How uni is different from high school

Girl with backpack and books feature

If you’re planning on attending university in the future or you’re just about to start, you might be wondering what to expect. How different is it from high school, really?

Starting university is an exhilarating new chapter in your life. It’s a time full of opportunities, novel experiences and might be your first steps into proper adulthood. As welcome as that is, you’re probably curious about what’s actually in store. There are quite a few differences between high school and university, but here are some of the major ones.

You’ll be treated like an adult

There’s a lot of freedom now, but with that comes responsibility. You’re expected to choose and enrol in classes, organise books and other materials, and be in charge of your educational success. Roll call isn’t typically taken in lectures (while it’s not compulsory, it’s strongly recommended you attend for your own sake) and university students can come and go from campus as they please.

Independent learning

After years of being told what to study, what the answers are, and how to reach the conclusion, independent learning might take a little while to get your head around. Students are encouraged to think critically, so get well-acquainted with the library and the range of Murdoch learning and skills support services. Also find out how to master the art of note-taking and exam revision.

Class sizes

In high school you knew everyone, so walking into a university lecture theatre for the first time where there are hundreds of unfamiliar faces can feel pretty daunting. You definitely won’t be the only one thinking this – no matter how confident others seem. On the flipside, tutorial or lab classes may actually be smaller than what you’re used to.

If you can, find your lecture halls, labs and classrooms ahead of time, and arrive early for the first sessions so you don’t feel anxious.

Overseas opportunities

Imagine what it would be like to travel abroad, immersing yourself in a new culture and mingling with students from all over the world. Maybe you could picture yourself soaking up the good life in Spain. Or in Japan. Or Canada. Or Germany. There are so many adventures available through international exchange programs, short-term study abroad, international internships, and international study tours. Adios!

Semesters, not terms

Instead of four terms, there are two semesters of 17 weeks each including study revision and exam weeks. Semester one usually runs from late February to mid-June, and semester two from late July to late November.

Your degree may differ slightly to this, with prac units outside regular semester times or there may be summer school offered.


Unlike school where there was a strict set time every day, uni is far more flexible and individual. If you’re an early bird, you could do a yoga or gym session first thing in the morning, get a coffee and then head to class. Or if you’re shuffling around like an old-school zombie and unable to function until midday, be sure to schedule classes later in the day, if you can.

Fun new experiences

You’ll find people much more approachable and open to socialising. Join a club to try your hand at something new or explore an old hobby. You could brush up on your photography skills, join the cosplay community, meet with a paintball group, or find like-minded friends in the vegan society. There are also loads of volunteering opportunities and Guild events throughout the year.

Choosing subjects

You would’ve experienced this to a certain degree in high school, when picking your WACE subjects. At uni you decide your major and minor and also electives. All courses have core units that are compulsory, but outside of that is a lot of intellectual and personal freedom. You could even choose a unit or two completely unrelated to your course out of pure curiosity.


While you may only have a certain number of contact hours a week, remember most study takes place outside the classroom. You’ll have to be conscientious to stay on top of this. As a guide, we recommend a 1:3 time slice: three hours of outside study to every hour of in-class contact. Get into good study habits – time management techniques should be a priority – as soon as possible.

Your lecturers and teachers

You’ll have access to all sorts of expertise in your teachers – academics, working professionals in their respective fields, former students, and well-known guest presenters. To have an in-depth chat with one, you’ll usually have to make an appointment. You may also find assignment feedback is slower and less frequent than high school.

Explore our range of events to see for yourself what uni is really like.

Posted on:

3 Mar 2021

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