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How University Differs From School

Too many students look on Higher Education as a simple continuation of their Sixth Form education. There are many differences between education at school and at University, and many misconceptions about the value or purpose of following a degree course. Before considering applications to Higher Education in more detail, it would be as well to clear up some of these points.

Differences between School and University
The most obvious difference is in terms of life-style: living away from home may have its attractions for some, but it brings with it the practical problems of budgeting, cooking, washing clothes and generally looking after oneself. However the number of students living at home has increased in recent years due to the cost of living and tuition fees.

Secondly, the scale of education is very different. The sheer size of a University may be quite daunting: it may be catering for more than ten thousand students. Lectures, particularly in the first year, may be attended by over a hundred students in some subjects.

Thirdly, and possibly most significant, is the style of education. The extent to which students are left to their own initiative cannot be overstressed. School is essentially a supportive organisation: lessons are compulsory and take up the major part of the day; homework is set and students are chased if they fail to hand it in on time, etc. The situation at University is quite different. On many courses, timetabled activities may represent less than fifteen hours a week. Students may miss lectures totally unnoticed or fail to hand in assignments without being chased. It is assumed that students will read widely of their own volition and organise their own studies. Students who have been disorganised at school, have found difficulty in completing work on time and have lacked the self-discipline and motivation to undertake independent reading should think seriously about their suitability for Higher Education.

Finally, some students who have found academic work boring or who have struggled to reach the A2-level standard sometimes harbour the view that University teaching will be so stimulating that they will find renewed enthusiasm and be able to tap new sources of intellectual prowess. These students are invariably disappointed. Regrettably, it can be relatively easy to scrape into some form of Higher Education even with moderate A2-level results.


Popular Misconceptions about Higher Education.
Firstly, a University degree is not a passport to fame and fortune: in many cases, employers look on a graduate as someone who has the ability to benefit from their training programme, but who must prove his worth against employees of the same age who have the considerable advantage of three years' working experience. In some professions, a vocational training course subsequent to attaining a degree is necessary for entry.

Secondly, whilst a degree in some instances is a vocational qualification (e.g. medicine, Law and some Applied Sciences) it more usually presents an opportunity to pursue the study of an academic subject in considerable depth and for its own sake. Particularly in the case of arts and social science degrees, employers are looking for applicants from any discipline, who have abilities and aptitudes to do the job.

The message is simple: do not get trapped into following a particular degree course in order to fulfil someone else's ambitions for you, or because you cannot think of anything better to do at the time, or because you hope that it will help you get a job. Your decision should be carefully thought out and positively motivated.



E-mail Steve Margetts