Twice volunteering as an Orientation Leader for September Orientation has contributed to some of my best memories at the university. There's absolutely nothing like running, shouting, and bonding for two days while making sure that incoming students have fun and feel one-hundred-percent at home.
Amidst all of the commotion that accompanies Orientation, I often talk to the new students about their hopes and fears. And I found plenty of fears about university's workload!
To help quell those fears and prepare future students for the next step in their academic journeys, I've outlined four distinct differences between schoolwork in university and schoolwork in high school. If you're a high school student concerned about post-secondary homework, read on!
You’ve chosen your subject matter
High school gives you an all-around education during your coming-of-age years. The school system wants to make sure that almost everyone leaves with a basic grasp of language, science, math, the arts, and so on. This is a good goal, but it does carry the added downside that many students will not excel at every single area they’re tested in. When I was in high school, I received good marks in all of my subjects except for math and as a result, my math marks brought my average down.
In university, by contrast, you can focus on what you’re interested in and what you’re good at. If you take the Forensic Psychology program, it goes without saying that you won't deal with the same material as those taking Nuclear Engineering, and vice versa. It's true that there's more overlap between different programs than there used to be, but it's still likely that you'll play to your strengths in the program you choose. And while you may also take electives that fall outside of your program, the choice of which of these classes to take will remain your own.
You’re more independent
Often in high school, especially in grades nine and ten, your teachers will constantly remind you of upcoming due dates and make sure that everyone attends class every day (or else!) They'll also monitor your personal progress according to set criteria, as evidenced by their feedback in those parent-teacher meetings that everyone loves.
In university, this is almost completely inverted. You usually aren't directly punished if you skip class, your professors often won't remind you of due dates and they certainly won't ask to meet with your parents to discuss your progress. Instead, these responsibilities are left to you. You'll quickly learn that it's in your best interest to attend class, that you should keep track of your projects' due dates and that your progress is your own to monitor.
Don't think this independence means that you can't ask for help though! The university's Academic Advisors have addressed many of my questions and concerns during my time here, and my Communication program's small class sizes have meant that my professors have often been extremely willing to supply advice and extra resources when I've asked for them. You're independent, but you're never abandoned.
You must do more in-depth research
High school provides an introduction to the world of research, but high school students unfortunately don't enjoy the same access to academic resources that university students do. The main avenues for research in high school are textbooks provided by teachers, the all-too-familiar Google search and whatever can be found in students’ high school or local libraries. This is fine for high school work, but in university you'll often need something a little more academically rigorous.
You will usually buy textbooks for your classes, but you must go beyond citing these if you want to create a well-researched project. You'll also need to let go of the notion that if something exists, Google will be able to supply it to you. Your best sources for information will be academic books and articles, and you will be able to find these through the university's Library, both on campus and through its website. The Library website gives you access to an incredible amount of academic articles and databases, most of which will be blocked with a paywall if you try to find them through a search engine like Google Scholar.
You’re often asked questions that don't yet have answers
This was the greatest difference that I noticed between high school and university when I first came to the university. My high school teachers would often assign work that asked questions with specific, right-or-wrong answers. Teachers who didn't subscribe to this model seemed somehow rebellious, as though allowing learning to be fun and creative involved breaking some kind of rule!
In university, this changed. In my Introduction to Communication class in particular, our professor would ask us questions about how we can improve our society, the role of technology in the world, changes in global culture, and many other things. Our replies weren't supposed to conform to built-in answers, because no certain answers exist for these questions. The class was designed to get us thinking in new ways, not to test how many facts we had been able to memorize. Perhaps most importantly, I felt as though participating in these conversations could be the first step to helping change the world.
Because there are no definitive answers to many of the questions your professors will ask you, you will be taking steps into new intellectual territory. Be bold, future student, and go forward with zeal!
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