Whether you have come from school or college, are studying in the UK for the first time, or are returning to studies after some time out, it is likely that you will find university different to what you have experienced before.
Take some time to think about the differences you might see, and consider how you will handle these.
University level study expects you to be independent and take ownership of your studies. You will take what you have learnt and apply your own perspectives, thought and research to create original work.
What our students say...
- "University is all about being independent."
- "The lecturers set you in the right direction and show you where to go, but it’s up to you to go and do the research."
- "You’re given a broad outline of what’s required and it’s up to you to bring to it your own personal perspective and make the question your own and the research your own."
- "You have to have the dedication to do it yourself."
The majority of students will be going through some transition as they are starting a university course. Many may be living away from home for the first time, which is likely to be the focus, however there are many other aspects that should also be considered.
Getting to know your surroundings and your peers
Becoming familiar with your physical environment and those around you is important and will help you to feel settled at university.
Use your first few weeks to get to know the University campus, where your classes will be held and try to make contact with some peers on your course. Knowing where you should be and being familiar with others on your course will help you to focus on your studies.
Students at university level have less face to face time with their lecturers or tutors. Typically arts subjects have less contact time than science or engineering subjects, but all students will find themselves with some independent study time.
While this may be a relief to some students, others will find it quite unsettling to have reduced structure. To be successful, students should aim to use this time for preparation for future classes, review of lectures or tutorials, preparation for assignments or simply reading around their subject.
Your school or department induction session should outline how they expect you should work within your own discipline. Check when your induction session is on the Welcome Timetable. The Academic Skills Centre also runs study skills sessions.
The teaching style at university might be quite different to what you have experienced at school or college. There are many areas where there will be no 'correct' answer and you will be encouraged to form your own thoughts and opinions on the topic and debate your ideas and possible solutions with your peers. University study is often made up of a number of different teaching styles.
Methods of teaching
University courses are taught in different ways and different elements will be delivered in the most appropriate way. How your course is delivered will depend on its content, the number of students involved and how it is assessed.
Almost all new students (at least on taught programmes) will attend lectures. Lectures often take the form of a presentation by a lecturer (an academic member of staff) on a particular topic. Students sit in the audience, listen and take notes. Lectures are a method of delivering information to a large group of students, although sizes will vary.
In some lectures students are not expected to interact with the lecturer, but there is often an opportunity to ask questions at the end. Others may involve short activities or discussions with other students.
Our learning management system, Canvas provides you with much of the information you will need for your course. This means you can access your lecturer's slides and any background information ahead of the lecture to help you prepare and check back after the lecture if you think you missed something. It is also the main method for submitting coursework.
Tutorials or seminars are again led by an academic member of staff (the tutor) and can involve a presentation, but they involve a smaller group of students and are more informal. There is usually an opportunity to discuss the topic within the group and there may be some other activities to help you understand the subject within a different context.
Laboratory (or practical) sessions
Many science or engineering courses will involve a practical or laboratory aspect. These allow you to practice techniques necessary to your field and understand the material from your lectures in a more true to life environment.
How the practical session is run will depend on your department and the number of students involved. You may work in groups, pairs or individually. It is likely that you are marked on your work and this will contribute to part of your overall mark.
Expectations for yourself
To make a success of your university experience, there are a number of skills required. Being aware of your current abilities in these areas will help you excel in independent learning.
Time management is critical for university students. University can and should be a busy time. You don't want to miss out on all the exciting happenings. By managing your time effectively you should be able to get your work done in the necessary time to allow you to get involved in the other things you want to do.
Communication is key to many things. This is also true at university.
Communication with your tutors or lecturers
You may be used to having quite a formal and structured relationship with your teachers, however at university this is likely to be much more informal. If you need something from your tutor, you will need to approach them yourself and communicate effectively what it is you need.
Communication is particularly important if you are having issues with any aspect of your course. Your tutors will expect you to tell them if this is the case in good time, so that they can try to help you. Most academic staff have office hours and a method of arranging an appointment.
Communication with your peers
Of course it's good for you to make friends on your course - it will make the experience much more enjoyable, however it is also important for your success. Students who are well connected are more likely to know what's happening (within your department, College, the wider University and the city) and can chat through any aspect of the course they are finding challenging.
Communication with the wider University
There's a lot going on at the University. Make sure you sign up for any relevant newsletters and events that might be of interest to you.
If you have any difficulties, it might be that you should talk to someone in the wider University. The earlier you start a discussion about a potential problem, the more likely you are to be able to resolve it.
University is a great opportunity to get to know lots of people. You may find your peers are from lots of different backgrounds, are different ages and have different perspectives. Getting to know a variety of your peers and learning from them will help you to build up a good network and possibly stand you in good stead for your future career.
Start off well by getting involved in Welcome activities. Create you Welcome Timetable online.
We have lots of useful information for international students about the University and living in Birmingham in our International Student Guide.