In my experience studying humanities at university and school is incredibly different. I study Sociology and Criminology at university however neither of these were an option for me at school. I remember finding it so difficult to know what to study at university. I went through a list of degrees and came across Sociology, I had no idea what that word even meant and so I googled it. I then discovered that it was everything that I loved doing in Geography at school and more. It seems crazy that in such a short space of time I went from never having heard of Sociology to choosing it as my degree for the next three years. The main differences that I noticed between school and university were independence, developing a critical mindset and also choice.
When I focus on the core differences between studying at school and university independence is the word that comes to mind. At school, as I am sure so many of you experience, you have a jam-packed schedule and are going from class to class Monday to Friday with not much of a break. At university, especially when studying humanities, you will have a vast amount of time for independent study during your degree. I remember looking at my first university timetable and refreshing the page as I could only see eight hours of classes in the whole week! I couldn’t believe it. What I have learnt during my three years at university is that the pressure is on you to do your extra readings, your revision, meeting with your tutors and even going to your seminars. It sounds cliché, yet it is so accurate — you really get out of your subject what you put into it. This concept was so foreign to me as at school everything was timetabled for me, including my homework. At university you get a lot of time to complete your assignments; the average for me is about ten weeks. Therefore you have to learn what works for you: how long it takes you to do readings, how long you need to write an essay, how long it takes you to proofread your essay, if you work best the night before or if you need to have completed it far in advance. This is what university gives you the chance to do; understand yourself and gain independence from doing so.
A Critical Mind
One of the hardest transitions for me when going to university was learning how to develop a critical approach to what I was studying. Studying humanities involves going beyond just learning and understanding new information. In order to write an essay at university standard it is really important to take different points of view into consideration to make your own argument. University gives you the tools to look at information, understand it and then engage with it so that you can apply it to what you know already. These skills are also so important for when you leave university and start work.
The last points that stand out to me are depth and choice. An exciting aspect of university, which to me differs a lot from school, is the fact that you get to select the topics that you are really interested in. In your first year you get an introduction to a huge variety of areas and then for the rest of your degree you can work with lecturers who specialise in these areas and learn more and more. There is so much choice, especially within Sociology and Criminology. This means that you may have the same degree title as one of your friends but you may actually be learning completely different things. I found that I really enjoyed learning about crime in first year so I chose to focus on this. I selected modules where I could learn about international crimes, forensic science, victims and offenders. When you do your assignments you can then learn more about the topics you have found most interesting. I noticed that in school I would find some subjects really interesting and some less exciting, but at university I was able to choose what I love and therefore learn so much more.