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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

What is higher education really like?

Higher education means a lot more than just getting a qualification. It also offers you the chance to meet new people and take advantage of new opportunities.

What is higher education all about?

Unlike school, you're at university or college because you want to be, learning more about a subject or job you're really into. You'll have more control over how and when you study - though it’s up to you to make the most of it.

You'll find higher education challenging - getting used to new ways of learning and thinking may take time - but you'll have a lot of fun along the way. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to experience new things and meet new people.

What you can study

you'll learn lots more about a subject you're really into

You can study lots of interesting subjects at university or a college offering higher education courses. Most people study one or two subjects, but in a lot of detail.

There are higher education courses in subjects you studied at school, like maths or English. Or there are more unusual options, such as criminology (the study of crime) or software engineering (learning to write computer software - games or other programs). Other courses lead to a specific job: for example, journalism or medicine.

It’s possible to study ‘combined’ courses. For example, someone wishing to follow a career in politics but with an interest in art might study both subjects together.

Studying and social life


Higher education is a very different experience to school or further education.

You are expected to do far more work for yourself. Lectures and seminars will provide guidance, but you’ll need to widen your knowledge through background reading.

Subject staff will offer lots of advice to help you get used to this new way of working. Library staff will be able to help you find the materials you need, and advise on referencing and avoiding plagiarism when it comes to writing essays.


Making new friends is a key part of the higher education experience. If you’re worried about fitting in, remember that students from all backgrounds and of all ages go to university and college.

One way to form friendships is through student societies or sports. It’s always easier to bond with someone if you share a common interest. There will probably be a full list of societies available on your students' union website, and you’ll have an opportunity to join up to most at the ‘freshers’ fair’.

Most institutions have a sports centre of their own or an arrangement with the local centre. As a student you’re likely to have access to sports facilities, and you may get a discount on gym membership.

Getting a taste of student life

Most universities and colleges run open days. They’re generally held two or three times a year, allowing members of the public to look around the institution and see what's on offer. Many institutions also offer short courses over the summer period, giving prospective students the chance to get a taste of higher education.

At these events you’ll be able to find out from lecturers and students all the good and bad points of university life, take a tour of the campus and sit in on lectures and seminars.

The Bright knowledge resource library has information about higher education, money and careers.

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