Becoming independent: a guide to succeeding at university


Adapting to university can be overwhelming. The loss of structure, major lifestyle changes, and the expectation to evolve into a self-directed learner (and fast!) can lead to stress and burnout. But there are tools available to help you succeed.

The transition from high school to university is an exciting time:

Less contact hours + more freedom = many lingering coffee-fueled study sessions with new, like-minded friends.

It will also be daunting. You’ll have to navigate a new, sometimes confusing, campus to get to your lectures and tutes. You’ll attend classes alongside hundreds of competing strangers. And you’ll have to adjust to completely different teaching styles.

In Years 11 and 12 teachers will encourage you to become more autonomous in your studies, but think back to how many times you were given revision worksheets, forced to study problem areas, and handed practice tests and problems. Finding your strengths and weaknesses at university will be a completely different experience. Now that you have more freedom with your learning, you are now expected to take greater responsibility for it.

The kind of support you will get at university will vary tremendously, by subject, by class, and by lecturer/tutor. One thing is certain; you will not get the same kind of support you had in year 12. Feedback isn’t given in the same way at tertiary level and the onus is on students to seek guidance and support for themselves.

Your new relationship with learning

It’s not uncommon for first-year students to report a complete loss of structure in their lives, present with poor mental health, or drop out of their course before the year is through.

This is partly because university demands that you evolve into a self-directed learner: one who knows how to gain an understanding of content, and then is able to do what is needed in order to learn that content. And this is something students find particularly difficult.

You’ll need to become a master of self-motivation, and more importantly: learn to manage your time, avoid procrastination, stay on top of assessments/exams, take notes quickly and efficiently, and figure out how to read and reference journal articles.

Hovering in the background are other life challenges. Some students have just moved out of home, some take on (maybe multiple) jobs to finance their new lifestyle, and almost all are faced with the awkward task of making new friends.

The good news is, how you learn is in your hands. YOU have control. Don’t be daunted by this – be empowered.

With so much going on, how do you learn anything at all?

Firstly, you should ensure you’re using the most effective study techniques. This can be tricky, because what feels effective usually isn’t. Students often assess whether they’ve learnt something based on the ease with which they complete a task. So it may feel like you’re nailing it when you read and highlight your notes because it’s an effortless thing to do. But completing an easy task does not lead to greater knowledge. It’s actually more effortful tasks, like self-testing, that lead to better results.

Secondly, you need to know what you don’t know. That is, you are expected to continuously identify your strengths and weaknesses in each subject, so that you can determine where to focus each study session. This technique has a name: Deliberate learning, and is considered to be a powerful learning practice.

Deliberate Learning is structured and purposeful hard work directed at specific goals for improvement. It requires that you constantly leave your comfort zone and push the limits of your abilities – which is why it is crucial to be aware of what you know and what you don’t know.

A regimen of deliberate practice -  with the goal of improving performance, skill, or knowledge in a given area  -  will produce results. In fact it’s turned a psychologist into a singer, and a soil scientist into a basketballer. And though they may not have had a name for what they were doing, deliberate learning is believed to have been behind the various successes of Elon Musk, Benjamin Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt.

A more balanced academic experience.

With a study plan in place to help you define your goals, and regular feedback to ensure you reach them, you’ll start to gain a sense of competency. This, in turn, will lead to an increase in motivation and greater wellbeing, equating to a much more enjoyable university experience.

All this and more can be achieved with the help of digital learning tools. If your lecturer has set Pearson Mylab and Mastering or Pearson Revel for your course - you will be able to put 'Deliberate into practice' with personalised study plans, frequent quizzes and guided instruction.

The power to take control of your learning is at your fingertips with Revel, MyLab and Mastering.

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