Step up from A levels to university
Growing up, I was always under the impression that if I had fewer subjects to study, I would find school easier. Therefore, it was a huge shock when I made the jump from GCSEs to A Levels: cutting the number of subjects I was studying down to over a half, but somehow doubling the workload. I think what people forget (or at least I did) is that A Levels require so much independent research and learning. The classes look at each subject much more thoroughly than at GCSE level, and therefore demand a higher level of understanding that comes from time and energy spent on personal study. Consequently, a lot of sixth forms or colleges offer students free periods or study breaks, to facilitate this independent learning.
From A Levels to university, the step up is similar in a lot of ways.
Of course you will be studying one subject now (or maybe two if you choose to do a Joint Honours degree) rather than 3 or 4 at A levels. So, naturally, you will be expected to learn a lot about this subject, focusing on different areas and domains, perhaps different time periods or even different genres – depending on the subject. Consequently, for each different class you take, you will be expected to produce regular pieces of work. Assessment methods differ between classes and also between subject areas and so it is difficult to say exactly what you will be required to do. However, I can tell you that from my experience as a French and Economics student, I tend to have one assignment per class per term that counts for 20% of the grade for that module. The rest is dependent on how I perform in the final exam, at the end of the year. However, on top of these assignments, classes will usually expect you to prepare for your seminars, which run on a weekly basis. These can take a few hours to complete, but will make a huge difference in your understanding of the class, as they tend to look deeper into topics covered in that week’s lecture and therefore are a good way to confirm that you actually understood what was being taught.
With this high workload, however, you will also benefit from more free time to actually complete the work. Contact hours also vary between courses and also become less and less as you work your way up to final year. But, on average, I would say that you can expect around 13 hours of teaching – whether it be a lecture, class or seminar. This is not a lot of time with your professors and therefore it is pertinent to make use of your free periods to go over anything you didn’t understand and then meet your class leaders in their available hours for a one-on-one class if you require additional help.
It is so easy at university to use your free time to meet up with friends and to go out partying, and you definitely should…to a certain extent. There definitely should be enough time in your schedule to fit plenty of social activities in too, but this does require prioritising work on the other days of the week to actually be productive and not just procrastinate and leave everything to the last minute. You essentially set your own schedule and therefore have the freedom to use your time as you want. But, you will soon realise that your course demands a certain number of hours each week and hence it will be up to you to decide how you manage to fit it all in.
The final comparison I would make between sixth form and university is the ability to pick your classes. This is one of the best things about being at university in my eyes: there are so many professors that specialise in a vast range of domains in your field and therefore you have the opportunity to learn about whichever ones interest you the most. Class leaders tend to allow for a trial period as well, meaning that if you don’t like the class after the first couple of weeks, you can choose to switch, ultimately enabling you to only pick the classes that you enjoy and/or that you are good at. You are much more likely to actually want to do the work if you are interested in the content covered, so it is definitely worth making use of this opportunity.
Overall, I would say that the step-up from A Level to university is large, but definitely manageable. Yes, there is a lot of work. But, assuming you pick classes that you enjoy, the work should be engaging and interesting to do. University also allows for greater independence and freedom, which I guess could be seen as both a good and bad thing, depending on whether or not you can time-manage. But, regardless of the type of person you are, the university experience will shape you into someone that can meet deadlines, work independently and prioritise tasks, as that is exactly what it trains you to do.