For many people, the move from school to university can be a daunting one. Not only do you have to learn to live with other people and manage a student loan, but you will also experience a completely different way of learning.
At school, your teachers directed your learning very closely – they set reading for you, told you what to include in your essays and provided example answers for upcoming exams. At university something completely different happens. Your lecturers do teach you, but much more emphasis is placed upon independent learning, where you decide what you read, how much you read and how you answer your essays and exams.
While some people thrive in this new set up, for others it can be a bit of struggle to begin with and it takes longer to get used to it.
Here I share my top five tips for a successful transition into university style learning.
Keep a diary
Even if you’ve never kept one before, this should be one of your first purchases when your student loan comes through. While not exactly exciting, your diary will become invaluable to you and will help you to make a good impression on your lecturers (which can only be a good thing, right?) Your diary will help you to remember your timetable, which you will receive in your first week. Make sure you write your lectures and seminars in your diary – don’t forget to include the time and location!
Think of your seminars as appointments and use the same manners you would if you were unable to make an appointment with the doctor or dentist. If you cannot attend then offer your apologies by email. This is even more important for one-to-one appointments.
As soon as you have an essay deadline get it in your diary. Work backwards from there so you can work out what you need to do each week (reading and making notes, planning, writing, editing etc). Remember to allow for some things to take longer than expected – this nearly always happens! Get into the habit of checking your diary each day so you don’t miss anything!
There are some things that only lecturers can help you with, but there are many that are your responsibility to sort out. With all the paper and information you are given, it’s more than likely that at some point some of it will go missing (I put things in a ‘safe place’ that I then couldn’t find more times than I want to admit!) If you have been given the material or information previously, but now can’t find it - such as the date an essay is due in, the word limit, your reading list or lecture notes - don’t bother your lecturer for this again. Not only will you waste time waiting for them to reply to your email, but you have alerted them to the fact that you have misplaced it. Instead, ask a friend or fellow student if you can photocopy theirs.
Remember you are an independent student now!
But know when to ask for help. As previously noted, there really are some things that only lecturers can help you with. These things are mainly essay-related. If you are really stuck on your essay, then get in touch with your lecturer and ask if you can pop in to see them to have a chat. Chances are they’ll be more than willing to help as you have shown initiative by asking for help. However, this shouldn’t be your first response when you are stuck. First you should have done some reading on the subject and spoken to other students. If neither of these help and you are still stumped. Then get in touch with your lecturer. A word of warning though, don’t leave this until the last minute as your lecturer will think you have only just started thinking about your essay (even if this isn’t the case!) Sometimes it is braver to ask for help than to struggle on alone!
Have realistic expectations
Universities are very different places to schools, and it can take a while to get used to this. Lecturers are very busy people (not that teachers aren’t!) and so they can’t be available to you all the time, even though emails often make it feel that way.
Universities are large and complex places in which your lecturers have many roles – not just teaching you. They want to help you as much as possible, but they can’t be available to you 24/7 (despite the fact that you can email them in the middle of the night or at the weekends if you want to!) In a department that has, say 100 students in each year (and this would be a relatively small department), there will be at least 300 undergraduate students – assuming the course is only three years long. On top of that, there will be at least one year of Masters students and any given lecturer is also likely to have at least one PhD student to closely supervise. For all these students there will be teaching material to prepare, seminars to teach and essays to mark.
As well as teaching, many lecturers will have additional roles in their department – these could either be admissions, teaching co-ordinator, research supervisor or the head of department. In addition, all lecturers have to do academic research in their chosen field, which needs to be carried out and then written up for publication (and believe me this can take a very long time!)
Last and by no means least, they are human too – just like you they have friends and families they want to spend time with. As frustrating as it may be for you at times it’s not unreasonable for them to be unavailable to you at evenings and weekends. Each lecturer will be more or less strict on when they will answer emails, so don’t inundate them with reminder emails or follow-ups – they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.
Remember this if you are getting impatient waiting for a reply to an email!
And don’t forget…
To have fun!
Every lecturer that I’ve met realises that the university experience is about way more than just what you learn in your lectures and seminars. For most students it will be their first time living away from home, managing their own budgets and being able to go out seven nights a week if they please. An active social life is a crucial element of being at uni, and chances are you will make some lifelong friends while you are there. Despite what you may think, all lecturers accept that the student union will be a central part of your life at uni (and one of mine actively encouraged time spent at the Union!) The only thing that they ask is that you make sure that you get the right balance with your studies. Going out until five o’clock in the morning knowing that you have to get up and write an essay probably isn’t the best idea.
Don’t forget to get the balance right!
About the author
Hollie Honeyman worked as an Associate Tutor at The University of East Anglia for three years while she was studying for a PhD in Psychology. During this time she taught undergraduate lectures and seminars, marked essays and supervised research projects. She has taught over 300 first-year students and helped them to make the transition from studying for A-levels to working towards a degree.