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How Hard is University Compared to High School in Australia?

Transitioning from high school to university is a huge achievement, and it’s only natural to be curious about the differences between the two, including how hard university is. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of what students in Australia can expect as they embark on this new journey, as well as some tips from top university students to help you make university more manageable.

In short, university is generally considered harder than high school, but you might be surprised by just how manageable it can be with the right strategies and mindset. We’ll discuss exactly why university is harder below, but rest assured that all of these challenges can totally be overcome and we believe any student can thrive at university with the strategies we’ll outline at the end!

High School vs. University in Australia: Why University’s Harder

The leap from high school to university is often seen as a rite of passage. We said above that this leap is often a difficult one for many students to make, and it’s generally touted that university is indeed harder than high school in Australia (and everywhere else). Of course, it does depend on the specific degree you’re studying and how easy or hard you found high school in general, so keep that it mind. There are a few main reasons why university is considered harder than high school, so let’s delve into a few categories.

1. Why University Academics Are Harder Than High School

Overall, almost all university students agree that the academic load in university is harder than that encountered in high school. This of course will depend on your degree, but it’s generally true that both the innate difficulty and the volume of content is far harder than high school. A classic analogy is that university can sometimes feel like drinking water from a fire hose with just how much content there is to cover in a relatively short amount of time.

For content-heavy degrees like science and medicine, this huge amount of volume is what makes university harder than high school for the most part. For concept-heavy degrees like engineering, it’s arguably more so the innate difficulty of the content that makes the degree more challenging, but the volume of content is also usually more than high school as well.

Another reason why university academics is considered more difficult than high school is that the support that you are used to (or take for granted, like me) from your teachers will no longer follow you into tertiary education. You may not realise it now, but the support that your teachers give you in high school is phenomenal and your lecturers in university simply don’t have the time to commit to their students in the same way. As a result, no-one will be there to hold your hand, remind you to submit an assignment, or remind you to study in university. That means your academic success is ultimately entirely up to you.

2. Why Universities Have Harder Learning Environments

Another important transition to make between high school and university is adapting to different learning environments. A key part of this is an increase in class sizes. Transitioning from smaller high school classes to potentially large university lectures can be overwhelming for some students. For instance, it can be more difficult to ask a question if there are another 100 people in the lecture hall with you.

Similar to our point in the academics section, this increased class size also means that you lecturer may not be as open to questions as your high school teachers were. As we said above, you’ll quickly find that lecturers don’t have the time to commit to the hands-on role that high school teachers play, and instead expect students to play a more independent role in their own learning. This doesn’t mean that questions are completely off the table, and it’s still 100% recommended to ask them. It just means you likely won’t have the one-to-one attention you’re used to from high school.

Many universities have recently shifted to a more online or “flipped classroom” model of learning. While this can be a positive thing for many students, for some it may also detract from their comprehension and engagement in class. The move to online learning, while convenient, may make university harder for some students.

3. Student Life & Responsibilities Make University Harder

Something you may not have considered yet is your living arrangements and how you will survive outside of the academic side of university. While university brings with it a heap of amazing social opportunities, clubs, and balls, it also means for many students that you will be living by yourself and have to spend additional time managing your daily life, from cooking to laundry.

These additional living responsibilities may seem minor, but it can take a few months for many university students to adjust to looking after themselves, given that the majority of these tasks likely would have been done by their parents while they were in high school. Your living arrangements and responsibilities may make university harder than high school if you’re not used the these ‘life maintenance’ activities as they can take away valuable study or personal time.

4. Financial Considerations May Make University Harder Than High School

If you’re lucky enough to get financial support from your parents, this section probably isn’t too relevant for you, but for a lot of uni students, financial responsibilities can make their university life more than their high school one. For instance, if you need to work to afford textbooks, food, and other living expenses, chances are this time spent working could make university harder than high school.

Time spent at work is time away from study and personal time which may increase stress. The obstacle of financial commitments is one that many university students face, and it can definitely be overcome with suitable time management and flexible part-time jobs that cater to studying. For more information on juggling studying with work, check out our article on whether you should work in Year 12.

5. Mental Health & Well-Being

There are many mental health and well-being factors that may make university harder than high school. For instance, many students find that they have to attend a university that few of their friends are going to, or they may even have to move away from their home state to pursue their desired course. If you do find yourself moving away from friends and family, it can be challenging to adjust to a new environment without these support systems.

Having said that, it is still 100% possible to make new friends at university, and while it may seem daunting at first, many students find themselves more than happy with the new friends and support systems they make away from their old friends and family. Moving away from family also gives students the opportunity to try new things and gain independence.

How To Make University Less Difficult

We feel this article has been a bit of a downer, but that’s definitely not the perception we want to portray. University is for many students the best years of their lives, and we’re confident it can be for you as well. Although it is completely natural to feel concerned with how hard if may be compared to high school, know that almost every single student before you has felt the exact same way, and they’ve still found ways to thrive in the new environment that is tertiary education.

All of the obstacles we’ve highlighted in this article can easily be overcome, and some top tips that address all of them are:

  1. Manage Your Time: Try to complete a study plan or at least use a calendar for the semesters to keep yourself on track, and make sure you dedicate enough time to your studies each week without feeling overwhelmed. This will allow you to balance the increased academic load with extra commitments like work and socialising.
  2. Build A Support System: Try to reach out to your new peers as these are going to be your future colleagues. The friends you make at university have the potential to be truly life-long, and it’s well worth your time to socialise and support each other through your degree. You can also reach out to your university’s support networks like counsellors.
  3. Make Time For Yourself: University is a stressful time, so it’s important to take some time out of day away from studies. Whether it’s going to the gym, going for a run, or meditating, making some time for yourself will help you to maintain both your mental and physical health.
  4. Try New Study Techniques: Don’t be afraid to try new study techniques when you get to university. Like others, you may find that the old techniques you used in high school aren’t as effective. For instance maybe it’s no longer feasible to write detailed notes, and maybe you’re finding re-reading your notes isn’t making the content go in. Try new techniques that incorporate active recall and spaced repetition, and experiment to find the strategies that work best for you.

The journey from high school to university in Australia is transformative. While it presents challenges, it also offers countless opportunities for growth, learning, and personal development. University is often considered harder than high school for several reasons, but it’s also seen by many as the best years of life. So, make the most of it, and don’t worry too much about the negatives!

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