If you’re close to finishing school and considering enrolling in a degree, you might be wondering: what are the main differences between school and university life?

On your first day of university, you’ll be entering a whole new learning environment. To begin with, universities are generally much bigger with thousands of students, plus you also have more choices to make, and more responsibilities, too.

If you’re going to be moving away from home for the first time to attend university, you’re also going to have to adjust to independent living. But, don’t panic, you’ll pick it up much faster than you expect.

Here are 4 big differences between school and university life that will take a little adjusting to, with a few tips from the University of Adelaide College students and graduates:


1. Learning independently vs. managed learning

“First thing first, no one is going to yell at you if you don’t do your assignments or when you decide to skip lectures. It is all on you. You are in charge and responsible for your uni life as an adult. You won’t be forced to do anything, but it will always be beneficial to your learning if you do it.” – Charmian Lam (Hong Kong SAR, Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Science graduate, the University of Adelaide)


Charmain Lain


At university, you’re expected to take responsibility for your own learning. Unlike school, there will be no-one checking that you’ve done your homework, reminding you when assignments are due, or making sure you show up to your lectures. It’s up to you, how and when you want to learn.



2. Flexibility and choice vs. a set curriculum and schedule



“At university, students have more chances to choose how and when they want to learn. The same course will have different class times, so students can choose the appropriate time based on their schedule. Take me for example: I do not like attending morning classes, especially during winter, so I always choose class times that are in the afternoon.”

Wenhan Wu (China, 3rd year, Bachelor of Teaching, the University of Adelaide)


Wenhan Wu (second from left)

At school, you’re used to having a strict structure determined for you. School goes from 9am until 3pm every day, your lunch is at the same hour, you have a set class and you don’t have any choice over it. At university there is much more flexibility about your choice of electives, class times, the type of resources you have access to and sport and social groups you can join!



3. Managing your own life vs. living with parents


“Learn to cook. You will find cooking is an essential skill when you go abroad. Find a reliable agency when you look for a place to live. And don’t forget to read the contract carefully before you sign it.”

Wenhan Wu (China, 3rd year, Bachelor of Teaching, the University of Adelaide).

For a lot of students, starting university also means moving out of the family home, and even to a different country altogether. Not only are you getting used to a different class structure and learning style, but you also need to learn how to run your own household, and potentially even master a new language.



4. Academic staff vs. school teaching


“The lecturers are always there to provide help and support. However, if there is no one available, never hesitate to go online and look for answers. Google is your friend but a lecturer is your best friend when it comes to fully understanding your course.”

Charmian Lam (Hong Kong SAR, Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Science graduate at the University of Adelaide).

At school, your teacher is very involved in your education. They report to your parents, know you well, and regularly give you feedback. At university, it’s a whole different story. Lecturers may have hundreds of students, and they won’t even necessarily know your name.



Top tips to help you adjust to university life


“Always ask teachers for help or advice if needed. No matter if it is about study or life. They are the most reliable and trustworthy people around you.”

Wenhan Wu (China, 3rd year, Bachelor of Teaching, the University of Adelaide).


“Join social clubs at your uni. It’s an easy way to get to know more people and be engaged in different activities. You will not regret joining one!”

Charmian Lam (Hong Kong SAR, Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Science graduate, the University of Adelaide).

The move from school to university certainly takes some adjusting, particularly if you’re moving overseas to study.


Here are some top tips on how to make that process just a little bit easier for yourself:


If you are learning English or considering studying in Australia, it’s a good idea to do a university preparation course, before you begin your degree. This will give you time to adjust, in a very supportive environment. At the University of Adelaide College, you can learn academic English and study introductory subjects to your University of Adelaide degree, while meeting lots of new peers. You will have a whole team of support staff there to help you through your transition, and a range of additional resources (like English tutoring) at your disposal. You will also receive much more individual attention with smaller class sizes, which can be a great stepping stone to completely independent learning.




You’re going to have to learn some time management skills, because your schedule is up to you now! A calendar and a study schedule are key to managing your independent workload. Find out how to develop a study schedule that actually works, here.




You can make your life a little easier with the help of technology. Put all your assignments into a Google calendar or other calendar app, and insert reminders two weeks before the due date, so you’re well prepared. A ‘to do’ list app is also a great help when you’re trying to order your priorities.




Make sure you regularly look at your online student portal for notifications and updates.




Always ask for help from your tutors, lecturers or student services if you feel overwhelmed. At the University of Adelaide College, student services can assist you with everything from finding a job to making an appointment with a counsellor. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything at all.



See here for more information about how to start your pathway to university at the University of Adelaide College.