How Uni or College is different to High School - Career HQ
If you're starting Uni, TAFE or another college straight out of high school, it can be a bit tricky to adapt to the differences of a tertiary learning environment. Here are some tips to help you adjust to Uni, TAFE or College after High School.
tips to help you adjusting to Uni or TAFE, life after high school, tertiary study, university life
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How Uni or College is different to High School

If you’re starting Uni, TAFE or another college straight out of high school, it can be a bit tricky to adapt to the differences of a tertiary learning environment. And this might be even more so if you’ve only ever been to a couple of schools, and had a similar group of friends and teachers for some time. So here are some pointers on the main ways that Uni or college can be different to high school, so that you know what to expect!


 Where did all these people come from?

At high school, you will have been used to small class sizes with mostly the same group of students and face-to-face teaching. But when you turn up for your first lecture at Uni or college , you might find there are as many as 150 or 200 people, all jostling for the best seat and trying to work out if they are in the right place! Especially in first year, lecture class sizes can be very large.

How do I learn outside of lectures?

Uni or college learning usually happens across a variety of formats – including lectures, tutorials, workshops, lab work and online learning. What you take away from lectures will be usually be discussed and expanded on in tutorials, which, thankfully, are typically groups of about 25 students. Between lectures and tutorials or workshops you will usually have to do additional reading and/or research.

How will anyone know who I am?

At school, personal interaction means that teachers and students usually know each other quite well. Once you get to Uni or college, you may not be doing the same courses as people you already know. But everyone else is in the same boat – so you will find people happy and willing to make friends, especially for study groups. Studying with other people is always more enjoyable and enriching than working it all out by yourself.

With large lecture sizes and student numbers, you can’t assume that lecturers will get to know your name. You will need to initiate contact for consultations, and this can be a valuable way of getting to know your teachers and tutors, and better understanding their expectations. Help is always there but you will need to go and get it.

Where is the timetable?

That fixed high school timetable has now disappeared – in its place, you need to set and manage your own schedule. You will have to choose your lectures and classes – sometimes there will be multiple time options – and make sure you avoid subject clashes.

On the up side, this usually means you can manage your contact hours so that you have blocks of classes, and blocks of ‘free’ time. In this free time, you will have study and assignments to do, but it also means you can manage your schedule around some part-time work if you want to.

tips for university

You need to be self-motivated

With all that ‘free’ space in your schedule,  a key difference about Uni or college is that you need to be self-motivated. Even though your contact hours may appear low, you will also need to study. A good rule of thumb is 3:1 – ie. 3 study hours for each contact hour.

No-one checks your attendance at lectures, although attendance at tutorials or for lab work may be an assessable component of some courses. Good attendance is also usually a fairly good predictor of success! You are your ‘own boss’ now. You determine what you do, and when, which in turn contributes to your study and other  activity achievements.

Independent learning

Course content during high school usually reflects a structured curriculum, and teachers tell you the information and ideas that are important for you to know. Once you get to Uni or college, learning is more open ended. Rather than knowing a specific curriculum or set of facts, you are encouraged to think more for yourself and form your own opinions and ideas.

It’s often said that success at Uni or college requires you to develop critical thinking skills. This means using reflective, reasonable, rational thinking to gather, interpret, analyse and evaluate information and data in order to arrive at your own judgement. This is why you are expected to do significant amounts of reading that are relevant for assessment purposes, but are not always discussed in class.


Assessments at Uni or college can vary from short to long assignments, lab assessments, online assessments and formal exams, including open book and take home exams. Grading types and scales may vary between courses and subjects. Assessment schedules may be given out at the beginning of semesters / terms, and it’s a good idea to diarise them and complete your assessments on time.

Physical Environment

Another big difference to high school for most people is the physical environment where you will be studying. Campuses are usually much bigger, and require more time to get from one class to another. Some classes may be split across different campus locations.

On-campus facilities may include residential colleges, as well as sporting facilities, social clubs, and various recreational and eating facilities. It takes some time to know all of what’s available and where. When you do, you will realise that there are many ways to get involved in Uni or college life… and it’s fun to do so!  – many of which may be useful to put on your CV once you graduate and are looking for a job.

So there are some significant differences between high school and Uni or college life, but there’s also a lot of scope to enjoy yourself once you have made the transition. We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for university and TAFE.