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Student Life

How School and University Life Differ

Starting university can be very daunting when you’re used to school life and there are many, many differences between the two. Charlotte has made a list of key differences between university and school to help you prepare for the transition.

Students walking past the School of Music
No more school uniform!

How your course will be taught

One of the most striking differences between classes at school and university is the way that your course is taught. All courses are different but information will be relayed to you in a lot of new ways that you might not be used to.

At school you often have the same teacher for an entire subject, all year long, with lessons taking place in a small classroom. Help and support from your teacher is very easily accessible at school with a teacher always a few metres across the room - this is very different to university teaching.

Teaching room in the Graduate School

Teaching environments are usually a mixture of lectures and smaller tutorials

At university, you’ll have multiple lecturers for each of your classes and lessons will take place in a lecture hall rather than a classroom. These are large rooms with many rows of seats and desks. They can hold up to 200 students, but most courses are a lot smaller. You’ll most likely be taught through a mixture of lectures, seminars and tutorials. Sometimes your lecturers may organise field trips or workshops to aid your learning.

Seminars and tutorials have much smaller class sizes, allowing you an opportunity to ask questions to expert lecturers and receive help with assignments.


A very obvious difference that becomes apparent as soon as you set foot on campus is that students don’t have to wear a uniform to university. You’re free to express yourself however you want by wearing your own clothes every day, however you may be asked to wear certain things for practical activities. While there’s no set uniform for university, you’ll see many students on campus stick to comfortable clothes such as sweatshirts. In first year, I got myself a few branded Queen’s logo hoodies to wear throughout the year from the Student Welcome Centre that are very comfy.

Queen's Welcome Centre in the Lanyon Building

The Queen's Welcome Centre in the Lanyon Building


University is different to school in that you’ll have no set homework. Instead, you’ll be given deadlines to complete assignments and essays by - usually weeks in advance and it is up to you how you approach the task. You’ll have to do a lot more independent preparation for your assignments and it’s up to you to do extra reading around your lectures to build up a solid knowledge base to work from.

A lot of students are shocked by the amount of independence that is given to you straight away and end up falling behind on assignments and staying up all night before the deadline trying to finish on time. It’s a good idea to prepare early for assignments and get ahead so you don’t have lots of work to do at the last minute.

The McClay Library, Queen's University Belfast

Many students study in the McClay Library

Don’t worry though, even though you’re required to be a lot more independent, there’s still plenty of help with assignments available.

Communicating with staff

Questions and queries were easily answered in school by just knocking on a member of staff’s door and speaking face to face. At university, most communication outside of lesson time is done by email.

Students and Staff in the One Elmwood Students Union building

Lecturers and tutors can be reached via email and during office hours

A lot of incoming students don’t know that lecturers’ jobs don’t just involve lecturing. Many lecturers also carry out research projects and are constantly working on other things. Most lecturers will clearly state their office hours which they’ll be available during if you’d like to drop by to speak with them in their office. Otherwise, you’ll communicate with your lecturers or tutors via email - and they usually get back to you pretty quickly. Just remember to be polite! Some staff will offer Teams meetings if they’re available for a more in-depth chat.


After-school clubs and university clubs and societies have many differences, but both serve similar purposes. The goals of attending these clubs include personal growth, developing new skills, and promoting social interactions.

After-school clubs are often focused on specific age groups whereas at university societies and clubs have members of all different ages and courses. You could have a mixture of undergraduates, postgraduate students and even alumni. You get to meet a wide range of people by attending club activities and there is such a large variety of them too.

Queen's Surfing Club

The Surfing Club is one of over 200 clubs and societies at Queen's

At school, clubs typically might have focused on sports or music but at university, there truly is something for everyone. Queen’s has over 200 clubs and societies to explore - you’re bound to find something you’ll love!

Another difference between the two is that in school, clubs were typically led by staff members whereas at university you’ll find that many societies are led by the students themselves and it is a real group-effort to keep activities up and running. Students being in charge makes things a lot more fun as you all have your own voice and can set your own goals and schedules.

Find out more

Welcome And Registration for new students

The student experience and settling in

Life at Queen's: Your Student Guide

Charlotte Lock

Geography| Undergraduate Student | Northern Ireland

I am an 18-year-old Geography student at Queen's and I am really loving it! Something that makes my degree so special is that it is so open and mixes sciences and the humanities together. I'm really enthusiastic about learning about Earth's amazing processes and how our future might look on a warming planet. Outside of the lecture hall, I love to do all sorts of crafts and travel with friends all across Ireland and beyond!

Charlotte Lock