The difference between studying History at School vs University

By Emily 2nd Year History student based on the Penryn campus

Hi everyone! My name is Emily and I’m a 2nd year History student at the University of Exeter. I’m based down at the Penryn campus in Cornwall, which I love because it is such a different experience and atmosphere compared to Liverpool, which is where I’m from.

I love the independence that university brings, and this doesn’t just mean living alone and things like that, but also in my course. When it comes to how you study and quite often what you study, you get to decide what to do, which is very different from school. It is exciting, but admittedly a little daunting at first!

In this blog post, I’m going to be explaining some of the differences between studying at school and studying at university, which will hopefully give you a good idea of what changes to expect. Being a History student, I will be talking from a Humanities perspective. A lot of what I will say will relate to all university courses, but it is just something to keep in mind. The main thing to stress is that yes, university is very different from school. However, different definitely does not mean harder, or scarier, or anything like that. If anything, you’ll probably find that you find studying more enjoyable because of how much freedom you have.

Thinking back to when I was school (which wasn’t THAT long ago), I find it hard to believe that I actually used to stay in the same building and have lessons for 6 straight hours every day, 5 days a week. Sixth form is a little bit more freeing but if your college is anything like mine, it didn’t feel that much different from school. University is completely different. This will vary for each student, but I have around 8 contact hours per week at university, broken up into lectures and seminars. Lectures are basically like watching someone give a big presentation, and a seminar is similar to a classroom, but smaller and more of a discussion, rather than a teacher simply teaching.

The reason that university contact hours are lower than school is because you are required to do a lot of independent work. Don’t get this confused with homework, where everyone gets the same task. Using my course as an example, in your lectures, your lecturer will introduce you to ideas surrounding the topic of the week, and you will then go away and do your own reading. There might be a few chapters that your lecturer has asked you to read, and they might supply you with a question to think about, but you are encouraged to explore anything you find interesting about that topic and be ready to discuss what you have found in your seminar with your course mates. Lecturers love it when students have new ideas, that they might not have even thought about. Not only this, but a lot of assignments may require you to think of your own question. For example, I just completed a project where I got to find all my own sources and I could think of any topic I wanted to cover. The dissertation is another example of this, I know people who have wrote dissertations on everything from skateboarding to disco music. This is a great opportunity to write about anything you are passionate about within your course and essentially, to show off. You don’t really get this opportunity at school because everyone is required to study the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you study is also up to you. If you would prefer to stick to a school routine and stay on campus all day to study, then that is completely okay. I tend to do that close to deadlines, but not always! There is so much going on at university and you might find that you study at random times. For example, you might have an hour-long lecture at 9am, but then decide to go out to lunch with a friend, or go to a society meeting, or go to a gym class. Then, you might decide to come home and pick up studying again after dinner. Sometimes you might be on campus all day and others you might not need to go in at all. There is no right or wrong way to do it, it is all about finding your groove and what is best for you.

Before finishing up here, I think the biggest difference between studying at school vs university, is that university really expands your academic potential. You have chosen one subject to study because you want to become an expert in that field, and you are surrounded by others who have also all chosen to be there. People don’t realise how limiting the school curriculum is until university, especially in history. At school, everyone gets taught a lot about World War 2 but not about things like Australian Aboriginal history. I have been able to study so many different perspectives, that I could never do at school and it is actually so important to consider different perspectives!

There is definitely a lot more to be excited about than to be afraid of when it comes to studying at university, so don’t let the word ‘different’ give you a bad impression and look forward to all the new things university will bring! Thank you so much for reading, I really hope that you found this blog useful!

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