A-Level to University: The Leap of Faith

We’ve all seen the memes plastered on social media: ‘The jump from GCSE to A-level is like boiling an egg once and then being asked to cook a three-course meal for MasterChef’ is a personal favourite. Undoubtedly the jump from GCSE to A-level is a challenge, but what about A-level to degree level? These posts on social media are often accompanied by weary university students with a half-comic warning: ‘Just wait ‘till you get to uni’.

University. It should be easier than A-levels, right? In most cases you now have just one subject to focus on, rather than three or four to juggle – or at least, that’s what I told myself as a naive fresher three years ago…

I won’t lie to you – in my experience, the ‘jump’ to university from A-level is more like a leap of faith. It’s not all clear sailing, and there will be challenges: the differences between the two levels of study are numerous.

Now, as an “all-knowing” student in my third year of university study, I am able to share some top tips and tricks to make that leap a little less daunting. In this article, I will be discussing one common fear: the dreaded workload increase.

Ahh, the days of A-level and GCSE where you’d be more than likely have the best part of the academic year to complete a single piece of coursework; well, at university you’ll often only have the best part of a month. Whilst this does sound scary – believe me, I took a good few months to adjust – it’s not impossible. This is because whilst your workload will increase, so will your free time, especially if you are a humanities student; I, for example, have only 9(!) contact hours this year.

My first piece of advice here then would be to prioritise. As previously implied, doing just one subject at degree level does not mean everything is easier or (unfortunately), less stressful. Now you’ll often have a number of modules to juggle all with due dates around the same week (lovely!) I would therefore suggest tackling the most challenging pieces of work first, in order to have something to look forward to at the end of the seemingly infinite coursework road.

Secondly, don’t burn out – or leave things to the last minute. As cliché as it sounds: balance is crucial. You don’t want to be spending every waking hour on your work because to quote Stephen King: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. Seriously, university is a fantastic time to try new things and be social – don’t let the work consume you. However, equally, don’t forget about your work altogether. The phrase ‘first year doesn’t count’ is thrown around a lot, but trust me, if you put the effort in from being a fresher, the transition to the upper years will be a lot smoother. The famous all-nighter is also a phenomenon you will no doubt encounter; however, unless you know you work best like this, I would try to avoid it. University work tends to require a lot more research than A-level, meaning it takes more planning and often, a visit or two to the library. I would recommend allocating a set time to do work in order to achieve this balance. University days run from 9am-6pm, but you won’t be in all the time every day. Personally, I would advise having evenings as free time and then working in either the morning or afternoon, timetable dependant.

Thirdly, seek help if you need it! Many students, myself included, have often felt overwhelmed at university. Undeniably, it’s something many people are not entirely prepared for, and lots of changes happen simultaneously: new housemates, new course and often, a new town or city to navigate. No one is expected to get everything right the first time, so make use of the facilities around you: personal tutors, student services, and even your fellow students!

Hopefully, these tips will be helpful. I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote, which as a student I tend to live by: ‘Success is a state of mind’ – Joyce Brothers.

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