Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Am I Really Ready for University?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Am I Really Ready for University?

Article excerpt

As this sixth-former looks into her future, she asks if school has prepared her as well as it could

University has long been prescribed as the next step for the majority of 18-year-olds. Yet, as a sixth-former on the brink of eternally parting ways with A-level education, I find that the transition between my sheltered, structured school life and the vast independence of university seems incredibly daunting.

My first concern is academic. At first glance, sixth form provides a solid foundation for undergraduate studies, so I should have little to fear. The abundance of academic extracurricular clubs, the emphasis on wider reading and the availability of extended scholarly projects have allowed me to exercise an independence in my study that I certainly couldn't at GCSE. Regimented punishments for missed homework and poor grades have fallen away, helping the average sixth-former to recognise the importance of self-motivation.

However, this independence is still somewhat elusive in terms of time management. My school, for example, operates a strict register for free periods - a system that quashes students' ability to decide when or where they study and is at odds with the less-structured university approach. Such disparity is also apparent in some teaching styles. On occasion, teachers pressed by the time restrictions of the academic year will spoon-feed course content to their classes, deviating from the process of independent research and learning that takes place at university.

Indulgent teaching such as this just doesn't seem to be viable at undergraduate level because of the diminished presence of academics, who tend to be completing their own research while lecturing.

On the plus side, though, sixth form does facilitate more mature relationships with teachers. The difficulty of A-levels means that students and educators work together towards a common goal. The ability to create and maintain such relationships is arguably essential not only to university life but also to everyday adulthood.

Yet the relationships I am most concerned about at university are not those with teachers but those with my future peers - the jury is definitely out as to whether sixth form equips students to make and sustain new friendships. The smaller environment that I've found myself in at sixth form has made for limited social circles, in which everyone is secure in their familiarity with everyone else. Sixth forms, especially those that are more modest in size, are a perfect breeding ground for social segregation, which makes branching out at university all the more difficult. …

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