What it's like going from school to university

students talking

Two students share their experience of making the jump to degree study

Making the transition from school learning to uni study can feel a bit overwhelming when you don't know what to expect.

We spoke to students at UEA to find out how they managed, what they’d do differently and any tips on making things feel less scary.

George, UEA student

George's story

The transition from studying at sixth form to then going straight to university was an odd one.

I knew I was perfectly capable from an objective point of view. I’d been through the interview process, I’d been offered a place based on my merits, and then achieved the grades necessary. So there was no reason to think I couldn’t do it.

I just don’t think I expected it to be such a massive change.

When I say it’s a massive change, it was a necessary one, and it’s totally manageable. I remember for the first week or five I was just bumbling around, no idea what I was doing. That was OK though, the first term is really just a time to figure out what you are doing, who you are and where to plant your feet.

You should also meet your personal advisor in this time, who is there to support you. It's a slightly terrifying concept at first – asking an academic to listen to your problems – but that’s literally what they’re there for.

My personal advisor has been a massive help. He helped me apply for ECs (extenuating circumstances) when I was having a difficult time in my second year, and also guided me to the right resources and the right people when I was having other personal issues.

Looking back, I just wish I knew it was OK to use all those resources available to me! It’s part of what we’re paying for, I don’t have to feel bad for seeking help or asking questions, and it’s totally reasonable to get lost from time to time.

That first transition is difficult for many reasons, but that’s the fun of it. What’s life if there isn’t any challenge? You don’t have to figure it out straight away, some people never do. I certainly don’t know everything and I’m three years in. But once you accept that and learn to have fun with it, university is an amazing experience.

UEA student imogen

Imogen's story

You’ll need to change how you study - be prepared to work alone. You will have group work within your course, but it differs from secondary education as you won’t be spending the entire day with your classmates.

It is down to you to study, and I realised that the hard way. It can be difficult to self-discipline and choose to study over the many exciting opportunities and newfound freedoms that uni offers, especially when students are experiencing ‘adult life’ for the first time.

Without the traditional structure of GCSEs and A-levels, and as you’re getting to know your course mates, it’s important that you put some guidelines in place so you get some work done while also having fun, of course!

Don’t just stick to your classes. As you journey into higher education, you become more focused on your chosen area of study yet I found myself missing subjects that I enjoyed alongside my course.

For this, I looked at societies to maintain the hobbies and extra-curricular activities I enjoyed at home, as well as being a great way to socialise, meet people, and have an outlet for when exams got stressful.

Meet as many of your lecturers and seminar leaders as possible! Initially, I found it really intimidating, going from sitting in a class of 30 for the majority of my time in education to having the option for one-on-one time with someone who runs your module/course.

So, for the first couple of months, I didn’t meet with anyone. Clearly, this isn’t what you should do. Your seminar leader will inform you of their office hours which you should take full advantage of - after all, they have these to help students like you.

Written feedback in regards to essays and coursework helps, however, any questions or clarifications needed are best answered in person, and my lecturers have been brilliant in guiding me to resources that I hadn’t been aware of and helping me edit my writing.

Similarly, get to know your advisor. Your advisor is a faculty member who is there to act as your mentor throughout university and is the person to answer your questions regarding academic life as well as the person to reach out to in case of extenuating circumstances or if you are in need of support.

Similarly, other organisations on campus will offer pastoral care and mental health services, such as the student support services, or Nightline.

Finally, take care of yourself. The transition from sixth form/college to university is hard, and you’ll likely experience growing pains. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s alright to give yourself a break - your health and happiness are equally important as your studies.

What the unis say…

When preparing for university, don’t forget to talk to your sixth form or college teachers and advisers too. They’ll want to help, will readily listen to student’s concerns, and will be able to signpost you to available resources.

Here at UEA, we’ve created a free to study Preparing for University MOOC to help future uni students build the academic skills needed for learning at university and to ease the transition into higher education from sixth form or college.

You’ll find that there are plenty of resources to help support you on your journey!

Lydia, higher education adviser, UEA

Watch more videos about student life

Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about first year accommodation, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.


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