How does University work?
What do you do once you know you’re going to Uni and where you’ll be for the next 3+ years?
If you’re anything like me, you start trying to work out what you need to do before you get there. And will also be wondering what Uni will actually be like.
Everybody’s University experience is different, so reading blogs and watching vlogs can only prepare you so much. Something I would have found quite useful in the run up to starting Uni is the answer to the question: How does University actually work?
So what better thing could I be doing right now than attempting to answer that question?
The first thing to understand is that every department works slightly differently so, whilst I will try to keep this as general as possible, there may be some points that are specific to the Computer Science department (or that are done differently by whichever department you are joining).
How is your degree split up?
Basically, your degree is split into however many years it runs for (usually 3 or 4) which each have different weights (how much the year counts towards your final grade).
Each year is split up into modules which are worth a certain number of CATs (typically 6-30 CATs per module). Each year you need to take 120 CATs but do have the option to “overCAT” (take up to 150 CATs).
What does a module involve?
Each module consists of teaching (lectures, seminars/labs/tutorials etc), independent study (suggested reading, problem sheets etc) and assessment (coursework and exams). From my experience, coursework typically counts for between 10 and 30% of the module, but there are some where the coursework is worth less and some where it’s worth more. Some modules in other departments may also allow you to choose your assessment type as well (lucky for some).
We have had the option to de-register from a module before we’d submitted 10% of the work. I’m not sure if this is the same across departments but it basically means that you can sign up to any modules you’re interested in, go to a few lectures/seminars and then decide if you want to continue studying that module at any point before you need to submit 10% or more of the coursework.
The department may suggest some modules taught by other departments. These are normally modules that may be of interest to many students and where the contact hours do not clash with the “home” department’s core modules. There’s also usually the option to take “unusual” options. “Unusual” options are modules taught by a different department that are not explicitly suggested by your department (you will have to get permission to take the module but this is usually fairly easy as long as you can explain why it would be beneficial for you to study that topic).
How is the teaching different to school?
The biggest difference is probably the amount of independent study you’re expected to do. Contact hours are those hours which are scheduled with taught content (mainly lectures and seminars/labs). Contact hours range from around 9-16 hours per week depending on your chosen modules and the course you take. Since it is suggested that you spend around 10 hours per CAT studying, this generally leaves somewhere between 24-31 hours per week that you’re expected to spend studying independently.
This is not something to panic about. Whilst the amount of structured learning is reduced, it gives you the opportunity to explore the parts of subjects that you’re particularly interested in – as well as having the time to focus on the bits you’re struggling to grasp without a teacher trying to move the class along. Also, view the 10 hours per CAT as a guideline rather than a goal – if you understand a topic really well, there’s no point studying it more just to say you spent the “correct” amount of time studying it. And the 40 hours per week does not include any study time during the holidays, so there’s lots of time to play with.
If you are struggling with a particular topic or concept, the vast majority of academics will be more than happy to meet you to discuss those problem areas. Each academic has a different preference for how they prefer to organise this, but at a minimum, most should have office hours during which you can pop in and ask any questions you have. I strongly encourage you to ask questions (it is their job to help you after all)!
What are assessments like?
The assessments are set by each module organisor so can differ from each other quite substantially. You’re generally left to work on them in your own time, although some modules may assess labs or provide labs for you to ask questions about the coursework.
The grade boundaries may vary but generally 40%+ is a pass and around 70% is a 1st (highest grade possible). But please do check with your relevant department and be aware that these could change between years.
Non-examination assessments are usually submitted via Tabula which is an online service for managing coursework, timetables and to see our grades. This can be great as it means that we can submit our work from anywhere but sometimes internet problems do arise.
I hope this has been helpful and given you a stronger idea of what to expect coming to Uni. I’m always happy to answer any questions you may have so feel free to leave a comment, or contact me using the messaging feature!