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No longer a pupil but a student

No longer a pupil but a student

Photographer:Fotograaf: Janneke Swinkels

The difference between secondary school and university: more discipline and responsibility needed

You no longer have a teacher urging you on and without self-discipline an exam is a tough hurdle. What is the biggest difference between secondary school and studying at a university, Observant asked employees and senior students. Read their answers and use them for your benefit.

“You have to take your own responsibility,” says Floortje Wijnands, second-year research master's of Business Research from the Netherlands. “You can choose to do very little, but it is wiser to start studying immediately.” She actually had no idea what to expect when she started her bachelor's of International Business. She had been to the open day, had heard about PBL, but in her first group tutorial “everyone was nervous and nobody really dared to speak”. The fact that the language used was English also took some getting used to. “A bit strange, reading the literature in English also slows you down at first, but you get used to it.”

Wijnands liked being able to manage her own time and not having to be at school every day at eight-thirty. “Lessons for only two hours a day, that is really great.” During the first block, she became friends with Esmaralda Muije, now a master's student of International Business. It is very important to make friends, both of them say. “Make sure you integrate in university life. You can give each other support and you are doing something other than just studying. Some students focus too much on studying, they only think about getting good marks. They are the people crying in the library because they are afraid that they won't pass an exam.” Another final tip: find the right study method. One person may benefit from drawing up a list of questions, another may use summaries; Wijnands creates mind maps. “Not long pages of text, but a sketch that shows what is related to what.”

“You have a lot more freedom at university,” says Hannah Bettenhausen, master's student of Management of Learning. She went to secondary school in Germany and did her bachelor's in Frankfurt. “There are a lot of choices to make: what are my ambitions, what do I find interesting, which course would suit me? You have to take a closer look at yourself than you ever did before. You are confronted with your expectations and with reality. Sometimes, they overlap and sometimes they don't.” It is important to talk to a lot of people and ask for advice. “You need people who ask the right questions. Keep listening to others. Use your freedom to hear other ideas, step out of your comfort zone.”

“You need to motivate yourself and find out a lot on your own,” says Christopher Hagemann, master's student of International Business, from Germany. The time when your teacher broke everything down for you has gone. Moreover, the pressure of work is much greater than at secondary school. “You need to discover how to study, what is important and what is not. Lecturers at university won't tell you that.” Living in digs? “Washing and cleaning wasn't a problem. Cooking was the hardest, but I can handle that now.”

Anne de Groot, graduated from the bachelor's of Health Sciences, from the Netherlands, lived with her parents for the first six months. “Student life only really begins when you live in digs. You enter a completely different world. If you go home every day, you don't really get to know that world.”

According to Valentijn Verberk, third-year student of Economics, from the Netherlands, it makes a great difference whether you live in a room on your own or not. “At home, my dinner was waiting for me on the table and my washing was done. Suddenly you have to do all that stuff yourself. You quickly get used to it, you have to.” Where it concerns studying, the biggest difference between secondary school and university is taking responsibility. Verberk was well able for that, completing the propaedeutic programme in one year. “You have your first exam after eight weeks, you don't know how difficult it will be, how comprehensive. I prepared myself for it really well. After a couple of exams, you get better at dealing with them.”

“There is less pressure to study, but eventually there is an exam lurking”

He acquired one education prize after another and may call himself the most popular lecturer at the School of Business and Economics. Christian Kerckhoffs, co-ordinator of the QM2 block (Statistics and Mathematics), feels this is an awful lot of praise. “I am the most well-known lecturer among bachelor's students,” he says in his study on the Tongersestraat 53.

The transition from secondary school to university is a hard and abrupt one, Kerckhoffs knows. “It is a leap towards adulthood.” Suddenly, you are living by yourself and find yourself having to cope with extra tasks - cooking, washing, and shopping. The protective environment of home is no longer there. At the same time, there is “a sudden and fantastic increase of individual freedom, and an equally sudden appeal to personal responsibility. After all, you have far fewer contact hours than at secondary school and fewer subjects per block. And if you want, you don't have to do very much. After all, there is no teacher going on at you. The pressure to work is much less at university, but eventually, there is still an exam lurking. So, it is a case of dealing with that freedom properly.” 

Kerckhoffs tip: start studying in the first week. Don't ignore your books for weeks on end, or things will really go wrong with the exam, so you will have a resit after the following block or a year later. “You will be dragging that along with you.” Something else: “Don't fall for some senior student telling you over a beer that QM1 is impossible to pass. Take that with a grain of salt, it is possible to pass, otherwise it would be very empty here after the first year.” And lastly: “Don't rely on a QM crash course with one of those commercial clubs. They are very clever; you lose your money and fail. If you do pass QM1, then you will still be in trouble with QM2. Those crash courses only teach you tricks, it has nothing to do with real understanding.”

“I still can't cook”

Rector Rianne Letschert remembers her first year very well. She chose the study of Law at the University of Amsterdam. She doesn't need to think very long to answer the question what the biggest difference was between secondary school and university: “That is the immense freedom that you suddenly have.”

The first thing she immediately noticed was that there were far fewer contact hours and a lot more responsibility. “At secondary school, they tell you exactly what and how you should learn and when you need to know it.” At university, you are expected to find out yourself. “So, it is important that you find a good learning rhythm; don't underestimate the need to keep up with everything.” She found that out the “hard way”. “I didn't pass my first exam; I started studying way too late.” The next time, I started sooner. “You get used to it. In the end, I passed my first year, so it worked out.”

It's not just in your studying but also in daily life that you have to deal with new things. “I was on my own in a room in Amsterdam (my classmates went to universities in other cities), had to find my way in a new social environment, do my washing and cooking. I absolutely could not do the latter; by the way, I still can't, ha ha. That first year is mainly getting to know yourself and finding out what suits you.”

The rector's tip: “Try to enjoy those first few months a little. Besides studying, make time to participate in the fun things that are organised.”

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