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3 high school tips to get university-ready

James Davis

Careers Commentator
You’ll soon find that high school is very different to university. Read on to learn how you can get academically prepared for what’s coming.

Getting near the end of high school can be a very exciting time. You’re about to say goodbye to teachers, friends and classrooms you spent the last four years of your life around. As a result, the university lifestyle can be a shock to many students that aren’t prepared. The Department of Education and Training discovered that attrition rates, otherwise known as dropping out, were between 12.69% in NSW to a whopping 33.64% in Tasmania. Even now the full extent of why students drop out isn’t known; low socio-economic status, being aged 25 or older, studying part time or remotely are all contributors but don’t tell the whole story.

Fortunately, you’re in a good position if you’re still in high school. If you’re 19 or under and plan to study full time, you’re already far more likely to get through university than many other demographics. To make your time that much easier, there are a few habits you can get into that will make for a smooth transition.

1. Start budgeting your own time

All through school, you have to come in during the mornings and attend classes all day that are on a set timetable. Teachers tell you what to do and shephard you along to make sure you’re doing the work.

At university, this is all thrown out the window. Your contact hours (time spent at uni) can be far lower, with nobody looking over your shoulder or telling you what to do. This can feel liberating to new university students, but it’s also the reason why so many of them have to scramble to get work done and drop out of courses.

Unlike at high school, you have to be your own teacher. The lecturers and tutors are not going to give you special attention. If you don’t get your work done, they’ll just say “that’s it. You’ve failed.” You have to help yourself by setting a schedule for when you study, how you study and what you study.

This is something you can start doing today after school. Get a whiteboard, or make up a spreadsheet on your laptop and list what assignments you need to do, how long you think it will take and then allocate specific times to doing it. Even though you’ve got teachers telling you what to do still, if you learn to become your own boss now, it’ll make university much easier.

2. Decide on a specific degree as early as possible

It can be really intimidating to come up with what you’d like to study right away, but don’t worry. If you don’t like your degree on the first try, you’re allowed to change it. What matters most right now is that you pick something to begin with. To do this, budget a certain amount of time, like two hours, to researching employment options, median salary and job satisfaction for a variety of different degrees. Whichever one appeals to you most and suits your interests by the end of the two hours can be your pick.

So why is this a good thing to do?

Let’s say you’re in year 10, good at math and want to get into computer science. If you know all this, you now have the ability to choose subjects like Specialist Mathematics and Math Studies later on. If you know you’d like to be a doctor, you can pick biology and similar subjects to better prepare you for future university studies.

What if you’re already in year 12 staring down the barrel of a university application right now? Well fortunately, the advice is similar. So long as you choose something, you can prepare for it over the summer. All universities show students what subjects (known as units) are available throughout each degree, allowing you to understand what’s involved and prepare in the time you’ve got left. Using the Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) from ANU as an example, you can get deeper insights into what units make up the degree. Don’t worry about the ones that have a course code beginning with a two or a three: that means they’re for second or third year students. By the time you’ve done the first year content, you’ll be ready for them.

If you’re still not sure how to choose or aren’t comfortable jumping into a decision right away, there’s a great option available to you.

3. Book an appointment with your career counsellor

If you’re still not sure what to pick, take the initiative and pay your school counsellor or even favourite teacher a visit. Having known you, they’ll be able to judge what they believe might be a good fit and why. Make sure to come in with a list of questions and their thoughts on different courses you’ve had a look at. Chances are you're not the first student wanting to be a lawyer or marine biologist, so they’re bound to have some good advice.

The more specific your questions, the more you’ll get out of the appointment.