university Union members sitting around planning

You’ve successfully completed A-levels and are on the way to your next chapter…university! Time to remove the armbands and dive in at the deep end. University is a giant leap towards independence. Daunting as it may seem, it is a fantastic opportunity to broaden your academic and social horizons.    

But how does it compare to college? - Is there a massive step up in the workload? Are exams a lot harder? What are the social benefits? These are the questions that plague the minds of every prospective student.

Fortunately for you, we’ve compiled a list of six notable differences between college and university in the UK.     


Book shelves in a university library

Depending on your course and education provider, contact hours and recommended study time vary. If you choose to embark on an academically demanding course at one of the UK’s top universities, for example, you can almost certainly expect a more challenging workload.   

But the course you choose will (hopefully) be something you enjoy learning about so while very few of us like writing essays, at least it’s a subject you will be interested in.

Vocational courses, such as Medicine and Veterinary science, tend to follow a 9-5 lecture structure with students expected to stay on campus all day. However, if your chosen degree has less contact hours, we’d still recommend sticking around campus to get your work done in the day freeing up time for social events in the evening.   

Teaching style

Perhaps one of the biggest adjustments to university is the difference in teaching style. While this changes from tutor to tutor, degree-level teaching follows a more independent style to A-levels.

At university, independent study is essential and you’re encouraged to give the same commitment to your course as you would a full-time job. That’s right, university life isn’t all fun and games! Of course, tutors are still on hand to share their words of wisdom but you are responsible for taking notes, planning essays, conducting research and completing assignments to meet tight deadlines.  


Student sitting an exam at university

Okay, you’ve heard the horror stories about dreaded assessments. But what can you really expect from exams at university? Well for a start, undergraduate exams are a lot harder to master. Rather than systematic, structured answers, degree-level markers are looking for intelligent and critical insights that support your argument.

The grading system also changes at university. Forget everything you’ve ever known about the school A*-F marking structure, undergraduate grades are completely different. Instead if you gain 70% or over in an assessment you receive a first class (1st), anything between 60-69% scores you an upper second class (2:1), 50-59% is a lower second class (2:2) and 40-49% is a third class. Don’t worry if this all sounds extremely confusing, lecturers will talk you through it.

Living arrangements

Accommodation block

Generally, students studying A-levels (or equivalent) still live at home. But when applying to university, you will be faced with the opportunity to stay in Halls of Residence

Acting as the beating heart of student activity, halls allow you to engage with a wide range of diverse students. From flat parties to games nights, student accommodation provides you with plenty of social opportunities.

Typically, students will remain in uni digs for their first year before moving into house shares with other students for the rest of their university experience. Look at our 8 simple ways to prepare you for renting as a student guide for some advice.    


Group of students walking around university campus

UK universities have a fantastic international reputation, and so attract a varied mixture of students every year – some domestic, some international. Bringing culture, food and personality, you get the chance to interact with a whole range of different people whilst studying a course of your choice.

Ultimately, every student has something different to offer making university a breeding ground for friendship and unity. Perhaps you’ll end up meeting lifelong friends? Either way, you are sure to take away some brilliant memories with great people.


Despite student stereotypes, going out every night of the week might be a stretch – both financially and academically. But whether you’re a party animal or not, university brings many social opportunities your way.       

There’s plenty to keep you busy from societies and union events to house parties and nights out; expect your social calendar to fill up fast when you move to university.

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