What’s the difference between school and university?

by Jake Chatfield, Make Happen Collaborative Outreach Officer


ONE: University is way bigger!
Your university campus is likely to be much bigger than your school with multiple buildings spread out over different locations for up to 40,000 students to use. You will notice this the most when trying to find your lectures so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with your new campus during your welcome week and don’t be afraid to ask a fellow student for directions if you get lost!


TWO: your timetable will be different
No more 9am-3.30pm days; universities operate on a much more dynamic timetable. Some days you may have lectures all day and other days may be completely free for your own independent study. This means that you need to know when your lectures are and plan accordingly but it also gives you the freedom to manage your free time however suits you!


THREE: you will only study a subject that you like
Speaking of timetables, you will no longer have to dread those subjects you don’t like. At university you pick your course. This could be a traditional subject such as Geography or English or something unusual such as Ethical Hacking, Surf Science or even Circus Studies! If you have a passion that you want to turn in to your career, chances are there is a course that will let you do that!


FOUR: you will have modules
Your university course is split up in to ‘mini subjects’ called modules – some of which are compulsory and some optional – on top of your course choice you will also have to choose some of these optional modules. This means you can tailor your course to your interests and you can even study modules from other departments such as learning a language even if you’re not studying one.


FIVE: you’ll have lecturers instead of teachers
Teaching staff at university are called lecturers. They will be experts in whatever specific subject you chose to study. Your relationship with your lecturers is a lot less formal than your teachers at school – you don’t need to call them sir or miss! They’re all friendly and passionate about their subjects, happy to answer any questions you may have about your course.

Jake Chatfield
Jake graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BSc in Biology in 2018

SIX: you will have longer holidays!
The university academic year looks a bit different to the one you’re used at school. Rather than having lots of little holidays scattered throughout the year, university students get a whole month off at Christmas and Easter and a whopping three months off for summer! You definitely want to use this free time wisely, however. Many students get summer placements, work in part-time jobs, or go travelling during the long summer break.


SEVEN: university has more choices for sports
You may have played sports in school, but university takes this to a whole other level! Sports at university come in many different tiers, whether you want to represent your university in the British Universities and Colleges Sport league or pick up an entirely new sport with fellow beginners, the choice is yours. Universities have many facilities not available at schools such as rock climbing walls, swimming pools and high-tech gyms. University also gives the opportunity to do a more unusual sport such as archery, windsurfing, ultimate frisbee or even quidditch! For example, take a look at all the sports clubs offered at the University of Essex. 


EIGHT: university has societies
Societies at university are like clubs for students with shared interests to meet up, make friends and take part in planned events. These shared interests could be anything from getting involved with a social cause such as the Feminist Society, or a television show, like Game of Thrones Society or something crazy like the Hula Hoop Society. You can sign up for these societies at the Freshers’ Fair which will take place during your first week at university, and is a great opportunity to explore all of the sports and societies available at your new university, and bag some freebies while you’re at it! Societies are a great way to make friends who aren’t on your course or in your halls of residence, and if you can’t find a society you like you can always start your own! Take a look at all the societies offered at the University of Essex.


NINE: you will have to manage your money
You may have managed your spending before but have you ever had to pay for rent, bills or groceries? Most students apply for a student loan to cover these living costs while at university. The amount of money you will receive depends on your household income, which is essentially how much your parent(s) earn, so they may be expected to chip in a bit. Your money will come in to your account in big chunks at the beginning of each term so it’s important to budget and resist the temptation to spend it all at once on student deals! About 70% of students today are now looking to part time jobs to help cover their living costs. These are great as they will give you a bit of extra cash in the bank as well as experience for your CV when you finish university, however, it’s important that a part-time job doesn’t have a negative impact on your studies. For information about managing your money at university, including student loans and when and how much you will pay back, take a look at our concerns about money and student finance basic guides, and visit the Money Saving Experts students’ website.


TEN: you’ll be much more independent
At university you’ll no longer have parents or teachers chasing you up for homework or reminding you of deadlines. That means it’s down to you to manage your time, attend your lectures and get all of your assignments in on time. This could be a blessing or a curse, as it means you now have the freedom to study whenever or wherever suits you, however, you will also need to be self-motivated and not get distracted… or else you could fall behind and rely on Red Bull-fuelled all-nighters to catch up! If that sounds scary, just remember that most people consider their time at university to be the best days of their life, and a valuable experience to learn skills that they take with them in to adulthood. You will most likely make a few mistakes along the way but if you learn from them you’ll not only leave university as a more knowledgeable person, but also a much more independent and confident one, who’s ready to take on the challenges of the working world.

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"You will only study a subject that you like"