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From high school to university

University Aug 2008: In times like today, everyday is a new challenge that brings with it changes that one either learns to adapt to, or fights hard to resist. Nevertheless, there are some changes that come with time and affect us with greater intensity. One such change that students today face is the transition from high school to university.
>Having spent all their lives moving a grade up every year and learning to gel in with the new environment, teachers, etc., students are still not prepared for what awaits them as they enter their respective universities. The change is much more drastic and most students are caught off guard. As Adeena, a student who started university a few months back, says: "You realise that the opportunities that were just handed to you at school now have to be worked for or created."

The primary reason why many students face a dire need for adjustment is that before joining university they prepare themselves in accordance with the schemas they develop about university. These schemas pertain to the academics, faculty as well as the student body and campus life. Most of the times, these images are created using input from two basic sources; media and films, and the websites and brochures for universities.

Most movies today portray university life to be fun-filled with a few hiccups here and there, where every entrant is easily able to find his path and discover his calling. Whereas in real life, this couldn't be further from the truth as universities don't provide students with a readymade life plan and everyday proves to be a consistent struggle. As Saaim, a recent university graduate says: "Thanks to all the movies I watched, I imagined university to have more of a social outlook with a lot of parties and stuff so I didn't take my first semester very seriously and because of that I ended up with a lousy GPA in the first semester."As far as the admissions material of the universities is concerned, it paints a rosy picture and one discovers the reality only upon entering it. "Before I applied to universities for admission, I researched about them through their websites and naturally, I developed certain images in my mind of how university would be like. But upon actually joining it, I was caught off guard to see so much that was inconsistent with what I had in mind," says Sultana, also a university student.

Students are led to believe that they will be taught by the finest of teachers at university. They expect a very professional approach from them. But when they find out that in reality, starting university does not guarantee any such professionalism, it once again shocks them. While some teachers might be experts in their field, it is not necessary that all of them will be equally good.

When at school, students can depend upon their teachers as well as parents to remind them of their responsibilities and guide them. They are corrected when they are wrong and advised and counselled when needed. But at university, students are expected to take responsibility for what they do and don't do, as well as for the consequences of their decisions. They are required to be self-sufficient and capable of dealing with matters on their own. Initially university students find it difficult to move from the relatively cocooned environment of schools, to the rigorous university lifestyle.

At university, students have to learn to prioritise and make their demands, meet with their own efforts. They have to learn to get what they want and the various ways to do it. They can no longer count on being given something just because it is their right, but instead have to make an effort to achieve it.

At school, students are usually told what they need to learn from assigned readings whereas at university, it is up to the students to read and understand the assigned material, because teachers proceed with the course under the assumption that the students have already done it.

University students initially face a lot of problems coping up with the heavy amount of workload as they juggle studies with the new found freedom of no checks on them. It is hard for them to adjust to the fact that while they could depend on the teaching within the class at school for a large part of their studies, at university, they usually have to study more on their own than they learn in class.

At school, a student is said to be doing well if he is capable of reproducing what he is taught in class or solve problems similar to the ones he was taught. Whereas at university, students are said to excel when they are able to apply what they have learnt to new circumstances or solve new kinds of problems. This kind of mental exercise expands the mental horizons of the students and helps them think outside the box.

For many students, starting university means moving away from home and for some of them it is the first time that they stay away from home for long. The added pressure of living alone in a new place, which can sometimes even be halfway across the world, can also contribute to making the settling down process even more difficult. Khurram, a Pakistani student who is studying abroad says: "Everything from living on your own, to dealing with finances, doing laundry, or even finding time for food is a lot of responsibility to digest in one blow. Not to mention the adjustment required pertaining to academics."

Despite all the difficulties that accompany life at university, it is said to be a time when one learns most about the world and the people around. The experiences at university are said to be unparalleled in creating one's character and molding one into what they become eventually. As Saaim says: "University gives one a brush with the external world, makes them understand what reality is and helps them stay there."

One walks into university to some extent as a clean slate and leaves with markings of the experiences gained during the years spent there.

By Amena Jafri (Dawn)

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