By Adam Wright, Psychologist.
On the 28th February this year, summer will officially end for thousands of people across Australia, as they begin the first semester of university or TAFE for 2015. This group of people will be very diverse, ranging from the fresh 18-year-old straight-out-of-a-gruelling HSC, to mature age students re-training after years in the workforce. No matter who you are or what your story is, university can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be a very daunting and troubling experience. Having gone through university both as a student and as a student counsellor, I thought I would dedicate today’s blog to a list of things to consider about university, for those who will be taking the plunge at the end of the month.
1. There is a lot more freedom of education at uni
For those of you who have come out of school, you have probably become very used to a specific style of education. You go to school every day, follow a strict timetable with little variation and leave at the organised end of school every day.
But Uni is different. If you don’t go to your job or you skip school pretty soon people start asking questions and actions start being taken. At university your lecturers and tutors are teaching a class of hundreds (especially 1st year subjects). Often for courses there are comparatively fewer checks of attendance – there may be course requirements for attendance to tutorials but not lectures, and many universities offer lectures to be downloaded like podcasts and listened to at home. A uni staffer once told me how the numbers of students lying on the grass tended to increase across the semester, as people started to realise that attendance was not compulsory and the motivation to sit in a crowded theatre for 2 hours started to diminish rapidly!
This new sense of freedom can be intoxicating. Suddenly you are presented with an opportunity to learn at your own pace, to schedule your life with much greater flexibility and even to prioritise social activities ahead of study.
2. University has a very unique emphasis on self-driven learning.
The overall aim of school is to meet broad learning criteria in order to facilitate moving from one grade to the next. What you learn is very largely determined by the school. The role of your teacher is to help with that process, and so they take a very directive and supportive role in making sure you meet the criteria. With the HSC, schools often take a very hands-on approach with the student to make sure they are getting the highest ATAR.
However at Uni, lecturers and tutors are often not as personally involved as teachers are, and the emphasis is very much on self-directed learning.
Lecturers and tutors often do their teaching work as a supplement to their usual work, which is research-based. Lecturers teach multiple classes and tutors often have multiple classes they see once a week, not once a day. You are very much expected to do your own reading and complete your assignments yourself. Staff are available to assist you in your learning, but it is still very much your learning.
It is a legal requirement to finish schooling up to and including year 10, but there is no requirement for people to finish university. If you don’t do the work or you are failing the subject, no-one will seek you out to discuss how you can get back on track. Failing a subject and having to repeat it the next year is a very real thing for university students.
For a lot of people this sudden change can be a very alienating experience. This level of freedom and autonomy is very unusual in life, and it can be very unsettling.
3. There is a host of available services to make University bearable.
The good news is, universities are very aware of this, and a lot of resources are expended to make sure that overall, the university experience is rewarding and not unmanageable. Every university has a free and diverse support system, offering counselling (usually free to students), disability support, welfare support, careers counselling and more. Most university websites have a section on their website for these services, which if it isn’t in a header in the ‘current students’ section of the website, can be easily accessed by typing ‘counselling’ or something similar into the search bar/Google.
These support services exist because universities believe every student should be able to progress through their degree on the strength of their merit and hard work. That means, if you would otherwise be succeeding were it not for stress, anxiety, disability or other difficult circumstances, universities are committed to helping where they can to prevent those circumstances affecting your ability to learn and achieve your goals. You do have to access them yourself, however, to gain their full benefits.
4. University is what you make of it
There is so much breadth to what you can do at university, the real take-home message has to be that uni is what you make it to be. I thought to finish, I would encourage you to think about your values when it comes to uni. Some final things to consider:
What are your interests? Chances are there is a student social group for that interest!
How do you see university, is it a stepping stone to a career, a chance to further discover yourself and your interests, or something else entirely?
What aspects of your character/personality would you like to see develop? Where do you think you should be challenged in your life?
What kind of person would you like to see yourself being as you walk through the gates?
Adam Wright is a registered psychologist at the Resilience Centre