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Succeeding in University: How University Differs From Secondary School

Succeeding in University Part 4: Your Past Educational Experience

It is important to understand how the university is different from secondary school and how well your own past educational experiences have prepared you for what you will find in a university. This is another way in which entering university “with your eyes wide open” will prove beneficial.

University is a unique experience for all students—whether you just graduated from secondary school or are returning to education after years of working. You are transitioning from one form of education to another. Some students have difficulty because of the differences between university and secondary school.

Generally speaking, however, the university experience is usually different from secondary school in these ways:

  • Time management is more important in university because of varying class and work schedules and other time commitments.
  • University lecturers and instructors seldom seek you out to offer extra help if you’re falling behind. You are on your own and expected to do the work, meet deadlines, and so on, without someone looking over your shoulder.
  • There may or may not be an attendance policy for classes. You are expected to be mature enough to come to class without fear of penalties.
  • Many classes are large, making it easy to feel lost in a crowd.
  • Many lecturers and instructors, especially in large classes, teach by lecture—which can be difficult for those whose secondary school teachers interacted a great deal with students.
  • University courses require more study time and require you to work on your own.
  • Your social and personal life at university may be less supervised. Younger students may experience a sudden increase in freedom to do what they want.
  • You will meet more people from more diverse backgrounds in university.
  • All of these differences, along with a change in living situation for many students, can lead to emotional changes—both positive and negative.

What does all this add up to? For some students, the sudden independence and freedom can lead in negative directions: sleeping late, skipping classes, missing deadlines, failing to study adequately for tests, and so on. Other students who are highly motivated and work hard in their classes may also have difficulty transitioning to the higher academic standards of the university. Suddenly, you’re responsible for everything. That can be thrilling but also a challenge to get used to. All the articles in this series will help you make this transition successfully.


College success. (2015). Retrieved from or download the PDF. (License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

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