Male student in a lecture theatre

What to expect at university

Our guide on how university will differ from your time at school and college

If you’re in your last years of school, or studying at college, you may have already started thinking about whether you’d like to go to university.

Going to university can be a big change so it’s good to be aware of all the things that make it different from school. Then, if you do decide to go, you can adapt quickly and make the most out of your experience.

From the way you learn, to the increased independence you’ll get, university can take a while to get used to, but by thinking ahead you can make the transition a lot easier.

We’ll talk you through all of the differences between school or college and university to help you decide if university is the right fit for you, and to prove that it’s not as scary as you may think.

The most important thing to remember while reading this article is ‘Would this work for me?’. University may not always be the best choice for you, and that’s ok. We want to help you make the right decision for you.

What we’ll cover in this article:

Teaching at uni

The main difference with university from school and college is the way that you’re taught. Compared to school, you’ll have a lot more independence at university.

Choosing what you learn

At school you have a set curriculum that you follow, you don’t get any choice in the subjects you learn about until you choose your GCSEs.

At university you choose the course you want to study straight away. This is a great opportunity to pick a subject that you really enjoy and want to focus on.

After you finish your 1st year you’ll usually get the chance to choose your classes and the specific topics you want to study.

Students drinking coffee in library while chatting

Teaching schedule

You’re probably used to having a weekly timetable with lessons all day from Monday to Friday.

In University your schedule will be very different. You’ll have fewer scheduled lessons during the week. You may also have long breaks between your lessons, or even a whole day off.

In years 2 and 3 of your degree you'll get even more free time, but you'll be expected to do a lot more independent study.

Teaching methods

At school and college you’ll have the same teacher for a whole lesson, in a classroom, who gives you a lot of help and support.

At university you’ll have more teachers, who are called lecturers, for each of your lessons.

You also won’t be learning in a classroom. At university you’ll have a mixture of lectures and seminars.

Lectures can be class sizes of up to 200 students with 1 teacher. This is where you learn the majority of the course information.

You’ll then have seminars with groups of around 5-30 students with 1 teacher where you’re able to ask questions and work through activities based on what you learnt in the lecture.

You'll also start to do more learning online. We use an online learning platform called Moodle where you can access course information and recorded lectures.

Lecturer speaking in sports science class

Homework

You won’t get any set homework at university, but you’ll have deadlines to complete assignments and essays throughout the year.

You'll be expected to do a lot of independent work at home to prepare for these assignments, so it’s important to make sure that you manage your time well.

Although you'll be doing a lot of work independently, you'll still be able to get plenty of help. At the university we have personal tutors and support staff who can offer you academic skills support, library support, IT and computing help, Maths help and much more.

Find out more about the learning and academic support we offer our students.

Uniform

One big difference you’ll notice is that you no longer have to wear a uniform. You can wear any of your own clothes you like.

The university campus

A university campus will be a lot bigger than your school or college. This will mean you may have to walk quite far in between lectures and seminars.

At Portsmouth we have a city campus, this means our academic buildings are across the city and not all in 1 place.

At school you may have access to a small library and limited facilities for sport and learning.

At university you’ll be on a campus that has almost everything you could need to make the most out of your life at Uni.

At University of Portsmouth we have:

  • A large library
  • On-campus cafes and coffee shops
  • 2 gyms on campus
  • Computer rooms
  • Indoor and outdoor sports pitches
  • Music and film equipment
  • Lab and testing facilities for science-based courses

Which of these statements about teaching at uni is correct?

Where you'll live

Living alone and managing your own life

One of the scary, but exciting, changes about starting University is the thought of moving away from home. For a lot of people this will be their first experience of not living with their parents.

Living on your own means a lot more freedom, but also a lot more responsibility.

You’ll have to cook and clean for yourself, as well having to manage your own time and schedule.

Work/life balance

Unlike living with your parents at school and college, there’s no rules around when you can see your friends and go out at university. It’s up to you to make sensible decisions on when you should go out and when you should study.

You may also have to take on a part-time job to help pay for everything, which can be a lot to balance. It’s important that you find a balance between studying, work and your social life to ensure you have the best experience possible.

Students walking in old portsmouth

Life outside of university

Sports and activities

At school you may have some after-school and sports clubs, but at university you have a lot more choice in how you spend your free time.

At universities we have societies, which are like after-school clubs but they’re run by students. You also have the opportunity to go on social nights out with the people in your society, and compete in competitions.

At the University of Portsmouth we have over 150 societies, ranging from Football and Surf, to Self-Defence and the Harry Potter society.

Support

At school you may have a guidance counsellor, or access to some career support in your final years. At University we have an extensive range of support for students.

Whether you need help getting a placement, health and wellbeing support or financial support, we have people to help you.

If you need personal and emotional support we have a dedicated Student Wellbeing Service that offers 1-to-1 sessions and workshops throughout the year. We also have the University Surgery on campus to help you look after your physical health.

If you run into financial issues while at university, you'll be able to get lots of support in planning a way forward.

We also have a careers and employment team that will help you find a job, find work experience and voluntary opportunities or set up your own business.

You can find out more about the support we offer our students in our Guidance and Support pages.

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