thoroughly and adequately.

When finished, thoroughly read through the work; you’ll often be surprised at the number of sentences that don’t make sense, and the incorrect spellings missed. Often printing out and going through it with a pen on paper makes it easier to spot the mistakes you have previously overlooked.


Even if unintentional, plagiarism is a big issue in colleges and universities, particularly for first-years who may be unfamiliar with the term.

It is essential to familiarise yourself with the course and university referencing styles and attend workshops on how best to reference works.

Most universities now have Turnitin software. Turnitin will scan your work to see if it has been plagiarised from someone else.

Tip: Lecturers are often experts in the subjects they teach and will be very familiar with the topic and the associated papers. They will know if you are plagiarising.

It’s not worth the risk of getting caught.

Different grading system

The grading system is different in universities. In a university, anything over 70 per cent is a first-class honours result, which is the highest grade.

High-achievers in secondary education are well accustomed to receiving between 80 and 90 per cent.

Tip: Reset your expectations; you will be marked toughly!

What if I’m struggling with the course?

Often, the course is very different in reality than what the student imagined.

The first few weeks, in particular, can be challenging, as the course can be loaded with introductory modules, many of which students find uninteresting.

A great deal of support is available in universities if you’re struggling, including learning centres (support in areas such as creative writing, English for international students, careers service, etc., are available) and the students’ union. The university wants you to succeed!

Tip: If struggling, speak to a lecturer, set up or join up a study group with friends, or dedicate a solid weekend to study so you can get back on track.

Dropping out or changing course

Sometimes, despite best efforts, the course isn’t for you.

The most recent statistical data shows that almost a quarter of current students won’t complete their course.

If this is how you feel, there are always people available to speak to you. They can help you decide whether you should leave the course or if it’s possible to switch to another more appropriate one.

The timing of leaving the course is essential, as there could be implications for how much money you will be reimbursed.

Getting involved

While receiving an excellent education is usually the main driving factor behind people’s decisions to go to university, social life is another important reason.

Making friends can be difficult. However, consider this, a university has many, if not thousands, of similarly-aged people, with similar interests and expectations. Isn’t that the perfect place to put yourself out there and gain new friends, many of whom will be friends for life.

There are people you’ll be studying alongside in your course and those you meet as part of the nightlife. But there are even more ways to make friends, such as clubs and societies.

Joining a society or club

Joining a society or club is an incredible chance to meet new friends.

University fresher fairs will acquaint you with every one of the societies and clubs available. Many new students will join a club in their first week, yet how many will stick with it? Over 10% of new students sign up and then quickly drop out of a club.

Tip: Stay with it; the rewards are invaluable.

Try out new things

Clubs also allow students to attempt activities they may have never heard of or tried.

If you join a society or club, you’ll find much of the equipment, and many events and trips are funded.

Example: Suppose you join a photography club. In that case, the club and members will have loads of camera equipment, so you’ll get incredible access to equipment even if you’ve never picked up a camera.

Making new friends

It is difficult to say farewell to school companions and begin once again.

Between the introduction of first-year students and the campus ice-breakers arranged by the university and student union, it’s pretty easy to meet new people. Some universities even make sure first-year students have somebody to sit with within the dining area. New students panic since they do not know with whom they will eat. So they put the first year with a group, which enables students to form friendships in the first few days.

Living with roommates

Sharing accommodation often happens in university.

You might be worried about the kind of roommates you will get as a new student because you do not know them.

Your worries might be that is the person an untidy type of individual? Are they nighttime people? You need not worry too much. Living with someone else can cause anxiety, but it is also an exciting process. Often, roommates become friends for life.

Money at University

Increased fees can be a stress for fresher students.

Rising costs and moving from nearly without a cost way of life to one where everything has a price can be scary.

It’s paying for the day-to-day way of life that is the most significant worry for some.

Managing cash can be more troublesome than one would expect. However, setting spending plans and thinking about the overlooked additional items will enable you to have a good handle on exactly how much cash you will need.

While numerous new students avoid looking at their bank balance, they should remain mindful and concerned about the amount spent and budget accordingly. Study books, food shopping and evenings out are guaranteed, but what about all the small additional items? Snacks, the web, insurance, travel costs, clothes – overspending is very simple.


Having a budget will help balance your study, work and entertainment life. If you spend less on some things, you can enjoy life more.

Look out for discounts offered by student unions. These can range from travel passes to retail and restaurant discounts.

Many universities also offer free software packages and free use of desktop computers.

Books are required for many classes, but you don’t have to buy them all. They are expensive, and you usually only need them for a short period for some courses.

Tip: Get the reading list from the lecturer and check if your library has them, or reach out to students in the years ahead to see if they are selling books no longer needed.

Part-time work

It’s likely for many students that their first year in university will coincide with their first job, particularly if the cost of living continues to rise.

It’s vital to ensure your studying is not sacrificed due to your job, although gaining work experience is always good. Contact the student union or university student support service if struggling with costs.

Knowing when your busy periods in university are can help facilitate the balance between work, life and study. The job market near any university will usually know and understand your situation.

Tip: It’s always helpful to discuss busy periods from the outset with your employer, especially if you know exam dates in advance. You don’t want to leave your employer and colleagues in the lurch.


The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on education systems over the past few years.

Most university students have studied remotely since the pandemic started. However, this academic year will probably be different.

The jump to university life is complicated already. It doesn’t need any additional challenges posed by the loneliness of working remotely. While there will likely be some hybrid learning, a mix of in-person and at-home classes, students must keep connected with peers in the early academic year.

Tip: Add friends and classmates to your social media, and arrange video chats for coursework, revision and projects. Even arrange a celebratory online party when an assignment has been handed in.

But it’s not all bad.

There are some benefits of online learning. Many students found it easier to ask the lecturer a question. As an alternative to trying to catch a lecturer at the end of class when they have a further lecture or when everyone is trying to leave or ask a question, they just send an email and get an answer directly.

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