It’s hard to get a clear picture of what university is like until you actually experience it for yourself — and when it comes to uni, expectations and reality are rarely the same. If you’re picturing sororities and fraternities, or you expect uni to be no different from high school, read on as we list a few things you should know about uni life.
It requires plenty of independent study
For some courses, a full-time study load consists of only 10 to 12 contact hours a week. With so little time spent in classes, it’s easy to underestimate the level of commitment required. Lectures and tutorials will introduce you to new topics and content, but it’s expected that you spend time outside of class completing set readings, looking over notes and researching information for assessment tasks. Unlike in high school, no one will chase you up if you miss a class or fail to submit an assignment. You’ll likely have minimal contact with lecturers and tutors, as most have other commitments and responsibilities outside of teaching (some may even be studying themselves). Most will be happy to answer questions, reply to emails and organise a time for a meeting, but unless you seek out their help you will generally only see them for an hour or so each week.
It’s not like the movies
Australian universities are very different from the American colleges we see in movies. While some students may be expecting frat parties and a thriving campus social life, in Australia this is generally only the case for the small proportion of students who live on campus. It’s not uncommon for students to travel an hour or more to get to class each day and most tend to head straight home after classes finish. Instead of whole-campus events, social opportunities are often organised through a particular course or faculty — although there are usually a few events open to all students (generally organised by the student union). If your course is lacking in social events, why not volunteer to organise some yourself? Alternatively, you may consider joining a club or society, signing up for a sports team or volunteering to help out on campus.
First year can be frustrating
While some courses may launch straight into practical learning and specialised topics, for many fields first year is made up of introductory courses and general core content. There may be some overlap with what you learnt in high school and some introductory units can seem slow and basic. If you’re in a course with practical placements (such as medicine or teaching) these tend to start in later years. First-year subjects can be frustrating and boring, and it’s easy to lose sight of why you chose the course in the first place. Just remember that these classes are designed to ease you into university study and provide you with the skills and knowledge you’ll need for further years — where you’ll get the chance to explore more specific areas of interest and apply your skills in practical situations.
A lot of the learning happens outside of the classroom
As you near graduation, you’ll start to recognise how important practical experience is for finding a job. The range of practical experience you gain as part of your course will differ depending on your field of study and institution — some courses include work-integrated learning components, while others will leave it up to you to gain experience outside of class. If you’re studying a course that leads to a certain profession (accounting, architecture or dentistry, for example), practical experience is mandatory, and you’ll need to complete a certain number of hours in order to gain professional accreditation. For students in other courses, an internship or work placement offers the opportunity to expand on the skills you learn in class and network in your desired industry, giving you an edge in the competitive job market.