What to expect

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 a big 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.

Independent study

Students at university level have less face to face time with their lecturers or tutors than in school or college. 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 the loser structure unsettling. 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 many different ways. How your course is delivered will depend on its content, the number of students involved and how it is assessed. For 2020, there are also going to be more online classes than usual. Find out how best to approach online learning.


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 (or access it through a platform), listen and take notes. Lectures are a method of delivering information to a large group of students, although sizes will vary. Many lectures are now recorded for students to access at a different time to the live delivery. 

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

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, such as:  

Time management

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. It’s important to get a good balance between academic work and other activities. Managing your time well is essential for success at university. 

Here are some tips to help you get started: 

Understand yourself

Are you a morning person or night owl? Independent study is a big part of what you’ll do at university and it’s up to you when to do it. Knowing what time of day or night you learn best can help you structure your research, reading and revision.

Write things down in one place

It’s easy to lose track of what you need to do, between coursework deadlines, events, cooking, society meetings, laundry, as well as social events and some time to relax. So keep on top of it by having everything noted in one place.

Having a list of things you need to do and an idea of when you are going to do them, is half the battle. Your Student Diary is a good place to start or you can download a weekly planner from the Academic Skills Centre website.

Be realistic about time

Allocate enough time for your tasks (an afternoon to research and write a 2500 word essay? 30 minutes to write an effective application for a job? 15 minutes to do your washing when there’s a queue?) and build in time for the unexpected (e.g. printer cartridges running out or the book you need not being available for a month).

Plan and prioritise

Deadlines tend to come up all at once; create your own deadlines and enter these into your diary.

Treat university like a full time job

Structure each day with tasks and put these into your diary alongside all your “usual” activities (essay deadlines, seminars meetings). Use the timetable at the front of your diary for your weekly commitments. Tasks could include checking your student email account, research in the library, reading around your subject, writing up notes.

Plan to work to a 888 schedule

A simple way to think about your time and how to fit in your different requirements is the 888 model. This means for every day (24 hours) you should aim to have

  • 8 hours rest (sleep)
  • 8 hours work (study)
  • 8 hour activities (societies and clubs, seeing friends, eating)

Focus on your goals

There is so much going on at university, it's easy to get distracted – be clear about what you want to achieve this year and focus on what’s going to help you get there. Good grades, extra-curricular experiences, work experience?

Don’t miss out

There are so many opportunities at university from getting involved in some great student groups to work placement opportunities. Check your emails regularly and sign up for newsletters and e-alerts. 

Reward your efforts

If you’ve been working at your PC for an hour, make a cup of tea and give yourself a 10-minute break. Scheduling in breaks from your work is important, especially during times like the exam/revision period. 

Study skills

For time management skills specifically relating to your academic work, have a look at the study support page.


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. Make sure you know how to access support for students.

Networking and making contacts

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 your Welcome Timetable online.


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