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New to university?

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading


You're about to start studying as an undergraduate in higher education in the UK. You know your academic studies are going to be different from what you're doing now, whether that's school, college or work. But do you know how they'll be different?

These pages aim to give you a headstart in preparing for university by helping you to understand what you can expect, what will be expected of you, and how to develop your existing study techniques to meet these expectations. They are organised by four key questions, identified in discussions with first year students about what they wished they'd known before they started at university:

  • "How is studying in higher education going to be different to what I'm used to doing?"
  • "What does it mean to be an independent learner?"
  • "What are tutors looking for in academic writing at university?"
  • "How can I manage my workload to get everything done in the time I have?"

For each question there is a page which includes explanations of what is expected from you at university and how this is different from school or further education. There are also activities to help you put the ideas into practice, and build your understanding and expectations.

There has been much research done in recent years about the difficulties experienced by students during transition from one level of academic study to the next. Often these difficulties stem from misplaced expectations, both on the part of students and tutors:

  • Students may believe that they can continue to use the same set of study practices that have been successful at school or college, without needing to develop them for higher education.
  • Alternatively, they may feel that they ought to adopt completely new ways of working, without knowing or understanding what is expected of them at the higher level.
  • Tutors may find it difficult to articulate (to their students or to themselves) the necessary understanding of principles relating to transition to higher level study.

This resource aims to mediate and demystify the transition from school or college to university, by explicitly drawing out the differences and similarities between previous study practices and the practices that will be needed for higher level study. By building on existing skills and knowledge, we hope to avoid the drop in confidence that can result from discovering that higher education requires new thinking about study.


Using the resource to support your students' transition to HE

The whole resource can be used as a bridging, pre- or early study course by focusing on one page at a time, using the guidance and tip sheets as a prompt for discussions, and completing each of the exercises. Some of the exercises can be adapted to include discipline-specific components. Alternatively, students could be encouraged to look at single pages, either in response to skills audits or self-voiced concerns or, as term progresses, as part of the [students talking outside] feedback to formative assignments.

The webpages can be used as a self-help resource, or as the basis for a whole class session. The sections marked "How is this different from previous study?" are especially apt as a prompt for group discussions. Students could be asked to recall some practical examples from their previous educational experience, and compare these to what they expect at university.

The exercises are designed to be usable by students with very different previous educational experiences, working in a variety of disciplines. They are conceived as formative rather than summative, with many requiring the student to take a reflective approach and use their own examples. However, they could also be incorporated into a credit-bearing module as a summative assignment, with some additional guidance as to assignment length, suitable examples, clear learning outcomes etc.

The exercises are linked on each page in Word format, so that students can choose to fill in their answers on-screen if they prefer rather than having to print them off.

In addition to the exercises, there are also some activities which may suggest looking at an external website, or require reflection without a written outcome.

Each of the four guidance pages are downloadable below as printable guides which can be distributed in class, or used with individual students as part of formative feedback or support.

Who is this guide for?

These pages will be useful to a wide range of students entering higher education in the UK at undergraduate level. You may have been:

  • Studying for A-levels, BTEC or NVQ at sixth-form or FE college
  • Taking an Access course either as a younger or more mature student
  • Undertaking work-based learning at FE or other levels
  • Taking a gap year, or coming directly from employment
  • Studying or working outside the UK

They aim to outline general principles that can be applied to most subject disciplines. Some suggestions may be more directly applicable to particular disciplines; you will soon get to know how to adapt the guidance yourself to suit your own discipline.

How should I use this guide?

You can use these pages as a complete pre-entry course to prepare for studying in higher education, by working through each area in turn, reading the guidance and completing all of the activities.

Start by finding out "How is studying in higher education going to be different to what I'm used to doing?" 

Alternatively, you can dip into the areas you are most interested in. In either case, use the links in the sidebar on the left, or in the first section of this page.

Of course, you can start using the pages or return to them after you have entered university. We have also included links to self-help resources that will help you to develop your study practices as you progress through your degree course.