The Ultimate University and College Freshers Guide Part 3 – What Happens When the Work Really Starts

Lisa R. Parker

So you’ve arrived at university or college, you’ve survived freshers week, you’ve got drunk, you’ve had the first experience of what a student hangover feels like and you’ve got drunk again. You have loads of new friends and have found your way around campus. You’ve even worked out how to cook, everything in life is rosy and then you wake up!
Its Monday, its very early and your head hurts and your brain vaguely remembers that you have to be somewhere on campus but where Then it dawns on you are at university or college and your lectures start in 15 minutes! Run!

This final part of the ultimate university and college freshers guide aims to answer the question “What happens when the work really starts?”
Most universities and colleges will be very welcoming and try to ease you into the process of work gently. You will probably have a week without lectures to begin with, while you enjoy the whole “Freshers” experience but then the work will start.

The structure of most degree courses consists of a programme of lectures, seminars and tutorials.

Lectures are normally large group classes taught by 1 or more lecturers in specially designed lecture halls if you are lucky or large cold classrooms if you are not so lucky. The process will vary according to the university or college, the course and the lecturer but a university or college lecture is generally a time for the student to sit back, listen and take notes. Falling asleep is optional but not to be advised. The main piece of advice is lectures are the one time when somebody will be teaching you, after that you are on your own; so don’t waste your lectures catching up on shuteye! Its also best not to have a hangover but that isn’t always realistic.
A word on note taking. Take notes! It really is as simple as that, forget any ideas about not wanting to look too keen, relying on memory or nicking somebody else’s notes later on. Everybody is keen at first, you wont remember when it comes to revising and nobody will like you if you are always stealing his or her notes! The biggest regret off all students is at the end of each year, when revising frantically, was that they hadn’t taken enough notes in their lectures and it probably cost them a grade!
As a full time student you will probably have a minimum of 8 hours a week in lectures in some courses it can be as much as 30 and in others you may never have more. The remainder of your formal education is taken up by seminars and tutorials.

Seminars are normally large group events with a seminar leader probably one of your lecturers in which you are encouraged to take an active part in debates on what you have learnt in the lecture. Seminars are often immediately after the lecture and give you a chance to ask questions about and respond to the class you have just been in. Be prepared to speak up in seminars. You may feel nervous about expressing yourself in front of a group of other new students but if you don’t speak up then who will. Seminars only work if everybody participates, the seminar leader will encourage this as much as is possible. Also, if you don’t speak up, the seminar may become hijacked by loudmouths who think they know everything and normally don’t these people should be discouraged from taking over a seminar group! Expect to have a minimum of 4 hours a week in seminars.
Tutorials are small group sessions with a lecturer or tutor. They are a great chance to discuss issues that have arisen during the week as well as being a chance of getting to know a group of students and a lecturer very well. 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 can be more beneficial to shy students, who may be intimidated by speaking up in groups but I feel that the “group sprit” of a tutorial group is far more beneficial to a student development. Tutorials are also a great time to bring up any personal issues that are bothering you; you can either discuss them in the group or make an appointment to speak to your tutor who will normally be happy to help. Expect a minimum of an hour in tutorials every week.

Research. The rest of your time at university will be spent doing research for projects, course essays, and tutorials and, eventually, the dreaded dissertation! You are expected to spend the majority of your time researching on your own, although you will be given guidance on how to do this. You will have all the resources of the university or college at your disposal including: free Internet, online databases, CD databases, periodicals, newspapers and research projects. You will also have a library and computer rooms these will become your second homes! You will be given guidance about how to make the best use of all the above resources but then it is down to you.

The biggest difference between school and college or university is the need to work on your own. You have to expect to do 2 hours research for every 1 hour of formal lectures minimum! In some courses this ratio may be much higher, while in others such as engineering it may be much less.

Your department will be able to give you much more information once you begin at university or college. They will tell you what is expected of you and how to achieve it. But as a guideline you are expected to be “working” for 35 hours per week on most academic courses. This may seem a lot but it can be spread over all 7 days and, at most universities, facilities will be open 24 hours a day so you can work to suit yourself. If you like working at 2am better than 2pm then you probably can!

Whatever course you are starting this September try to start as you mean to go on. With a measure of common sense, hard work and all the talent that got you to university or college in the first place you will be fine.

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