The jump from high school to university can seem quite daunting but it is one of the greatest social and academic times in a student’s life. It can feel like there are thousands of courses to choose from and so much new lingo to unpack. Essentially, university is the place to grow deeper understanding and make a career out of your interests. You can choose a set degree like physiotherapy that will teach you all the skills to be a physiotherapist. Alternatively, if you, like many students, have not decided on a career at the ripe age of 18, a good option is a broader degree like Arts or Science where you can choose most of your subjects and create your own unique degree. Just note that most courses require certain year 12 subject marks and overall marks. If you think you might need an extra boost for your final semester and exams, you can always find an expert tutor at: https://kisacademics.com/find-a-tutor.
Breaking down university lingo
If you haven’t completed a university degree before, you will be applying as an undergraduate student. All courses that you can apply for after year 12 may either be an undergraduate degree (3-5 years study) or an undergraduate diploma (~1 years study). Double degrees are another form of undergraduate study where you can choose two areas of interest, for example Arts and Law. This is a great option if you can’t choose between two areas of study. Generally, a double degree will add about a year of study and can add a lot of value in whichever career you choose.
After graduating from university, you are considered a postgraduate. This means that you can study postgraduate degrees and diplomas including PhDs, masters, graduate diplomas and more. Generally, they build on your area of study from undergrad and allow you to move into research, university level teaching or simply increase your training and pay whilst working.
How are university courses run?
When you are investigating courses or when you have enrolled in a course early next year, you might be asked to choose majors, minors or elective and breadth subjects. Some of these terms seem very foreign but are easy to pick up! A broader degree like Arts or Science will give you lots of freedom meaning that you will have to choose what you want to specialise in. This can be done slowly as you move through the three years of your degree, but these areas of speciality are what we call majors and minors. If we use Arts as an example, to major in French, you will need to take about eight French subjects but to minor you only need to take about four French subjects. These subjects are what universities refer to as “units”. A unit usually lasts a semester and in full time study, you will usually have four units per semester or eight units per year.
Elective and breadth units are very similar to high school elective subjects. Think of your elective food tech classes in early high school. Elective subjects are usually quite unrestricted. For example, in my biomedical degree, I did electives in French, Italian, developmental biology, biochemistry, statistics and even climate change! If you are organised enough, you can even choose your elective carefully to graduate with a minor or even a major. Not all courses have these elective units, so refer to your university course page for more information.
If you have been deep diving into university degrees, you may have noticed that there are tutorials, workshops, lectures, practicals and a thousand other variations of the word “class”. Essentially, lectures are probably what you might picture university being like; a teacher (usually a professor) standing up and talking with a big slideshow behind them. It is usually just an information session, for an hour or two, teaching you key information for your tests and exams. Tutorials, workshops and practicals are generally more interactive, and discussion based. As the name suggests, practicals are usually very hands-on and more science-oriented. Tutorials and workshops often involve going through questions and exercises with a teaching assistant and are usually more laid-back. In my 5 years of university, I have noticed that these names are not always accurate and within the first week or two of uni, you will realise how each class and unit is run.
Tips and troubleshooting
From a university veteran, I would like to pass on some general tips as you approach this exciting new chapter in your lives:
1. Study what you enjoy but don’t be worried if you choose incorrectly!
Your degree will most likely lead you into a part-time or full-time career, so it is a good idea to like what you do. However, it is relatively easy to change courses or universities particularly in your first year. It is also easy to drop down to part-time study or take a European summer break in the middle of your degree as well! Do what feels right for you and don’t be afraid to research your options even after you are in your degree.
2. If you want to excel academically, study your unit outlines.
Each university will publish some variation of a unit outline for each subject you take. This may include assessment timetables, teacher contact details, key learning objectives and so much more. If you are old-fashioned like me, I would recommend printing this out and going through it at the start of each semester.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As undergraduate students, your teacher will be willing to help and will understand that you are new to uni life. If you are having trouble and falling behind, every university has lots of free and helpful services to make sure that you finish your studies.
4. Enjoy your journey.
Take advantage of your long breaks and free weekends during the semester by taking up new hobbies and filling up your social calendar. There are also many opportunities for exchange, research, work experience if you just ask!
Ultimately, university is meant to help you create your dream career and is just another adventure in your professional lives. Hopefully this article has helped reduce some of the stress and ambiguity around it!
Written by KIS Academics Tutor Katrina Hall. Katrina currently offers tutoring in French, Mathematics, Science and VCE French and Biology. Katrina is currently pursuing a Doctor of Dental Medicine at USYD. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to her. You can view Katrina’s profile here and request her as a tutor.