What to Expect

Starting uni is a huge step, and it comes with some big (and exciting) changes.

Starting uni can feel daunting but trust us – you’ve already got skills from high school that will make the transition smoother.

Seek support when you need it and enjoy the chance to explore your interests and meet new people!

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Let’s explore transitioning from high school to uni.  When you understand what to expect, it can help you settle in. 

University will be a new learning environment, which differs in class size, scheduling, teaching style, teacher-student interaction, and social opportunities. 

At university, you’ll complete a wide range of different assessments depending on the units of study you choose, including written assessments, weekly quizzes, group work, presentations, and class participation. Often, university assessments place a greater emphasis on self-directed research and learning. 

For each subject you take at uni, you’ll usually have two types of classes each week: a lecture and a tutorial, lab or practical. 

Lectures are the primary way teachers share what you need to learn. Sometimes, there are hundreds of students attending a lecture. 

Tutorials are small classes. They support what you learn in lectures and allow you to ask questions and get clarification.  

Labs and practicals are classes where you learn by doing things yourself. The activities vary depending on your subject. In science, you might do experiments or demonstrations. 

At university, you often have more flexibility in what and when to study. Depending on your degree, you may be able to choose courses to take as electives. You may also be able to customise your timetable to suit your schedule. 

Going to university means learning more independently.  

You’ll have many opportunities to explore and learn more about the subjects you’re interested in.  

You’ll also meet people who share your interests and come from different backgrounds. It’s a chance to follow your passions and goals beyond what you’ve experienced in school. 

Although there will be a lot that will be new about university, you’ve already got excellent skills from high school, such as organisation, time management, and problem-solving, that will make your transition to university smoother. They’re applicable in both settings! 

As at school, balance will be key at university. 

You’ll juggle classes, assessments, and your social life.  Understanding your university academic calendar, your weekly timetable and the expectations around assessments will help you create the balance you need with other things in your life. 

It’s important to learn when and how to seek support when you need it. 

Remember, uni is a great chance to nurture and explore your interests. 

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Audrey – Bachelor of Science (Pathology)

My first in-person lecture was for a general education class. It was criminology I believe and just seeing that hall with so many students in it. It was pretty cool I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty cool. So, the difference between a lecture tutorial and a lab is basically the different kinds of classes for the same course. So, for a lecture, it’s basically learning the theory behind everything and then the laboratory is like the practical part of it so you do the experiment if you’re doing that kind of science, or you could just be learning about the practical side of things instead of just the theory. And then tutorials are basically learning the theory that you learned in the lectures. So, you’re basically just going over it. It’s a smaller class than lectures because the lectures go to everyone but for like tutorial it’s just like split up into different groups maybe and you just learn the content you learnt in the lectures. It’s basically the difference between the three.

So, the classes are really different from the classes that we had in high school. In high school, it’s mainly just a bunch of learning. Maybe you get to do an experiment if you’re lucky and yeah just learning the content. Whereas, in uni you get to learn the content you get to deepen your understanding of that content and then you also get to do experiments that are built into the course so that you know what it looks like, what the theory actually looks like in person so I just really like that kind of difference kind of I guess step up from high school. A lot of people say that it’s like a full-time job. It really is. It really is like a full-time job and yeah so, it’s definitely a lot more academically demanding than high school, but I feel like it’s more worth it to the career you want and why you’re doing this degree, basically. So, when it comes to my degree. I’m doing a Bachelor of Science in pathology and the way it’s structured is that you have many different majors to pick from.  I believe it’s in the twenties, so a whole lot of different majors and those majors, you can only do as a minor, which is a whole other thing. So, it’s just basically just two different things. So, I’m doing a major in Pathology and I’m doing a minor in Anatomy. So basically, I have these core classes that you have to do if you’re doing a Pathology major. And then there are spare, like, class slots in your degree that you can use to either do Science electives. So, just getting different knowledges in different, like, majors. Like you can do a Psychology class while you’re doing Pathology and things like that. But because I’m doing a minor in Anatomy, so I’m doing a minor in Anatomy, I can use those Science elective classes to actually learn about, like, anatomical processes. So, it’s really cool like that. That you’re able to learn what you want to the most, but then also do something in, like, the background that will help you in the future. That’s why I find kind of cool about it. So, when it came to enrolling into my first-year subjects. I was so… It was so confusing. Like I think I tried to enrol into like third-year Pathology classes what I was trying to find the first year Pathology classes. And I even sent in a request, I was like, “I don’t think I can get into this course, but I need it for my degree”. But they were like, “This is a third-year course”. “You have to enrol into your first year courses first.” And I was like, “Oh okay”. So, it was a bit confusing to get her around but then when I finally was able to do it, I just tried to do it early so that I don’t mess up right before I’m supposed to like go to my second term or something. There’s also these like progression plans as well that have the different courses that you have to do for what major you’re doing. And so, I always try to follow that and so, I can actually make sure I’m enrolling in the right courses this time. So yeah, they have the different terms and what year you’re supposed to do it in so it’s way easier to follow that than to just wing it like I tried to. I feel like I have grown a lot as a person due to uni.  In high school, I was very introverted. I didn’t in high school I was very introverted I didn’t really know where to start when it came to learning. I was a very impulsive kind of learner so I would just wait, and I was also a procrastinator as well, so I would wait until the very, like, last day to do things. Sometimes I’m still like that. Don’t be like me. But yeah, I feel like I have grown a lot as a person. After two years in uni, I feel like I’m more outgoing. I’ve made a lot more friends than I thought I was going to, which is really great. Just being able to even do this. To talk to someone about my experience about in, like, Uni is just something I would not have done in high school. So, I feel like I’ve definitely kind of blossomed. Grown a bit more as a person overall.


Tahrima – Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics/Law

I think when coming into Uni it was definitely a very daunting experience and there are a lot of differences between high school. I think the biggest difference I found was the calibre of work required from you. So, when doing assignments, I felt like I needed to dedicate a lot more hours to researching, and then even more hours to writing. So, it’s definitely not something that you can do the night before and, you know, leave up until the weekend before it’s due because you’re not gonna do as well as you would like to. I think a non-academic challenge that is different between high school and uni which is a good thing is that you’re really able to dictate your own schedule. So, I found that 9 am classes are absolutely not for me just because I live so far. It’s really hard to commute and make it in by 9 am whilst also being ready to learn. So I found that I’d rather have two solid uni days where I spend the whole day at uni like starting at 11 am, and ending at 6 pm if needed. I just think it works with my schedule a lot better and it feels a lot more comfortable. If I could give a heads-up to incoming students I’d tell them to relax. That it’s perfectly fine and it’s okay if you don’t figure out what works for you straight away. Nobody’s perfect. I know from my own experience and a lot of experiences of other people that it takes more than one term for you to get settled in.


Julian – Bachelor of Psychology

It’s very collaborative and open with the teaching staff. It’s a bit strange. You go from high school, and you call everyone, you know, Mr. or Mrs., whatever, and you go into university and you get to call them on a first-name basis, and they’re always very open to answering questions. They’ll stay behind from classes have a chat with you. You can always send them an email, like, they’re very excited to talk about what they’re wanting to teach you, which is a really nice environment to be in. Just the learning space you’re surrounded with and how open and free the entire campus is. It’s really hard to explain the feeling of being able to go into any room or any building you want or even studying outside on the lawn or something. It just makes you feel like such a university student. That’s the only way I can describe it. It really makes you feel like you’re surrounded in this amazing environment and you’ll see people having a discussion about an assignment they are doing next to you or research staff walking by and discussing something. And it just feels like this really thriving collaborative environment that always makes me feel really motivated and happy to come on campus. And I often come on campus to study, even if I don’t have classes that day. The scaling of marks is a little bit different in university. You might be getting lower marks than you were getting in high school when you go into university and that’s a very normal thing. I guess you can sort of think of it as the whole scale of where students’ questions might be up and down a little bit and this can be a big shock for some people, especially if marks is something that you care about a lot. I think you do hear a lot that university is more independent than high school and you can sort of ask, what does that really mean? I’d say the main thing with that is that there is quite a lot of time outside of scheduled lectures that you might have to do your own independent study. Like for example, with high school, you might have a seven-hour block of classes in a day with lunch in between. And so pretty much all you have to do is turn up to the class and pay attention, whereas with university you might have a two-hour class and then you have to go home and do three hours of readings or work on an assignment or something. So, there is a lot of unstructured time where they sort of just expect you to have this self-discipline to structure that time and get on top of those things. There is really no reminders from the teaching staff about things that you have to do or quizzes that are coming up. It’s very much a you know, you take charge of your own learning. They will tell you when it is or they’ll tell you what you have to do and they’ll pretty much just leave it at that, which can be quite scary and quite intimidating at first. But I’d say it’s also quite liberating and empowering because you can really, you know, if you want to spend your day going out and you prefer to study at night, you have a lot more flexibility and control over that.


Saoirse – Bachelor of Arts/Law

You definitely learn as you go. Obviously, university progresses in difficulty so first year is really just about navigating and kind of working out what works best for you. But I think time management was huge and being independent because I didn’t have someone reminding me. I didn’t even have my mum and dad reminding me in my ear about when I had things due. So, it takes a lot more responsibility for yourself. I think in terms of settling in and being independent at university, it was really just trial and error for me. I don’t think I had like a path or a plan on how I was going to go. I think naturally like I’m a very independent person. I really like being able to do my own things, but it definitely was still a big change for me. And so, I guess it was just sort of sometimes failing, sometimes needing a bit more help. A bit more support going to get academic support or maybe even just asking my family and friends that I had made here. Like, can we chat about this? I think that really helped but also just like believing in yourself, knowing that if you took this step, you can keep going. When I was in high school, people were definitely always telling me like, you will be independent learning. You need to know when you’re stuff is due. But yeah, no one really did tell me about how different it would be socially because obviously in high school you have that group of friends that maybe you’ve been through six years with of high school but also you have those learning environments where they’re like are they in your art class, in your maths class and you’re sitting together. So, it’s really easy to make friends in high school in that way. University, I think, takes a little more independence and a couple more steps, but it makes them really rich and lasting friendships.  I think University in general provides a lot of really great opportunities to meet new people. You know there’s societies, there’s your faculty, there’s classes, there’s always networking. If you love social sport, you can do social sport. And I think the friendships that you make at university are really friends where you share a lot of passions because you’re both experiencing the same thing. There’s so many people at university that you can meet that are from so many different walks of life and so many different backgrounds. And so that makes it really exciting. When I came to university, I did move out of home. I moved about 10 hours from home. And so that in itself was really big. I was very lucky because I got to live on campus, which kind of gave me a way to meet new people and in like a setting where everyone was kind of new and fresh. So, that made it a lot less daunting, it was sort of just like having that community, people that were also really new in the space and also just, like, working stuff out, which I think you could find anywhere in uni, especially in your first week of classes. Everyone is sort of in that same boat, whether you live on campus or not moving out-of-home was definitely a big shifter for me in terms of independence, I got to go to bed whenever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted in my spare time which, definitely there was feelings of maybe homesickness or sort of missing, you know, the ease of living at home. But at the same time it meant that I could really have freedom of how I use my day and I could do what worked for me best, like eat when I want to or you know, hang out with friends when I wanted to and also study really quite undisturbed. So, I thought that was really helpful and it sort of definitely made me feel personally more independent and also my parents have a little more faith in me. One of the things that I did when I was coming to uni because it was like a bit of a change independent obviously in the learning styles and how independent I was moving out of home was kind of just talking to other people about my experience and sort of bonding over it because we were all kind of new fish in this massive pond, especially as like first years you kind of have this like universal collective experience of just like sort of finding your way. I think my advice to incoming students is definitely give it time. Give yourself time. Everyone’s, like I said kind of these little fish going to the big pond. So, like everyone’s finding their way. You won’t be left behind.


Daphne – Bachelor of Psychology (Honours)

So, during your first year, nobody really tells you what to do in terms of, oh, you have to watch these lectures, you have to do this assignment by this date. Everything is very self-sufficient. So, the time where I felt like I had to be independent was just looking at the home page for where all your assignments and where all the lectures are at and realising, wow. So, Week one, Week two. Everything’s already laid out in every single week until week 10. I have to start to plan and manage my own time. So, I think that was a big realisation for me about how different it was in high school in terms of being a lot more independent. I tried to put myself out a lot more when I was in my first year joining different clubs and societies, and I think that really helped bring me out of my shell and meet new people, get excited about things I was interested in. So, you know, that helped me settle into university a lot more. One big tip in terms of settling into being more independent is just making sure you have some kind of way of tracking what you need to do within a day, within a week, and things like that. And not just in terms of university work. I think it’s also important to balance things like you know, your social life, hanging out with friends. If you have a part-time job, making sure you block in that time. Any extracurricular activities that you want to do. I think having either a digital or physical copy. I’m a physical copy girl. I like writing things down, but having things that you need to do in a day, having things you need to do in a week, making sure you have free time for yourself. I think that’s really important to making sure that you’re a lot more independent when it comes to dealing with university.


Ethan – Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Master of Biomedical Engineering

I think the biggest difference is just having to get used to you feeling a little bit clueless at the start of every term. There’s not much overlap between previous subjects as opposed to high school. So, let’s take Math, for example. There’s a clear linear progression from year 7 to 12, but starting each term in university there’s not much correlation between each subject, right? And if there is, that content will be treated as assumed knowledge. So, I think the biggest learning in term one of first year was really being a lot more appreciative of all the resources I have for me. Because coming in from high school, I didn’t have the best resource due to my high school. So, I often found myself trying to find other resources and other means of teaching myself. But I found that in the case of university that’s not really the same thing, right? It’s…the resources made at university are much more tailored specially to the students. So, you can’t really find the resources anywhere else. With independent learning from university and high school, in high school there’s often a set structure given to you, right? You’ve got to do parts A, B and C before moving to the next parts. Where in university, it’s more independently driven, right? So, you have the resources with you, and it’s really up to you to come up with your own study plan and strategy to really, really absorb all the content and learn your material.

New learning environment

“Everyone’s finding their way. You won’t be left behind.” – Saoirse 

There are a few ways that learning at uni is different from high school:

Maintaining balance

“It’s definitely a lot of different things you’re juggling around, but it’s a nice mix.” – Julian 

At uni, balancing study, work and life is key. Here are some tips:

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Daphne- Bachelor of Psychology (Honours)

Other life commitments I’ve had to balance with university work is volunteering. At university, there’s a bunch of volunteering programs that you can join in different areas, So, you can do things like tutoring, or you can just volunteer at little centers like stationary centers and things like that. I’ve also had extracurricular activities, so things like society events and club events, and I’ve also had to balance work, so part-time work and things like that. So those are the main things I’ve had to juggle on top of university life. 

For my mental health, I find it really important to have a variety of hobbies and things that I like to do outside of, like, you know, writing and doing statistics. So, I make sure to have some free time for myself and do the hobbies that I enjoy, especially if it gets me away from my main study area. So- I don’t know- going outside to read or playing video games, things like that, just to get me away from study. That really helps separate that so it doesn’t feel like I’m overwhelmed by work too much.

In terms of physical health, not going to lie, I don’t go to the gym or anything like that, but I do make sure I walk, like go on walks and go outside. Because again, with university, you tend to be cooped up in your study space, wherever that is. So, I do think it’s important to go outside, get your legs moving, you know, get some energy in there. I think that’s really important. 

So, balance has evolved for me throughout my degree in terms of prioritising what I think is important and what I think I would like. So, for example, through my first and second year, I definitely had too many commitments at a time and would get really overwhelmed. But in my first year, I was like no, I have to do all of these things if I want to settle in properly, if I want to fit in. I kind of have to explore a lot of options. And then, in my second year, I sort of realised, oh, it’s okay that I don’t have to do everything at once. It’s okay if I just pick the things that I like and not pick the things that other people might like. So, it’s important to prioritise yourself and what you like to do. 


Eammon- Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Software)

I chose to balance my uni commitments with my social life in a way that I thought would benefit my entire career- in its entirety rather than just on the academic side. A lot of people go into university with the idea that it’s just another six years of study, of hitting the books, right? But no, I think that university is such an important step in realising that it’s a stepping stone to essentially becoming a full adult. As a student, I spend less time on my personal studies and more time on socialisation aspects- all the uni parts that don’t specifically involve study. I think a really big reason for that is really just building up all those working skills of being a person around the office, being a team player, and not just someone who is academically smart but also really socially smart. For me, the thing that helped me stay balanced the most was probably just my friends and my social circles. Like, these are people that you decide to surround yourself with, people who’ve got the same motivations, the same aspirations as you, but still, I think, are close enough to you personally that you can talk about anything at all with them.


Julian- Bachelor of Psychology (Honours)

I think comparing the way that balance has changed from high school to university, it’s honestly something that doesn’t change too much, in my opinion. It’s really quite similar. You know, when you’re in high school, you’re typically doing all of your classes, you probably have some extracurriculars going on, you know, you want to spend time with friends or family, and you might have an evening job or a weekend job. So, a lot of the things you’re balancing in university are quite similar: balancing time between your lectures and maybe work that you have, and wanting to go out and do things that you enjoy too. It’s a very similar sort of skill set, surprisingly. University is a bit more flexible than school because you have a very set time schedule in school every day, whereas with uni, it’s a bit more flexible. You can move your classes, you’re not going to be in for 7 or 8 hours a day typically. So, if anything, it’s a bit easier to balance things around. And the way that I sort of bring balance to my time at university is really just scheduling things. I really love having, you know, using Google Calendar or a diary, and making sure that I really time-block things that I want to do. So, if I have three hours of study, I really want to make sure that I try and use that three hours to study. So, because I might have something scheduled in the evening, it really makes me stick to my schedule and make sure that I’m getting a good balance of everything: uni, work, social life, and another thing to me is always trying to block out time for my health too. Making sure I’m eating okay or making sure that I’m going outside or going for some exercise every day or so is another thing that I try to incorporate. So you’re definitely bouncing around and wearing a lot of different hats throughout even just one day at university, it’s definitely a lot of different things you’re juggling around but it’s a nice mix of things I’d say. 

Exploring uni timetables

Timetabling at university means selecting your class times for your chosen subjects, including lectures, tutorials, labs, and practicals.

Your timetable also tells you where to go for each of your classes. (Pro tip: Visit class locations in advance to avoid getting lost in your first week!)

Depending on your degree, you might be able to customise your timetable to fit around other important commitments.

Select the items on the timetable to find out more about the types of classes you might have in your first term/semester.

Typically 1 – 2 hours

Typically 1 hour

Typically 2 – 3 hours

Typically 2 – 3 hours


Typically 1-2 hours.

Lectures are presented by experts in the field and are the main way course material is delivered.

Expect to join many other students, lectures are often delivered to large groups, sometimes hundreds in one room!

The good news: lectures are usually recorded, so you can revisit the content whenever you need.



Typically 2-3 hours.

Labs or practicals, also known as ‘pracs’, are hands-on classes where you get to learn by doing.

The activities in a lab or a prac will vary depending on your course.

In science or engineering, you might do experiments or demonstrations.

In computer labs, get ready to dive into software, crunch data, and even build your own programs.


Law Essay Due

Like essays in high school, uni essays require you to persuade your reader and back up your arguments with evidence.

Essays at uni might be longer than what you’ve written before and you’ll need to correctly reference academic sources, which can take some time to get used to!

The good news: There are tonnes of online resources that unis provide to help break down essay-writing, just search “*your uni* essay guide”!

Pro tip: Because the essay standards are a bit higher at uni, make sure you build in plenty of time to understand what’s expected.



Typically 2-3 hours.

Like tutes, seminars encourage a deeper understanding of the course content through interactive sessions where you’ll dive deeper into the course material, typically in smaller groups.

Seminars often revolve around discussions, debates, and collaborative exploration of topics, allowing you to share your thoughts and insights.

Hot tip: Because participation is key in seminars, you might be allocated marks for your participation in your seminars across the term/semester.


Study & Assessment Prep

Full-time study usually takes up about 35-40 hours per week.

This includes contact hours (class time), prep (doing readings) and study/assessments.


Study/Life Balance

Pro tip: Combine your study schedule with your other priorities to help with study/life balance.



Typically 1 hour.

Tutorials, also known as ‘tutes’, are smaller, more interactive classes that are designed to reinforce what you’ve learned in lectures.

Tutes often delivered by PhD students, or post-graduate students who are studying in the same field. They are called tutors.

No two tutes are alike, but you can expect group discussions, activities led by your tutor, and student-led presentations.

Pro tip: You’ll often need to do assigned readings before your tute and you’ll be expected to be able to discuss what you’ve read in class. Head to our Study Smart page to get tips and tricks on effective active reading and note-taking!


Mid-Term Exam

Lots of courses hold mid-term exams about halfway through the term/semester.

The good news: They are usually not worth a lot of marks, and they are a great way to figure out where you need to improve before the final exam

School vs uni: Similarities and differences

High school and uni can seem like two different planets, but trust us, there’s plenty that will be familiar too. 

Dive into each section to see how school and uni stack up.

In high school, you were introduced to study independence when you chose your HSC subjects, but you were still in a structured learning environment with class bells, teachers guiding homework and assignments, and parents keeping you in check.

Uni is a whole new level of independence. You still get to choose your subjects, but at uni, there are no bells to remind you when class starts and your teachers will be more hands-off.

Don’t worry though, there’s always help on hand. All unis have resources and in-person support available to help find your feet.

In high school, most of your day is taken up by scheduled classes. This means you need to carve out your own time for hobbies and passions outside of school.

Uni is a one-stop shop to try new hobbies or continue your old ones! There are clubs and societies for virtually everything from food and languages to books, culture and politics and music, gaming or sports. Aside from joining clubs and societies, there’s so much you can get involved in through your uni, from community volunteering to professional internships and on-campus jobs.

At uni, there are endless resources to help you optimise your study. You’ll see amazing study spaces, libraries for every field of study and cafes and outdoor spaces for studying or working on group assessments.

At uni, they also care about your health and well-being, with student health centres, free counselling and peer mentoring services. Even if you’re studying online, unis offer loads of online resources, including online drop-in sessions with people who know how to help.

Here’s the catch: You’re in the driver’s seat at uni so it’s on you to find the right resources to help you ace your study. 


Journalling is a great way to self-reflect.

It can help you reflect on your successes and setbacks and consider how you might change course to keep your goals on track.

Try these journalling prompts before you start your uni journey.

What did I expect?

What are your expectations about uni life? What are you most looking forward to about uni?

What information do I already have?

Where have your expectations about uni come from? Are there any gaps in your understanding? Where could you go to find reliable and accurate information?

What challenges might I face?

What challenges or uncertainties do you foresee in your transition to university?

How will I succeed?

What are some of your personal strengths and how could you use them to help overcome some of the challenges you expect? Are there any specific goals you want to set for yourself in your first term/semester?
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