So you made it to university or college, survived freshman week, got drunk, had your first experience of what a student hangover feels like, and got drunk again. You have a lot of new friends and you’ve got your bearings on campus. You also learned how to cook, everything in life is rosy and then you wake up!
It’s Monday, it’s very early and your head hurts and your brain vaguely remembers that you must be somewhere on campus but where. Then you realize you’re at university or college and your classes start in 15 minutes! Run!
This final part of the ultimate guide for college and university freshers aims to answer the question “What happens when work really starts?”
Most universities and colleges will be very welcoming and try to ease you through the work process with delicacy. You will probably have a week without classes at the start, enjoying the whole “Freshers” experience, but then the work will start.
The structure of most degree programs consists of a schedule of lectures, seminars and tutorials.
Classes are normally large group lessons taught by 1 or more lecturers in specially designed classrooms if you’re lucky, or large, cold classrooms if you’re not so lucky. The process will vary depending on the university or college, the course, and the instructor, but a college or university lecture is generally a time for the student to sit down, listen, and take notes. Falling asleep is optional but should not be advised. The main advice is that lessons are the only time someone will teach you, after which you will be on your own; so don’t waste your lessons catching up with your eyes closed! It’s also better not to have a hangover, but that’s not always realistic.
A word on note-taking. Take note! It really is that simple, forget any thoughts about not wanting to sound too sharp, rely on memory, or dent someone else’s notes later. Everyone is excited at first, you won’t remember when it comes to reviewing and nobody will like you if you always steal his notes! The biggest regret of all students is at the end of each grade, when they frantically resume, was that they didn’t take enough notes during their lectures and it probably cost them a grade!
As a full-time student you will likely have a minimum of 8 hours of tuition per week on some courses, it can go up to 30 and on others you may never have more. The remainder of your formal education is taken up with seminars and tutorials.
Workshops are normally large group events with a workshop leader, likely one of your faculty, where you are encouraged to take an active part in debates about what you have learned in class. Workshops are often right after the class and give you a chance to ask questions and respond to the class you’ve just been in. Prepare to speak during seminars. You may feel nervous about speaking up in front of a group of other new students, but if you don’t speak up, who will. Seminars only work if everyone participates, the seminar leader will encourage this as much as possible. Also, if you don’t speak up, your seminar could be hijacked by loudmouths who think they know everything and that’s normally not how these people should be discouraged from taking on a seminar group! Expect to have a minimum of 4 hours per week in seminars.
Tutorials are small group sessions with a teacher or tutor. They are an excellent opportunity to discuss the issues that emerged during the week as well as to get to know a group of students and a teacher very well. The tutorials can be a lot of fun and there can be a great feeling of camaraderie. Some universities and colleges will have a different system with tutorials being one-on-one sessions with a tutor or lecturer. These sessions may be most beneficial for shy students, who may be intimidated by speaking in groups, but I find the “team spirit” of a tutorial group to be much more beneficial to a student’s development. Tutorials are also a great time to bring up any personal issues that are bugging you; you can discuss this in the group or make an appointment to speak to your tutor who will normally be happy to help. Expect a minimum of one hour of tutorials each week.
Research. The rest of your time in college you’ll spend researching for projects, course essays and tutorials, and finally, the dreaded dissertation! You should spend most of your time researching it yourself, although guidance on how to do it will be provided. You will have at your disposal all the resources of the university or college including: free Internet, online databases, CD databases, periodicals, journals and research projects. You will also have a library and computer rooms that will become your second homes! You will be given guidance on how best to use all of the resources above, but then that is up to you.
The biggest difference between school and college or university is the need to work alone. You must expect to do 2 hours of research for every minimum 1 hour of formal lessons! In some courses this ratio can be much higher, while in others such as engineering it can be much lower.
Your department will be able to give you a lot more information once you start university or college. They will tell you what is expected of you and how to achieve it. But as a guideline you should “work” 35 hours a week on most academic courses. That may sound like a lot, but it can be spread out over the entire 7 days, and at most universities, facilities will be open 24 hours so you can work at your leisure. If you like working at 2am better than 2pm, you probably can!
Whatever course you are starting this September, try to start how you intend to continue. With a dose of common sense, hard work, and all the talent that got you through college or college in the first place, you’ll be just fine.