When I was at school, I was told when to be in class, what to read, and what I had to learn… university changed all of that.
I felt like school was too focused on topics, concepts, and materials set by a national curriculum that everyone learned. For me, the biggest difference between school and university was that my learning, for the most part, was down to me. The tutors are there to guide, giving students the freedom to follow their academic passions and learn about what they are most interested in.
In school, lessons formed the bulk of what I wrote about in my coursework or my exams. Whereas university lectures and seminars form the foundation of a topic, and it was up to me to build on it myself. This may sound daunting, and it can be at first for some making the jump from A-Level to Degree, but, the reward for putting in the effort is worth it – broadening your horizons and giving a real sense of achievement. Plus, it helps you decide if you want to pursue that topic for an essay or even a dissertation in your final year.
Seminars also are much different to lessons – they’re normally a group discussion or an exercise based on what you have found out about a specific topic. Tutors will get you talking but normally let the group steer the discussion – the students taking the lead. This involves being ready, willing, and able to contribute to discussions with your group. It can be rewarding to hear other perspectives and concepts, which you may not have thought about otherwise.
Depending on your course, these seminars can be more theory-based or practical-based – but the idea of learning from one another remains the same.
The second main difference is attendance. Now, I fully recommend attending every single lecture and seminar, but now it is your own responsibility to attend, unlike being at school – where your family would get a phone call or you would have to stay in detention for lack of attendance – it is down to you to be organised, and to know where to be, and when. Sure, the University does track attendance, but it’s ultimately your responsibility to tell tutors if you can’t attend, just like the real world.
Furthermore, the days of calling your teachers Mr, Mrs, or Miss are also over. The relationship between students and tutors is not one where authority is exercised over the other – tutors are approachable and ready to help solve any problems or provide feedback on your work. Sometimes, tutors like it when you provide a different take on a topic, as it will add to a seminar’s discussion.
University provides students with more freedom to work, unlike being a pupil at school the learning is in the hands of the student. Tutors and lecturers provide the guidance and structure for topics, but it is up to the student to complete the body of work itself.