Learning at University or College will likely appear to be quite different to what you might be accustomed to at primary or secondary school. You might hear from lecturers and tutors that you need to engage in ‘self-directed’ or ‘independent’ learning. Whilst this might seem initially daunting or an unusual way to learn – many students might find this to be a more enjoyable experience as it can provide a platform for students to pursue their interests.
Making the transition into this new way of learning takes time, and this includes giving yourself time to learn as a University or College student. This article will set out what might be expected of you, what the pace of college life might look like, what your course workload will look like in practice and how to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed by college life
At university or college, you will be treated as an adult and you will have different expectation placed on you than you had at school. This means that you have both more independence and more responsibility for your work and how you conduct yourself. Lecturers and tutors will be responsible for hundreds of students as well as their writing articles and managing several other classes at the same time, so unless your class takes mandatory attendance, they may not always notice if you missed class or follow up with you if you missed an assignment deadline.
You are primarily responsible for doing what you need to do to keep on track with your coursework, and to motivate yourself to achieve your academic goals. It can sometimes be challenging to be always motivated to do your best work, particularly in situations where your end goal might not immediately be in sight, or if you’re doing a subject that you might not be passionate about. Remember that you will not be perfect at everything in college and you will not be expected to be – but you will do well if you put in the hard work. It can be helpful to think of an overall objective that you want to reach as a way of motivating yourself, particularly during difficult moments. Where possible, try to plan and organise your time the University or College gives you to study and keep up with coursework in a way that can help you to achieve your goals.
At University or college, you might not have lectures on the same subjects every day. Instead your course might be split into a number of modules, where you might have classes once or twice per week, which might be augmented by weekly labs or tutorials. This means that you might be covering a lot of material at class, and quickly moving through the material. This can be challenging as class sizes might be much bigger that you might be used to at school, and with such limited time to cover the course material, it can be difficult to ask questions if you have trouble understanding something. You might also be asked to do a number of readings between lectures, and this can help you to gain a more in-depth understanding of the topic or it might be discussed at class or in a tutorial. Keeping pace with your notes and doing some of your own reading or research by following the course’s reading list can help you to understand a topic you might have previously been confused by.
It’s also useful to note that every lecturer or tutor also has set office hours every week where you can go to their office to ask questions or if you have any issues with the module. If you have a burning question that you want to ask them, it might be handy to write it down on paper or into a Notes app in your phone, or if you find meeting people intimidating or have issues with speaking or finding the right words to say, you can write to your lecturer or tutor over email. Do not panic if they don’t respond straight away, as they might be managing several classes like yours. Most lecturers or tutors will endeavour to respond to your query as soon as possible.
Tip: Give yourself 3 – 4hours of work for each module per week outside of class to either do assignments or to keep up with you’re being taught at your classes. As a way of structuring your time, It might be useful to think about going to University or College a bit like a job where going to lectures, labs and tutorials is part of your job, but a good deal of what happens in college is outside the lecture theatre. You can use gaps between classes or lectures as a chance to study, as this might ease the amount of study you might have to do in the evening.
At University or College, your workload might be expected to increase considerably when compared to secondary school. Your lecturers and tutors may not know about the workload in your other classes, and as they might have to manage several classes during a semester, they might not be expected to know everything that’s happening with your class in particular. This means that you might have more than one assignment or assessment due in the same week.
Time can move very quickly at University or College, and if you feel overwhelmed by these deadlines, some lecturers might be happy to move a deadline by a few days, whereas others might prefer to stick with the same deadline. A good way to avoid added stress caused by approaching assignments and assessments is to look at the syllabus for each module and map out what deadlines you might have in a planner. From there, once you receive details of the assignment or assessment, you can work out how much time you need to start studying, researching and writing the assignment, and to give yourself enough time and headspace to ensure that the assignment is completed on deadline and without too much stress.
Some students might feel that their experience at school did not prepare them for their transition to University or College. Going to College is a completely different experience in terms of the independence given to you, how each module is structured, and the kinds of academic writing and studying skills you can use to succeed in your course. Sometimes, this change can be so dramatic, particularly for autistic students, that it’s not unusual for some students to feel stressed or overwhelmed by this transition.
Some people have different ways of managing the “stress” of being at University or College – some people might interpret this stress as an opportunity to rise to the challenge and perform well under pressure, which can be a positive way of dealing with the challenge posed by their University or college experience. Others might feel that “stress” is something to avoid and might prefer to stick to a routine that they might create for themselves. Both are completely valid ways of experiencing University – University can be a great way of breaking down barriers and the best way to try out new things is when you feel comfortable, whether it is socialising with your friends or joining a club or society that closely matches your interests or hobbies. This can be a good way of making friends as it can be easier to find people who have things in common, who share similar interests and who might accept you for who you are as a person. If you get along with your housemates, you can also do lots of activities together over the semester, but if you need some personal space, you don’t have to do these things if you don’t want to.
Lots of students feel overwhelmed by their new situation and their new surroundings, particularly when they start college. If you feel overwhelmed, it’s good to know that you can engage with your University experience as much or as little as you want to – there are lots of things to do, and clubs and societies for all kinds of personalities, hobbies and interests. If you would like some support with some things you’re finding difficult, there are supports that can help. You can go to your Academic Writing Centre if you would like some extra support with your study or academic writing skills, you can contact the Welfare or Access Office in your Student’s Union if you’re finding things difficult or having issues with your course, and you can speak with Student Counselling if you feel that what is expected of you in College or University is having a negative impact on your mental health. You can always go to your lecturer, tutor or Year Head if you’re having problems that specifically relate to your class or course and need some additional support. You can also go to your wider support network like your friends or family. Keeping in contact with them over platforms like social media or Skype, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Zoom can help them to support you if you’re going through tough times, even if your family or friends might be far away from you.
AHEAD, an organisation dedicated to supporting disabled students in their academic life and in making the transition to work, has a really good video offering their top 5 tips for students starting college, which you can find here.