These different diplomas offer different styles of studies but are equally valid in terms of academic level. The Maturité trains students to absorb an enormous amount of information across a broad curriculum; the French Bac is also information packed with a heavy emphasis on the chosen subjects; the IB and the A-Level favour critical thinking and in-depth study, the former across the curriculum, the latter according to the student’s choice. Students come out equally prepared as far as academic knowledge is concerned, but the transition to university remains a giant leap for all of them, regardless of their background.
School leavers look forward to the end of their childhood but they know very little about life after school. As the final exams approach and college application deadlines loom, the emphasis at school is on academic achievement. This is obviously a given factor in subsequent success at university, but even high performing students need to prepare for post-secondary studies. The freedom and independence they will find at university may prove stressful and affect their performance. The pressure to join in on social activities, although important as well, will be a major distraction that will tempt even the most studious. Creating a social network is essential for students’ mental health, however, surveys show that students spread themselves too thinly to begin with and often to the detriment of their studies. Students need, therefore, to be prepared for balancing studying, playing and living.
Easier said than done? The preparation starts in the last two years at school. Time management and self-discipline are the key skills to develop. Homework, coursework and extended essays are a practice run for university assignments. Professors want to see evidence of reading, research and reflection, so last minute essay writing won’t work anymore. Universities, in particular outside of the US, still rely heavily on library books for research, something school goers are not used to. One common nasty surprise is to find that the day before the deadline, all the books have already been borrowed out of the library.
Teachers and tutors are an invaluable source of help for time management techniques to deal with increasing workload, tight deadlines and handling resources, so students should take advantage of the professionals around them before the big leap. Bad habits are hard to shake off and the required maturity that cures all may not materialise on crossing the university threshold. Whilst still at school, students should join revision groups, read around the topic, take and keep notes, and make the most of any support offered to them.
The shock of studying without the guidance to which students have grown accustomed and the exponential increase in workload will be the greatest concerns for most students. However, living away from home and fending for themselves may also cause a serious challenge. On average, half of first year students find it harder than expected and the difficulties encountered will range from missing lectures to overspending or suffering from anxiety. Education professionals focus on academic content and study skills, whereas parents can prepare their children for such practicalities and give guidance in coping with social pressures.
Do not despair! Most students, if they choose their path wisely and prepare thoroughly, are perfectly happy and successful in their new life. The key is not to underestimate the change of pace, expectations, workload and lifestyle that any undergraduate course demands. And for this reason, students who develop their study and organisational skills, self-discipline and independence early on will benefit fully from this wonderful experience.
Sabine Hutcheson, Education Consultant at TutorsPlus