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The Difference Between School and University

Throughout sixth form, I always used to hear the same comments by teachers – ‘this is sixth form now, the spoon feeding is over’ which more or less translated to stop being lazy and do the work yourself this time round.

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Although I didn’t notice that much of a difference in the teaching style between GCSE’s and A Levels; the class sizes were just as full, the teachers still had the classic Microsoft PowerPoints and students still wrote the notes by hand as opposed to by Mac.

It's pretty scary to begin with

At no point did I hear the phrase ‘University teaching style isn’t spoon feeding, in fact it’s like they take the spoon, snap it and then burn it’ but this was my first thought when I was sat in my first ever lecture!

I think this is how most freshers are feeling during their integration week (the week where Queen's try and get you used to your course, teaching methods etc.) or maybe it was just me…

Don’t panic though – it got better after the first few days. One of the significant differences is class sizes; it went from 23 people in my class to 230 odd, which I’m sure as you can imagine is daunting to say the least. Obviously with class sizes that large, the thought of asking the lecturer a question is terrifying, especially when you’ve done the subject for 4 days and you don’t even know what you don’t know! However it’s really important to remember that all 250 people in your course are ‘in the same boat’ and what you ask is probably what someone else wanted to know but they were too scared to ask.

The lecturers will never make a remark like ‘that’s a stupid question’; at Queens all lecturers and tutors are extremely helpful and willing to fill any gaps in your knowledge or issues you may be having. If asking a question during the lecture is too scary for you, you can always go down at the end of the lecture and ask them the question (which admittedly I have done a few times).

Tutorials: Just like being back at school... Sort of

Nevertheless, tutorials bring back the ‘school feeling’. A tutorial is a class ran by your tutor assigned for a certain module where you go over what you have learnt in your lecture.  There are roughly 15 students in each tutorial, which gives you the opportunity to be closer with your tutor and ask them anything you didn’t understand in the lecture.

I find that they are less formal than lectures and more laid back, but you get much more done in them and I find that they are more intense! Tutorials also involve much more group discussion, and it’s focused on getting the students to say their views on a certain topic; it’s great because you can develop your knowledge as well as learn off your peers’ views.

It also gets easier after a few weeks or even days when you’ve made course friends who will probably nudge you to ask the question rather than them, which helps to build your confidence both socially and academically.

Getting motivated

Another key difference is something that many students despise or fail to attain; self-motivation. This links in with the skill to manage your own deadlines and the rapid increase in proactive, independent study required compared to what was expected at school.

From my own experience I can say this skill is difficult to both acquire and sustain – I had to make my own motivation wall which was enough effort alone!

My motivation wall...which required considerable motivation to complete!

Lecturers and tutors will help you with any knowledge issues, but it’s your own job to find the motivation to realise what you understand, what you don’t, and how you’re going to fix it. During my time at school, teachers would regularly give you homework which you’d usually do out of fear of ‘detention’ or a type of sanction (sometimes the disappointed look was a bad enough sanction!).

Things are different at University. You get given lecture and tutorial questions and reading but no one there to make you do them and the sanctions given to you for not doing them aren’t existent – however I advise to keep on top of your studies because come exam time it will hit you like a train to say the least…

I find making a work/revision timetable helps with self-motivation and managing deadlines, so you can give yourself set times to do your tasks in then chill time in the evening. I was advised by a solicitor who had been in the same position was me to treat my degree like a 9-5 job!

Working to deadlines

Deadlines are a big change at University, because when you were at school handing in an essay late wasn’t that big a deal – however here, it really is.

The penalties for handing in late papers vary from subjects, but my advice is just don’t do it!!

Help is at hand

However, just because University seems huge compared to school regarding student numbers etc. doesn’t mean that you are valued any less! There is always help and guidance available on any issue, you just have to ask for it as opposed to teachers actively offering it. The Student Centre at Queens is amazing for this, you can come here for advice on issues from finances, academics, relationships – or you can just go for free tea and coffee (I recommend).


Working with others is a big help, whether its your course friends or your tutor

You also get assigned a personal tutor at the start of the year, and you can schedule meetings with them whenever is necessary. And don’t forget, you can always ask your course friends for help on topics you don’t understand because a ‘problem shared is a problem halved’!

So, there are many differences between school and university, I’ve just picked a few of the major ones I noticed within the first few weeks. Don’t worry though, the transition between school and university is challenging at first but you adapt quickly to the change in circumstances, as well as university life in general. 

Alishia O'Boyle

LLB Law | 1st Year | Isle of Man

I was born in Cardiff, Wales and lived there until I was 4 years old. We then (mum & dad) moved to the Isle of Man! I now have two younger brothers, who are 8 & 12. Hobby wise, I enjoy cycling, tennis and netball - I enjoy walking too but that's usually done with an Instagram photo opportunity in mind!

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Photo: Alishia O'Boyle
Alishia O'Boyle
Student Blogger, Law LLB