Leaving school and going to university or college can feel like a big leap; you’ll be expected to be more independent, juggle deadlines and do lots of self-directed study.
Let’s explore the main differences between school and university or college, so you feel prepared for the changes when you start.

Motivation and self-study

You’ll soon find that studying at university or college has a very different feel to school. Whereas at school, your lessons are driven by your teacher and very focused around exams, at university you have more time for self-study, being able to select your own topics for a lot of assessments and essays.

You’ll need to be a lot more motivated as you have less contact time than you would at school, with a few lectures and seminars a week, interspersed with hours of self-study time where you'll be reading course material and working on assignments, essays, and coursework.

Type of study

Rather than a full day of lessons with determined breaks, led by teachers, you’ll be attending lectures and seminars, both of which form your modules. Lectures are often in large rooms or lecture hall spaces, where a lecturer or academic will lead a session related to your module.

This will be followed up with seminars, with smaller group sizes where you will often be expected to prepare work and be actively involved in discussions. For some subjects there will also be lab time, experiments or fieldwork.

Focus on your passion

Hate doing maths? Wish you didn’t have to attend PE? Well, the great thing about university or college is that you get to pick what you study, and even better what you specialise in, so you can follow you passion. This is very different to school where you’ll have lots of different subjects going on at once; at uni or college you’ll be studying one course, but can take additional modules to specialise or learn things from other areas. 

Independence and the unknown

A big difference between school and uni or college is the element of independence, especially if you move away from home. Not only will you be organising your own learning and schedule, but on top of that you need to keep yourself alive!

Make sure you’re up to speed with some easy recipes, know how to do laundry, and can keep your room clean with the right products (be very careful where you use bleach – trust us). You’ll be meeting new people and making friends, and you can learn a lot from these new people in your life, from recipes to study skills.

Level of study

University or college will often feel like a big step up in terms of the difficulty level of what you’ll be studying. See yourself as a beginner, wanting to become an expert. Yes, it can be tough at times, but you’re in control of what and how much you want to learn, and your lecturers and tutors are always on hand if you need help understanding a tricky concept or want to know if you’re on the right lines for your latest essay.

Grading system

Another big difference between school and university or college is the way you’re graded; you won’t get an A or a C any more, or a pass or distinction, for instance. At uni, you’ll get a percentage grade, which equates to a first, 2:1, 2:2 or a third:

  • First Class Honours (1st) – this is the highest grade you can obtain and you will receive this if you achieve 70% or above in your assignments.
  • Second Class Honours: upper division (2:1) – following a first, this is the second highest grade you can attain and you will receive this if you achieve 60–69% in your assignments.
  • Second Class Honours: lower division (2:2) – if you receive 50-59% in your assignments, you’ll be graded a 2:2.
  • Third Class Honours – you’ll receive this classification if you’re graded 40–49% in your assignments.

Type of assessment

You’ll be used to doing exams and coursework during your time at school, but at uni the types of assessment can really vary depending on the course you take. You might end up doing a course where there are no exams, or 50% of your grade is from a practical assessment in a lab. This is always available in the course pages on your uni website, so it’s important to check this to make sure the assessment methods suit you. There’s also support available at universities and colleges if you need help, for instance extra time in exams.


Your school may have had a good library and a few Bunsen burners knocking around, but at university or college the facilities are next level. Often cutting-edge and the latest technology, everything from the computer labs to the library and practice nursing wards or film studios are there to help you excel in your studies, so make the most of them.