You worked hard on your application, nailed your interview, and secured a place at college - well done! Now it’s time to start thinking about the big questions: what is college actually like? What do you need? What should you expect? This guide lays it all out for you to make sure you hit the ground running in September.
College vs school
College in the UK is very different to secondary school. To start with, you’ll have fewer lessons than you had when you were at school, and you don’t actually need to be on campus at all when you don’t have lessons, lectures, or workshops. You’ll also have much more control over what you wear everyday - though there are still some rules in place - and how you spend your free time. You will most likely call your teachers and tutors by their first names, and in some classes you might even be allowed to take a hot drink with you.
However, with great perks comes great responsibility. Being able to come and go means you are completely responsible for being where you need to be at the right time and with the right equipment. Your teachers and tutors won't provide you with notebooks, spare paper, pens, or anything else you need, and they won't chase after you if you’re not on time for class - you can even be refused entry into the classroom if you arrive too late or don’t have all of your equipment. You are also responsible for completing any pre-reading that needs to be done before your lessons, and you’ll need to decide how and when you study outside of class.
In this respect, college is much more like a job or university than school, so you’ll be able to develop good habits and feel prepared for whatever you choose to do after college.
This may seem obvious, but you’ll need to think about:
- How you’re going to get there - is there public transport that will get you close enough? Can you walk? Can you car share? Can you cycle and is there a safe place to store your bike?
- How long it’s going to take you - what time do you need to leave the house? What time do you need to wake up? Have you allowed time for traffic if you’re travelling by road?
- How your travel might vary each day - does the frequency of public transport change out of peak hours? Will you be going home in the dark often and are you comfortable doing this?
- How much it’s going to cost - can you afford the trip there and back on public transport? Can you also afford to go out and come back during your lunch break or study periods? Will your travel be cheaper at different times of the day? If you own a car, will you have to pay for parking or for a permit?
Don’t forget that certain towns and cities offer reduced travel on public transport for students between the ages of 16-25, and you also might be eligible for a bursary to help subsidise your travel.
There is some standard equipment you’re going to need:
- A ring binder for each subject you are studying
- Folder dividers for different modules
- Lined paper to take notes
- Pens, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.
You’ll be expected to take lots of notes that won’t be checked for accuracy so it’s in your best interest to make your notes clear, concise, and useful - you might need them long after you’ve forgotten what that lesson was all about. You can use colour, symbols, bullet points, and boxes to help you so make sure you have everything you need to do this.
Depending on the course you’re taking, you might also need other equipment like:
- Laboratory equipment
- Sports kit and equipment
- A calculator, protractor, and compass
- Set squares and design equipment
If you haven’t been given a list of what you need, ask your college or check their website and make sure you remember the right equipment on the days that you need it.
You should also bear in mind that not all colleges offer locker storage, so you may need some crates or magazine racks to store your work and equipment in when you’re not using it.
Although you need to be organised at school, it’s nothing compared to how on top of things you need to be at college!
Because you are responsible for getting to class on time, you shouldn’t rely on your paper timetable to help you keep track of your day - it can get lost or ruined, and you’ll have to keep checking it to know what’s going on. If you like using paper and writing things down, you can buy a diary if your college doesn’t give you one. Otherwise you can download an app to keep you on top of where you should be and when, for example:
- Class Timetable
A great alternative is to use the calendar on your phone to add your classes as recurring events, and set up a notification so you always know when you have a lesson or workshop coming up. This is also handy for remembering when assignments are due, when mock or real exams are coming up, when you have an upcoming shift at a part time job, and to help you schedule in study sessions (see below).
That reduced timetable means you’ll have lots of study periods (or free periods) to go off campus, to socialise, to take part in sports, to start a part time job, and - of course - to study.
To help you manage your time, you should create a study timetable from day 1: see the link below for some help making one. You might not be taking exams for a couple of years, or you may not take exams at all, but you’ll be expected to work on homework, short and long term assignments, and study independently for at least three hours per subject per week, if not longer.
Your teachers will be well aware of the time that you have free and will expect you to use it constructively - they won’t accept ‘I didn’t have time’ as a reason why you haven’t completed work or weren’t ready for a test.
You don’t have to be in the library all day every day - but you do need to make sure you set aside time to do your work. You could have the best of both worlds and create a study group to work with your friends on challenging topics - but try to stay on track! It’s easy to get caught up chatting with friends and losing hours on end without realising it! Without being too hard on yourself, try to be strict with your time so you’re not up until 3am working the night before a big deadline.
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Get Revising: Study Planner
An easy way to build a study timetable online that you can print out or keep on your phone.