Five Differences Between School and University

We look at some of the things new students are going to have to get used to, or take advantage of...

1. The time you wake up

The days of the alarm going off at 7am (or earlier!) may be at an end. While school had the same start time every day, it might not be the case at uni. While it may not be possible to wake up at the midday every day and watch a bit of Jeremy Kyle it’s likely that the start of your first class of the day might vary a little, so you can adjust your alarm accordingly.Unless you’re studying engineering or medicine – in which case you’re doomed to many more early mornings!

2. Looking after yourself 

Even if you don’t move away to go to uni, there’s usually a shift in expectations in terms of how you’re expected to live your life. Yes, this usually means you get a little more freedom but the trade-off is that you have to be a bit more responsible for looking after yourself.

When that student loan comes in, it’s going to your bank account and when it’s gone - it’s gone! You’ll have essentials to pay for, whether they’re rent, food or phone bills, so you need to take responsibility and make sure the necessities get paid. 

Another way in which you need to look after yourself is with what you eat. Your new university routine may change how and when you’re able to grab food. If you moved away from home you might be expected to cater for yourself and your budget might mean you won’t be able to afford what your parents or guardians used to provide. Staying healthy and eating a balanced diet is really important no matter what stage of your life you’re at.

Two men in baseball caps saying "Yeah we're adulting hard!" from Kim's Convenience

You need to make sure you have enough clean clothes for the week ahead. Getting your laundry (and other chores) done on time means the floor of your room won’t be covered in clothes and you’ll always have something good to wear.

3. How you learn

One of the most important ways in which school is different from university is how you learn. At uni the emphasis is on you to take responsibility for your own learning. This means getting used to lots of different things like:


At school you had to go every single day. At uni most lectures are attended by hundreds of students at a time and they don’t normally take a register. It means there’s nobody checking up on you if you don’t go.

Attending and getting as much as you can out of lectures is essential to passing the course so don’t let yourself miss too many! Tutorials are a little bit different. They do take a register and if you don’t go to enough of them you can fail the course no matter how well you might do in the exam.


Whereas at school you might have had a few subjects, at university your courses will contribute towards a degree in one subject. This means you will be building a particular expertise in one or two subjects rather than taking exams in several subjects.

Now you’re at uni it’s important that you’re self-motivated. Nobody is going to be standing over you making sure you do the work, either in a class or at home. It’s up to you to get the work done.

Girl saying "I'm gonna give it my all!"


Your relationship with tutors and lecturers is likely to be different from what it was with your teachers. You won’t get as much time with them and in some cases may get less feedback on your work – until they’re grading your essays.


Whereas previously all of the material you needed to pass your exams would have been provided by your teachers, now you have to find your own information that supports what you want to say and think critically. This will likely mean that you’ll have to spend a lot of time in the library finding books and doing your own research.

4. The distractions

So, the internet is still there but now there are other things like pubs, clubs and shops and your student loan is just sitting there waiting to be spent…

While you wouldn’t be the first student to waste time procrastinating, it’s important to balance your studies with extra-curricular activities and a social life, although it’s still vital to make sure you get the work done so you’re not missing deadlines or getting lower grades than you should. 

5. The time you go to bed

Whether it’s through partying, studying or just because you tend to stay up a little later, getting enough sleep is important to keep you healthy and happy! While it’s important to have a good time and study well, don’t forget that you need your sleep too!