Differences between university and school – OurWarwick

Differences between university and school

One of the hardest things to get used to as a fresher has to be settling in for the first time. As there are a lot of major differences between university life and the school life you’ve grown accustomed to your whole life. But in what way do they differ the most?


You’re an adult now!

Yep. Feels a bit strange doesn’t it?

This is the reason why university can feel more tiring at times compared to school, as you’re having to juggle cooking, cleaning, budgeting, organising yourself and managing your social life all alongside your studies! Gaining that sense of personal freedom is one of the most enriching parts of student life, but can be the scariest thing to anticipate. Particularly before starting uni due to that big fuzzy cloud of uncertainty surrounding it. But it is normal to feel that way, I was terrified before starting my first year. All I would say is take things gradually and don’t give yourself a hard time if you make a mistake, because making them is the whole point! Examples that spring to my mind include the time when I burnt my first ever cottage pie (the top was completely black) and had to deal with completely water-logged washing. So embrace the fact that you will make errors, because they will only help you in the long run.

One misconception about adulthood is that you’ll be expected to a) know the answers to what to do or b) know where you’re heading. This certainty isn’t true! Everyone can use their previous experiences and ask for advice in order to make the best educated guesses, but no-one will know exactly what they’re doing or where they’re going. This may sound like a worrying concept but isn’t anything to fear, each experience you have will only make you a little bit wiser than before!

Social scene

Whereas cliques and remaining humble to them is more common at school, you’ll find that your friends and immediate circles at uni will come from many different backgrounds and walks of life, with each person having their own traits and interests. You might have heard the cheesy saying that “uni is where you find your identity”, which is true with some respect. You’ll be mixing with various different groups – whether that’s through your course, accommodation, societies or events you attend – so you’re both more likely to stay true to your own self-identity and have it be influenced by others. From this exposure, you’ll often find returning home at the end of term a bit of a culture shock!

Since everyone is essentially an adult starting university, school drama isn’t likely to remain a nuisance. The vast majority will have worked their socks off to get here so you’ll find the environment will be much more mature, with most people’s main goals being simply to fit in and have fun. Some level of competitiveness may remain, particularly when everyone is first starting out, but this usually subsides over time, since there is so much more than just earning good grades!

Change in learning style

Do you remember how much of a jump up A-Levels or your equivalent qualifications were? Similarly doing a degree doesn’t just mean harder concepts to learn, but the change in style is also new too.

Whereas an exam-board and teachers controlled the majority of your learning at school, university requires you to be more resourceful and make the most of what your department and the wider university services have to offer. Unlike conventional lessons, core concepts are introduced and explored in lectures, but it’s then your responsibility to go away and consolidate these ideas through independent study. Study isn’t just limited to cooping yourself around your computer or books though, you can put ideas into practice, experiment with them, cooperate with friends or do whatever works best for you. Essentially you’re now in control of your own learning!

However as discussed in previous blogs, this doesn’t mean you’re required to go away and come back with all the answers. Everyone will find many things they’ll struggle to grasp, but your department will encourage you to approach them wherever you need help or guidance.


To wrap up, while preparing for your next life step may be exciting, it can equally be just as daunting or anxiety-building. So please let me reassure you that if you’re worried, everything WILL work out just fine in the end. You will make friends and you will have fun, just don’t expect too much or too highly of yourself straightaway! Settling in does take time but it will be totally worth it after months or a year’s time.

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