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How is university different to high school?

Not sure what to expect from university? You’re not alone. Most people finish high school with little idea of what’s in store. You’ve probably been told that uni is nothing like school but what exactly are the differences? We spoke to some Deakin University students and recent graduates about what they noticed when they made the leap to university.

With freedom comes responsibility

Rosie Henderson, a student in the Bachelor of Environmental Engineering (Honours), says the main difference she noticed was that no one looks over your shoulder at uni. ‘You have a lot more freedom and responsibility than at school,’ she says. ‘It’s up to you to complete the relevant course work and assignments on time.’

Shinae Tobin-Salzman, a recent Deakin Nutrition Science graduate, says the freedom means you have to step up if you want to succeed. ‘Uni requires far more self-organisation and motivation than high school,’ she says.

While this might sound daunting, recent Deakin Arts graduate Zoe Tilley says it feels great to finally have your hands on the steering wheel. ‘You’re in total control of your own learning and what you’re going to get out of it,’ Zoe says. ‘In my opinion, this is one of the best things about uni. You can decide, for the most, part when your classes are, when you go and how long you stay for. This made me much more independent and responsible for my own learning.’

Your teachers won’t chase you up

You’ll notice straight away the teaching style at university feels a little different compared to high school. ‘Sometimes you’re in a very large class and it feels less personal than school,’ Rosie says. ‘In those classes, you need to speak up if you need help or have a question because the teacher doesn’t know what you already know or your learning ability.’

The sense of personal accountability may also feel different. ‘Teachers at uni differ from secondary school teachers in the sense that they don’t follow up or chase down work that has not been submitted,’ Shinae says.

For Zoe, the teachers at uni felt more like mentors. ‘They don’t really discipline and hand-hold like a lot of high school teachers do,’ she says. ‘They are all so intelligent and talented in their fields and they have so much knowledge to impart. It’s about the effort you’re willing to put in. If you want to work hard and learn a lot they will be more than happy to go above and beyond to offer their world of knowledge.’

Your social circle may become more diverse

It’s likely university will broaden your social circle, Rosie says. ‘I’ve made friends from all over the place and met people that I never would have met if I didn’t go to university.’

The process of meeting people can feel a little different though. Shinae found having fewer contact hours could make it a little more difficult to get to know people. ‘At uni, you really only socialise in a seminar or at social events outside of the class,’ she says. ‘Uni can be very social, it just takes more self-organisation.’

'[The tutors] are all so intelligent and talented in their fields and they have so much knowledge to impart. It’s about the effort you’re willing to put in.'

Zoe Tilley,
Graduate, Deakin University

Zoe agrees it can take some extra work to build friendships at uni. ‘You certainly have to make more effort in all of your relationships because you’re not seeing your friends every day in the same classes,’ she says. ‘But uni is also the most socially vibrant time in your life. You’ll meet so many different people.

‘From uni balls, parties and going out, there is always something social happening. You have a lot more freedom socially, as you’re not restricted to the couple hundred people in your year level like in high school.’

Motivation is the key

With all this focus on organisation and self-management, you might be wondering how you’ll summon the drive to push yourself forward. For Shinae, it was about keeping her eye on the prize. ‘Knowing that securing a degree would enhance my resume and professional ability to secure a job in the future was motivation for me to study at uni,’ she says.

Rosie found it was about setting goals. ‘I am committed to goals that I set and know I want to achieve them,’ she says. ‘I would say a driving factor of staying motivated is also to reward yourself for small milestones along the way.’

Zoe says she found it quite easy to motivate herself because uni was so new and exciting. ‘I loved my classes and it was incredibly motivating to be able to choose what you’re studying,’ Zoe says.

If her motivation waned, Zoe had some tricks up her sleeve. ‘I worked with friends and suggested studying together,’ she says. ‘This made the work much more enjoyable as it was fun and social. It was also motivating – a little light competition with friends can do wonders for your work ethic.’

There’s no denying university is different to school but the differences can be viewed as opportunities. ‘As cringe-worthy as it sounds, the best thing about starting university is the possibilities ahead,’ Zoe says. ‘It’s really exciting to know there are so many friends to be made, events to go to and different classes to try.’

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