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The differences between school and university

As you start your university journey, here are some important ways that university is different from school and how you’ll have to adapt 

Juan Rubio Gorrochategui's avatar

Juan Rubio Gorrochategui

August 12 2019
The differences between school and university


If you're starting university this year, you will soon be settling into a new environment, living away from home and having to look after yourself. You will leave behind the lifestyle you have been familiar with since you started secondary education or high school. Things are about to become markedly different, and not having to wear a uniform is not the only thing that will change once you start your journey to university. 

So much choice

The key word that defines what the university experience entails is “freedom”. Now it is up to you to decide on your daily habits. Fancy having five bars of chocolate a day? Go for it.

From the beginning of the first term, nobody will check whether you attend your lectures or whether you get eight hours of sleep every night. Autonomy to live your own life will also come with the expectation that you will be responsible enough to take care of yourself. Thus, it is essential that you organise your daily routine early on so that you have enough time to attend your lectures, participate in social activities and clubs and hang out with your friends.

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My first tip that I cannot stress enough is to make an effort to attend your lectures. It makes a massive difference, as lecturers often give clues to what material they will include in the final exam, or guidelines on essay layout. The same applies to tutorials, seminars and workshops.

Lecturers, unlike schoolteachers, will not see you every day and might be hard to reach. They won’t always check why you aren’t going to lectures. Tutorials and seminars are therefore a great opportunity to ask questions about content that you have not been able to fully grasp when they are presented in lectures.

On that note, try to keep regular contact with your personal tutor, who will be your main source of academic support and will supply you with tips on various matters relating to studying and campus life. Planning meetings with your tutor are just as much your responsibility as they are theirs, so be sure to keep up with them. 

It is also important to be proactive in your learning and to regularly read your notes and leave aside some time at the weekend to go through the week’s lecture content.

And do take a look at the recommended reading, as many courses require supplementary materials in order to fully understand them. Binge revising everything the day before the exam may have been enough to scrape a pass at school, but it is less likely to work at university if you haven't done the reading throughout the term. 


Of course, you should still make sure you meet people and have fun in your free time. At school, you shared facilities with maybe a few thousand students at most. You were also more likely to be in more classes with your friends and to have only a few areas where you could hang out at lunchtime, so you were pretty much guaranteed to see your friends every day. 

However, at university, there are thousands of students across the campus. This has its upsides (the chances are quite high that you meet plenty of people with similar hobbies as you) and its downsides (sometimes it can feel lonely). A good way to find new peers is by joining clubs.

There will be loads of clubs to choose from, focusing on such different areas as sports, cultural activities or food. In the case of the larger clubs, apart from doing events related to their main area of interest, they also organise frequent social gatherings that allow you to meet even more people.

Mental health

It is important to mention that such a sudden change in your life can take a toll on your mental health. There will be times when you can feel stressed because of the workload, scared of failing or simply alone in the world. Being far from your family and closest friends can be hard. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Starting university can be quite challenging for many people, and struggling to adapt to the new environment is common.

Do not hesitate to speak to counselling services, your personal tutor or your new friends if you’re finding it difficult to cope. Because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is for you to enjoy this period of your life. Good luck, and make the best out of university!

Read more: Five tips to make the most of your university experience

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