Transitioning from A Levels to university

The transition from secondary school to university is not easy. There are so many new, exciting, and sometimes terrifying things for you to figure out and get used to. We’re here to help you understand some of the challenges that may arise, whether you are a soon to be university student or a parent of one and learn how to handle them.


There have been several articles this past year highlighting how many students aren’t sufficiently prepared to enter university level education. The main issue seems to point towards expectations. Many students don’t have realistic expectations which is causing a few issues to arise. The BBC article, New students ‘unprepared for university’, discusses how one of the main culprits for this is that students are ill-informed about what to expect. “About half a million new students begin university courses in the UK each year – and an annual Hepi study published earlier this year suggested that only about a third thought they were getting good value for money. The latest study, based on a sample of more than 2,000 young people, suggests this could be because expectations of university life are unlikely to be matched by the reality”. Basically, when expectations are not met, students are not as happy with their experience, and don’t start their degree with the right approach. Many students expect to get more classroom hours than they had for their A-Levels or equivalent, but the reverse is true. In addition, another challenge of higher education is when students must learn how to be self-motivated and push their own studies forward. Learning how to write proper essays and do research is a fundamental component of higher education, which is why teaching is only one element of the degree.


Not enough students understand that there is a different teaching and learning model at university and that the social transition may actually be easier than expected. “Students who are used to a curriculum driven almost entirely by an assessment model struggle when there is no formula for passing an exam and they are expected to have more agency in their learning”, says Mary Cook, independent educationalist and former chief executive of UCAS in the Schools Week article How can we better prepare students for university?. Therefore, before students set foot on their university campus, they must set the appropriate expectations and prepare themselves as best they can. How to prepare is what this blog will be focusing on.


As we can see, there are a number of issues here. In order to make sure you, or your child is fully ready, we have laid out the four main issues that may arise and ways to resolve or lessen the challenges. The four areas we will look at are: psychological transition, daily care, financial transition and academic transition.


Psychological transition
The main way for a soon to be university student to feel psychologically ready is to simply remember that the expectations may not match reality, but that it’s ok and you will get through it. This includes feeling homesick, feeling overwhelmed, not feeling academically prepared, and generally getting used to being an “adult”. This is particularly true for students who choose to live away from home. There are a few things you can do to help yourself (or your child) feel less nervous. For example, to minimise stress don’t try to get a part-time job right away. To lessen the feeling of being homesick, set a date when you know you can go back home for a weekend or for the next holiday. This will make the departure feel less final. Also, reading up on student life, courses and the new area you will be in will help you mentally prepare and help you know what to expect. In essence, know that you will face some challenges, do what you can to prepare, but also realise that some things will take time to get used to.


Daily care
This is pretty straightforward advice, but nonetheless worth mentioning. Getting a hang of all the daily responsibilities you will face once you are living on your own is a must. Ideally this is something you will learn over the years leading up to university. But if not, then starting to learn how to the year or summer before you head off is a good idea. The main things you should know is how to: cook and food shop, do laundry, clean a flat, organise your time (i.e. homework, bedtime, exercise etc.), take care of bills (i.e. phone bill, gym membership, water and electricity bills etc.), go to the doctor’s when you aren’t feeling well (and take appropriate medication) and how to use the public transport in your new area. These are some of the main things you must know, but more things may come up depending on your personal situation.


Financial transition
Another important point to consider is personal finance. Living away from home means that financial decisions (such as food, supplies and activities) will now have to be made by you. Budgeting and learning how to wisely spend money should be familiar, but there are additional things to consider once you’re living away from home.


Personal finance may sound scary, especially if you have a limited understanding. It’s difficult to know where to start, which will add to the anxiety. A solid knowledge of personal finance should be a fundamental skill taught in school. But it’s not. Which means it’s up to each one of us to self-study.


The main thing many students will have to look into is how to deal with student loan or funding, and make sure all the details are sorted. UCAS lists the main things you must check before you can get paid, which include that:
– you’ve submitted your application and all the correct supporting evidence
– your bank details are correct on your application – check your online account
– you’ve signed and returned your declaration form
– you’ve registered at your course provider
– your course provider has confirmed your attendance to SLC
– you’ve allowed a few working days for the funds to be paid into your bank account
For more information about personal finance we’ve written a blog focusing on ways to help you gain the basic financial knowledge you should know as a young adult. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a specialised background in finance to become an expert at managing your finances and lowering your stress. If you go through the steps laid out in the blog, you will set yourself up for a secure and prosperous time at university, no matter what financial or academic background you come from!


Academic transition
Last, but certainly not least, is you must know how to deal with the academic challenges that will arise during your first year. Although your secondary schooling should have helped you develop the essential academic skills you will need at university, nothing can prepare you fully. University expectations are not the same as the ones during your A Levels. Especially when it comes to writing essays and dissertations. Many of your professors will expect you to “just know” how to write an academic essay. However, there are many additional aspects to higher education writing that may not have been fully or properly covered during your school years. Before your first assignment is due, don’t hesitate to ask for some guidance from either a third-year student, your lecturer, supervisor, teaching assistant or tutor. It’s important to not be afraid to ask for help. You will face some challenges, but your university should be full of people able and willing to help.


Also, as the Guardian article How to prepare for university: dos and don’ts suggests: “Don’t expect to excel at every aspect of your course. “That can lead to burnout,” says Dr Hinnah Rafique, a lecturer in public policy at Oxford University. “You don’t have to be good at everything. You’ll have strengths in different areas and eventually find one or two aspects you do better at – this is normal.””


We’ve also found that students often come to us for academic support after they’re already a year or two into their studies and have had average grades for a while. They’re often in a panic and eager to improve their results in a relatively short amount of time. That’s why we highly recommend you get matched with one of our expert tutors during your first year of university in order to make sure your foundations are strong. Once you have strong academic foundations (especially in essay writing), you will be able to avoid feeling overwhelmed as your degree progresses, and therefore guarantee top results.


Here are some helpful blogs we’ve written that may be of use to you as a first-year university student:


6 Skills to write an Outstanding Essay
4 quick and simple ways to feel zen when essay and exam deadlines are looming.
6 Easy Steps to Guarantee Top Grades!
Dos and Don’ts of Exam Revision


If you need some academic support, have any questions regarding your education or want to start a tutoring programme contact us at 02030867311 or