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What to Expect at a UK University?

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

You're either thinking of applying or you're already accepted to one of the higher education institutions in the UK? Hurray! Congratulations, you deserve a pint of beer or the beverage of your choice, but what now?


Learn to Learn Differently

Depending on whether this will be your first or second degree, you might already have some preconceptions about studying after high school. Contrary to what you’d expect, I’m not going to say you have to throw it all in the trash, just that you might have to relearn learning itself.

What do I mean by that?

UK universities strongly believe in independent learning and being highly self-sufficient. Professors don’t really want to be bothered by all sorts of calamities that you may go through as culture shock ebbs and flows; they’re are also not interested in your illnesses, bank problems, accommodation issues and any other obstacles you’re about to face.

But they are not heartless monsters either. What they really care about is in fact their job and their courses. And they’d like you to respect that. A deadline is a deadline, an absence is an absence. It’s absolutely up to you how much you prepare and how much you want to take out of and invest in your studies. If you need guidance, ask for a tutorial or visit them in their office hours, just don’t send them endless emails with your questions.

As a returning pre-sessional teacher at various UK universities, who prepares international students for their academic studies, I can say that we are instructed not to be too helpful and understanding with our students because one of our tasks is to prepare them for the academic culture they are going to have to successfully function in.

Logic is Sexy

Another major thing to prepare for is essay writing. Not just the sole fact of having to write a LOT but also the different structure of English essays. They follow an extremely logical and some might say quite simplistic and self-explanatory style.

I usually call it the hamburger technique, which means that the two buns, the introduction and the conclusion, are very similar to each other in content: They basically summarize the main points of the essay. The body is the meat, containing the information that has already been introduced and will be summarized later.

Everything important is said at least three times and supported with evidence throughout. So in fact, an essay is not about discovering and inventing something new (unless you’re a postgrad student when individual research is becoming more prominent). It’s more about showing that you can find the most important bits in various sources, find the common thread among them, then synthesize and paraphrase those bits into one very linear and logical text. No biggie right? But there’s a reason why so many institutions offer in-sessional writing support BOTH for their native and international students. As the famous quote goes:

Academic language is no one’s mother tongue. (Bordieu and Passeron 1994).

So don’t worry if you can’t get your head around this different system easily. Take advantage of all the writing sessions that are offered by departments or institutions. Just avoid one and crucial step: actually asking someone to write the work for you. That’s just as bad and criminal as plagiarism, which is the worst and most serious crime you can commit in academia, which can even lead to expulsion. So don’t you skip those How to paraphrase units in your guidebook, those are one of the most important chapters you’ll need.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the social activities you will be a part of but that’s not something for me to write about but something for you to experience. Just drink responsibly you know! :)

Meanwhile what I can help you with is all the rest that has been said: independent study skills, essay writing skills, academic reading and vocabulary. Have a look at the courses on offer and feel free to sign up if you need further help.

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