Further Education: Aiming higher

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Entering Higher Education

The decision to enrol on a Higher Education course in order to earn a degree is one that comes with many considerations. Whether you enter university straight out of school, or take a transition course in-between, the years leading up to university are vital in getting you prepared for the demands of higher education.

Studies show that students’ understanding of the difference between school-level learning and university-level learning is a huge contributor to their success at university, and even whether they actually complete their courses. Even if you know what to study and where, it is critical that you have clear and realistic expectations about what to expect from your course and chosen university.

So what should I be considering?

You need to do some really thorough research into what university life is going to be like. And you have to be specific. What your older siblings, for example, tell you about their university life may be worlds away from what you’re about to head into. So get yourself onto the university website and students forums and ask, ask, ask!

You need to build realistic expectations about:

Course content. No two courses are the same. Just because your friend studied Biology and loved it, it doesn’t mean that your experience will be the same. Some courses have a heavier focus on theory. In others, you’ll be expected to put into practise what you’re learning.  Different universities will structure their courses around different areas of focus, often depending on the department members’ expertise and research areas. So, if you’ve developed an interest in Child Psychology, check carefully that your intended Psychology course actually covers it!

Study skills. In short- you’re going to require a whole new set. Forget textbooks, notes, and hand-outs landing on your desk every class. Forget teachers chasing you to remind you about homework. Forget being led by the hand through essay structures. At university, you’re on your own. You’ll be expected to jump right in to lectures, taking extensive notes. You’ll be expected to manage your time, remember deadlines, and stick to them. There’s no hand-holding here! You must be realistic about this, and be prepared to dedicate yourself to some really hard work.

Life and social changes. Even if you’re not moving away from home, starting university is going to be a big change. Your routine will change and you’ll need to get to grips with organising yourself around lectures, seminars, and self-study. Just because you only have one lecture in the afternoon, doesn’t mean you can afford to laze around in the morning. You have to work out how best to utilise your time. You’ll also be meeting people from all over the world, and making friends with them. You might have to work with people who you wouldn’t normally associate with. This will be a test of your communication and interpersonal skills and requires maturity. If you are moving away from home, you need to be realistic about your finances. Chances are you won’t be able to go shopping for new clothes and gadgets every weekend! Expect to struggle sometimes and have to make sacrifices. It’s also quite normal to feel lonely in the first days of university. Don’t be scared or put-off by this. Expect it and appreciate that it will pass, and remember that universities have great counselling services, for times when you need some extra support.

What should I be looking for?
When you’re researching universities and courses, look for student satisfactions surveys and alumni (graduated students) destinations. If the university doesn’t have this information readily available, email them and request it. This will give you a true indication of how a university performs, and by looking at alumni destinations, you can see what kind of careers its students end up in.

A recipe for success.
If you want to be a successful and content student, you should aim to develop:

  • Accurate expectations  (these lead to good adjustment into university life)
  • Good time management skills and the ability to identify priorities
  • The ability to work independently
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Good communication skills (including report-writing, note-taking, reading, and listening)
  • Great social and interpersonal skills.

And finally…
Here’s an interesting point to ponder on if you have a love for a particular subject, but you’re not sure whether to pursue it…

Having an interest in the subject at the point of choosing to go into higher education (rather than deciding to apply for university and then trying to decide what to study) has been found to lead to more effective study behaviour. Effective study behaviour = success!