Making the leap: The key differences between university and school life

19 Aug 2020
By Leah J., Student at Oxford Brookes University at

The leap between finishing school and starting university can sometimes seem massive.

You might be thinking there’s so much to learn and prepare for, but when you actually start university, all these changes come naturally. And the truth is, there’s always someone to lend a helping hand. For example, Unite Students has developed a Home Charter, which lays down the foundations of how they’ll help you and how students can support each other.

But for now, I’m going to give you just three ideas on how university differs from a school environment so you can have a better understanding of these changes.

1) New places means new people

Whether you’re at college or at school, the people who you mix with are the same familiar faces you see week in and week out. At university, there are so many opportunities to meet new people. 

In fact, you’ll probably be meeting new people right up until you graduate. It’s great if you can keep in contact with your friends from school, but don’t be frightened to meet new people.

If you’re moving to a new city, your flatmates and housemates are usually the first people you get to know. Similar to school, these will be the people you see the most, but only for as long as you live under the same roof. Through my flatmates (who I’ve lived with for two years now), I’ve met even more people and quickly made friends with so many of them.

You’ll also get to know people who are taking the same course as you. The magic about this is that you’ve all chosen to study the same degree, so you’ll probably have a lot in common with each other. 

Your university’s clubs and societies can also be a great way to meet new people. Whether it’s a society that’s dedicated to watching Disney films or a club that plays hide and seek on campus, you’ll meet people with a range of interests. And remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one society. 

2) Getting used to a new weekly structure

Your weekly structure will obviously depend on what course you’re taking. What’s pretty much certain, though, is that you won’t be doing the usual six-hour day, five days a week that you did at school.

I study philosophy, which means I’m only in lectures and seminars for around eight hours a week. That’s just over one school day throughout my entire week! This type of structure allows me to spend free time how I want. Although you still have to do uni work outside of your lectures, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the social side of student life too. 

3) Focusing on one particular subject

At school, you have a limited choice of which subjects you can choose to study in addition to compulsory ones. Well, not at uni! I’m sure you’ve spent time thinking about what course would suit you most and which subject you’re most likely to enjoy, and that’s the beauty of going to university.

Whether you choose to study nursing, economics or psychology, it’s YOUR choice. Having the freedom to choose what I wanted to learn over the next three years of my life really gave me motivation and encouragement to do well.

There may be some aspects of your course you don’t enjoy. But then, no one is going to be 100% motivated all the time, and you’ll be surprised at how different your motivation is when you study something that you actually want to do, so try to make the most of it.

Starting university may seem both daunting and exciting, but you have no reason to worry. The changes you’ll experience while leaving school and starting university will happen naturally. Go with the flow and try to enjoy them. 

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I'm a third year philosophy student at Oxford Brookes University.