Sunday 15 September 2019

The Weekly Read: Secondary school vs college, here's what to expect

Darragh McGrath examines the differences between the two education systems

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Stock image

Darragh McGrath

Get up, have breakfast and go sit in a room with friends and peers listening to someone pass on knowledge. Sound familiar? It should, because this is the daily grind of education most students all over the world will experience from five to seven days a week, as young as four onwards.

However, this routine is about the only thing the life of a secondary school pupil and that of a college student has in common (besides exam stress).

Going to college is seen as a goal at the end of second level education, when really it is not a destination but the start of a new journey. The striking differences between syllabus directed school work and actually studying an academic subject or professional qualification to degree level are various and undoubtedly take some new students some time to adjust to.

One of the most obvious is the level of detachment that comes with sitting in a large lecture hall with over a hundred other students, especially when here in Ireland smaller rural schools may have had less than 40 in their graduating class. While many lecturers are very approachable and often more than happy to help with any questions, the thought of talking to someone who had just commanded the attention of the room for an hour may be difficult for some, who might end up feeling like a lost face in the crowd now that the more person to person relationship of the student and teacher in a class has been left behind.

The college itself, and in particular the larger universities can be quite intimidating. A school is just one building, but maps are required just to find one’s way around a campus to get to a lecture. Fortunately adapting to these changes doesn’t normally take very long and could even be viewed as part of growing up; leaving the small, familiar place you have known every day for at least 6 years and taking your first step into the real wider world as a young adult.

Indeed maturity is something you’ll also acquire as you earn course credits. Though the final exams of secondary school; the dreaded Leaving Cert and others like it are often exaggerated as all important tests that must be passed, the truth is there are many people who have repeated them in order to obtain a better grade or simply to pass failed subjects. College exams and course assignments are different; often all modules must be passed in order to progress through the degree and with repeating being time consuming and expensive, emphasis is placed on good performance. However, unlike school where teachers could spend months preparing their class for upcoming finals the majority of college courses are based on self-directed learning (even attendance at lectures themselves isn’t mandatory on many courses). Lecturers will help students prior to exams and assignments but ultimately it is their own effort that will earn them desired results.

Being responsible for your own learning can also be liberating, especially since college is a time to explore an area of personal interest. This more focused style of learning suits many students much better than the varied subjects of school (what was worse than having to sit through a detested subject day in, day out?). Outside of academics there are countless opportunities to meet new friends (one of the challenges of first year) and either try out new hobbies or share old ones with like-minded people. Making the clubs and societies of college an integral part of student life, with much more available than secondary school extracurriculars.

Though college can seem like just the next step on the ladder following school, it is in fact a whole new experience where you will grow as a person and student. You’ll take off the school uniform you wore to be part of a class group and wear your own clothes day to day as you find yourself.

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