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.
Bridging the gap between school and university can be a more difficult transition than many may think. We asked Über Tutors Director, Tania Khojasteh, about her thoughts on the subject as a former school teacher and university course convenor.
Are A-level students adequately prepared for university?
Tania: A-level students are not as adequately prepared as they could be. This applies especially to humanities subjects. I have taught 100s of undergraduate students in Years 1 and 2, and have seen directly how big the transition and gaps in preparation really are. This is why I often empathise with undergraduate students who feel completely overwhelmed when asked to write a 3 to 5,000-word for the first time. They are really not prepared for the academic expectations and standards of university.
Do students encounter academic writing before university?
Tania: Many of them have never come across scholarly writing. This is why they feel so overwhelmed by the many articles and texts they have to read for each course every week. Many of the A-level students we tutor also tell me that the longest essay they ever wrote was 1,000 words and they were allowed to use Wikipedia and/or their school textbook. So, many of them are encountering the words ‘thesis’, ‘analysis’ and ‘critical thinking’ for the first time. It is clearly a problem that they are not prepared for this during their A-levels.
I often give the following analogy: In college or school, students are trained to be car mechanics. They then suddenly find themselves thrown into undergraduate degrees where they are expected to be aerospace engineers. This is one reason why we set up Über Tutors because we wanted to cater to university level needs and close the gap between A-levels and university. We want to remedy this issue by teaching academic essay writing skills in a one-on-one setting. This way we can give students the individual attention that often lacks in the classroom and fill any gaps.
What are the main difficulties students face?
Tania: The main difficulties are writing an academic essay or research paper. Many don’t know how to formulate an academic thesis after reading scholarly material. They don’t know how to read and understand the abstract and complex language of academic writing or identify the argument. Students tell me they were taught in school that you need an introduction, essay body and conclusion. However, when I ask them to elaborate, they rarely know what this looks like in practice.
What are the most common knowledge gaps in essay-writing?
Tania: I see many students in their 2nd or 3rd year of university who still don’t know how to structure a paragraph, let alone an entire essay. They’ve just haphazardly gotten by and received fluctuating grades. They don’t know why they don’t improve or what academic markers look for. The consequences of this huge learning gap are stress, anxiety and fear of low grades, which is reflected for life in their CVs unfortunately.
How can the current education system be improved?
Tania: The system can be improved in many ways and it’s easier than we think. We have to start teaching GCSE and A-level students what academic reading and writing really looks like as well as the enormous value of peer-referenced work. Additionally, we have to help them understand academic theories and how to analyse them. Most school text books are really inefficient in teaching these skills as they spoon feed or simplify information. We also have to teach independent study skills as students will really need these at university.
Universities also have their role to play. They must recognise this huge learning gap and do some concrete work to close it. They could, for example, offer workshops on essay writing skills. The current system of meeting your tutor every now and then is not enough when the standards are so high and gaps so wide. Of course, until schools and universities recognise this on a wider scale, students can also resolve their issues by themselves. With our university level tutoring and mentoring, for example, students don’t have to wait until it’s too late.
Do you have other ideas to close this leaning gap?
Tania: We look forward to schools and universities working with quality expert services like us to remedy the gap in academic skills. This would ensure that students at college and university are gaining valuable skills in writing, reading, analysing, arguing and becoming wonderful thinkers of the future.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Ok, you now know how to bridge the gap between Alevels and university, but how do you choose the right university?
Choosing the right university for your child
Choosing the right university is not an easy task and daunting for many A-level students. With different voices – parents, League Tables, teachers and friends – all trying to tell you what is best, it sometimes seems easiest to bury your head in the sand. Our tutor Josephine reflects on her experience and gives top tips for choosing the university right for you.
1. Think about your interests
When choosing the right university, I was presented with a plethora of courses to choose from. This meant I had to first think through my interests. At the time, I aspired to be a human rights lawyer but wanted to combine law with a different subject. I did this despite my mother’s wish that I study straight law. I, therefore, had to take responsibility for my choices and do my research into what interested me to successfully argue my case to my mother who finally agreed. So, knowing I had five possible choices on UCAS, I quickly dismissed universities that only taught straight law. I then narrowed my search down to those that offered a combination with subjects like Anthropology, Sociology or Development Studies.
2. Consider costs
I was lucky to snap up a scholarship but the cost of your studies will most likely affect your choices. This includes accommodation, which in London can be just as much as tuition. Consider if you would/could live at home and commute or study locally. If this is not an option, think about realistic choices that will allow you to get through university somewhat comfortably. If this involves having to work, you could contact Student Unions to find out about working at the universities themselves. Another option is part-time study, which frees up more time for working somewhere that coincides with your passions.
3. Reflect on location
Location was very important to me and most of my university choices were in London. Considering location is important since it will be your home for the next year(s). Stuck in Durham if you love the city or trapped in Manchester when you love the sea could be unhappy choices you end up regretting. Of course, you may end up making sacrifices for that perfect university fit but do keep location in the back of your mind. This is also important for work experience, so accept that you may have far to travel or choose a university that is close to the companies you might like to intern with.
When choosing the right university, I decided to visit my top choices together with a friend and we booked our places for our universities’ open days. Open days will not only give you a glimpse into campus life but you might also glean a couple tips from the admissions tutors. Remember not to despair if you can’t make the open days – often universities will offer you a tour regardless, especially if you come from far, so just ask and try your luck.
4. Prepare to change your mind
Having now finished my undergraduate degree and benefitting from hindsight, I would say prepare to find out your undergraduate degree may not have been the perfect fit. I now know that law actually isn’t for me. Nevertheless, my course allowed me to grow, so I have made peace with my choices and knew better for my postgraduate study.
5. Contact us for help
If you can’t make up your mind about choosing the right university and/or simply feel overwhelmed with the choices, contact us today for our consultancy services. We know how confusing and daunting this process can be and have years of teaching experience, wide networks of colleagues in the education system and strong work experience with universities that allow us to give sound advice and practical guidance.
How we can help with choosing the right university
At Über Tutors, we provide a bespoke consultation service on choosing schools and universities. Our tight network with many schools and universities allows us to inform with quality and tell you all you need to know, specific requirements and admissions processes. Additionally, we also get to know the student very well, so that we know their likes, desires, passions and any particular aptitudes. This way we undertake a thorough research of schools or universities and recommend the most suitable. Going forward, we can also help with the application and interview process. As one of the leading tutoring services in London and always happy to help!
Just get in touch and call us on 02030867311 or email email@example.com to ask any questions or book a complimentary consultation.