Dear Bubble Trouble: How can I navigate the step up from A Levels to University?

Question: I’m finding the workload and style of university work very different from A Levels. I’m struggling to adapt. Do you have any tips?


Answer: Having been told that the jump from GCSEs to A Levels would be monumental, the adjustment to university work was less emphasised. It’s something your teachers likely warned you about but didn’t prepare you for the change in learning style, responsibility, and lifestyle. It’s something we’ve all learnt to adapt to as the university years go by, but the first term as a fresher can be difficult. Don’t worry! Here are my best tips…

The learning style is a lot more independent. At A Levels and especially GCSEs, the consequences of not handing in homework or assignments were often detentions or punishment. At university, your success is based on how much work you put into your studies. Professors will not check your lecture reading, and a lack of seminar preparation will simply be embarrassing. It’s up to you to read as much or as little as you would like for certain topics and seminars. For most modules, you’re welcome to delve into topics that interest you and stick to the required reading for ones that don’t. It’s all to do with self-discipline, which is why making a schedule or having a plan for the week is a good idea, which I’ll talk about shortly. In short, your learning style is yours to decide, and the workload is up to you. Though this can be daunting, reading lists, seminars, and lectures provide plenty of springboard activities you can build upon as you wish.

Make a personalised plan. As a result of the loose work structure, it’s your responsibility to govern your studies. At the end of the year, it’s your effort that will determine your results. This can be great for tailoring your interests within each topic to your readings. It can also mean that you’ll face many more distractions due to the flexible nature of your working environment. Taking your studies to the Bill Bryson library or the Teaching and Learning Centre can be a great way to focus for an extended period of time. University can also be a fantastic place for group studying. Whilst you may have had frees in sixth form, effectively, all time not spent in lectures and seminars are frees now. Planning and scheduling your reading, catch up, and research is essential for university success.

Playtime can seem like work time. Living away from home for the first time is exciting and can open up endless possibilities for partying, socialising, and staying up until all hours. However, university’s downfall lies in its greatest strength. The freedom. Closely linked to the independent style, every moment you’re not working can make you feel guilty. It’s easy to get caught up talking to housemates after lunch. My best advice, alongside scheduling your working day, is to plan down time throughout the day so you don’t feel guilty for resting. Also, finishing work before dinner can set aside a much-needed evening break before another day of hard work. These feelings will inevitably arise, but it happens to every student, so don’t feel like you’re alone.

The jump from A Levels to university can seem colossal in your first term. Though, once a few weeks have passed, and a rough schedule is in place, you’ll feel more relaxed in no time. Getting to grips with independence can be tricky but know that every new student is experiencing the same feelings, so don’t be scared to talk to friends about your concerns. With some self-discipline and distinction between work and play, the step up can be smooth, and even exciting! Your future awaits!


Image by Maggie Zhan on Pexels

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