Adjust to university expectations
Studying at university
Starting or returning to university study is a big step in your journey. There will be a lot to learn and adjust to, particularly if you are transitioning from high school or from the workplace. Knowing what to expect can help you feel more prepared. University expectations reflect the way learning and teaching is structured at university and the beliefs underpinning the way we work. These aspects involve:
- Academic culture, including the shared beliefs, values and expectations at a university.
- Expectations, including the way your course is structured and the way students are expected to learn.
What is academic culture?
Academic culture is defined as the attitudes, values, and ways of behaving that are shared by the people who work or study in universities (Brick et al., 2020). It is clear that academic culture is a broad concept, but it can be simplified as a way of thinking about beliefs, core values and expectations that are shared by lecturers, researchers and students in a university. These core beliefs and expectations generally underpin the way we think, the way we study and the way we work during our university experience.
One of the functions of work at a university is for scholars to produce new knowledge through discovery. This happens through the research that academics and students produce. The research may be designed to discover new knowledge, apply existing knowledge to new contexts or to integrate existing knowledge sources. Academics may research and communicate the research through publications. Students may research and communicate it through their assessment tasks.
As a university student, as you learn new knowledge and develop new learning skills, you will have to understand the attitudes and values that are expected as part of academic culture in order to be successful in your study.
What are the expectations at university?
At Monash university, you will have to be familiar with new study patterns. As a general guide, and depending on your course, you will have weekly classes, and a number of assessments during the semester
Your new study patterns may involve:
These sessions provide you with new content related to the units you are enrolled in. They will be provided via video or audio contents. They may be one recording or they may be broken up into smaller chunks. It is good to identify and take notes on the main points delivered. There may be slides that are provided to accompany the recordings that are available on the Moodle page.
In small group classes (also called tutorials or “tutes”) you will engage with an educator and other students on content related to the units you are enrolled in. They may be referred to as tutorials, seminars or workshops. You may gain clarification of key ideas, discuss readings and apply your new learning to cases or problems. Taking notes on the main points in the discussions and making notes on the main points from the readings are helpful. These classes are also a good opportunity to ask questions to clarify your knowledge.
Some units will involve practical (‘pracs’) and laboratory (‘labs’) classes. These are common in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses and involve practical learning. Lab work may involve: preliminary work or ‘pre-labs’, which involve preparing for the exercise. The exercise itself, where you will perform the activity under the guidance of an educator. A post exercise submission to be completed within the session or at a later date. These can take the form of work such as reports or presentations.
In addition to attending scheduled classes, independent learning is a crucial aspect of studying at university, and often one of the biggest adjustments for new students. Being an independent learner means being an active learner, taking responsibility for your workload, commitments and deadlines. In this way, a lot of your learning is done outside the classroom. Private study may include weekly readings, tutorial questions, quizzes or other work in addition to your assignments. You will often be assigned set readings from a reading list and may need to search for other relevant materials in the library. You'll be expected to think critically about the information and ideas your lecturers introduce to you. You'll have to make sure you understand assessment requirements and organise a study schedule so you get your assignments done on time.
Apart from self study or independent learning, you will likely engage in collaborative (or cooperative) learning at university. Collaborative learning requires you to work in a small group with other students to complete activities or learning tasks, and which may form part of your formal assessment for a unit.
At university, each unit will have a number of assessments each semester, which may involve shorter tasks such as quizzes, or longer assessments such as essays and reports. The assessments for each unit will be listed at the start of semester, usually on Moodle, and you will often be given detailed instructions a few weeks before the due date. Completing your assessments requires the independent learning skills referred to above. Often you may have more than one assessment due at the same time, so it is important to plan ahead and work consistently on the assessments over a longer period of time. There is also an expectation to work with academic integrity when doing assessment tasks. For example, in order to complete an assignment, you need to conduct research and reading, and must acknowledge all the sources by using appropriate referencing conventions.
Key strategies for adjusting to university expectations
Try to be an active learner by:
- looking for information and asking questions for further clarity and development of your understanding (don’t wait for lecturers or tutors to tell you the information);
- exploring aspects of a topic and doing the required reading and preparation (i.e. tutorial questions) before attending classes;
- undertaking additional reading and research outside of class hours;
- adopting regular habits of reading, writing, and engaging with materials.
As a university student, you should be responsible for your own learning. As most of our learning at university will take place outside of the classroom, you should take your own responsibility to complete all the work assigned by your lecturers and tutors and submit all assessment tasks by the due dates (late submissions will incur penalties). Also, it’s very important for you to ensure that you take advantage of classes to achieve your desired learning outcomes.
Follow the steps below to ensure that you will get the most of classes:
- Before class:
- Read the required readings and answer any pre-class questions you have been set. Think of questions you want to learn the answers to and highlight any areas you do not understand.
- During class:
- Don’t rely on the lecturer’s presentation slides or handouts: you must attend the lecture or class, and take your own notes.
- Listen out for verbal cues, and look for visual cues that indicate important points.
- Make connections between new and known information.
- Write down questions as soon as you think of them.
- After class:
- Reread and summarise your notes within 24 hours of the lecture.
- Talk to others about what you have learnt.
- Clarify anything you don’t understand.
- Make an action list of references or ideas to follow up (and do it).
At university, you are expected to be critical in your thinking, reading and writing. Note that the word “critical” in academic context means “questioning” or “challenging”. Being a critical university student means that you should learn by thinking, reflecting, exploring and questioning more than one point of view or interpretation.
- First, you should adopt regular habits of reading, writing, and engaging with materials.
- When investigating a topic or issue, try to think about it from different perspectives based on your research. Are there differences of opinion, argument or evidence?
- You can then try to determine your own position or point of view about the topic or issue. Overall, being a critical thinker means that you should learn with an open mind and be ready to question.
Being an independent learner at university means that you should be self-motivated to achieve success in your own learning. You should try to adopt appropriate independent learning strategies to keep you motivated, on track and getting the most out of your study. Effective time management is an important part of being an independent learner. You should also seek support and assistance whenever you need it and reflect on your progress to identify areas for improvement.
Being organised at university means that you should be able to manage your time and workload. There are many different ways to manage your time and workload, and you need to find something that is realistic for your life, work and family commitments outside of university and for your learning style. One simple way to take control of your schedule is using a planner; either a traditional planner or a planner in a smartphone application will work.
In order to be successful in collaborative learning at university, it is important for you to keep connected with other peers outside of class hours. At Monash University, we encourage you to attend new students events, multicultural events and clubs so that you will be able to reach out to other students in the same cohorts. Joining these social activities will help to broaden your network, which is not only helpful for your wellbeing but also for your study at university.
Being engaged does not mean just attending classes physically. Instead, it means that you should pay attention to, and take part as much as possible in your study. The more effort you put in your study, the more success you will achieve.
- engage with the material by applying critical thinking strategies to get more out of your time;
- approach each topic, class, and study sessions with questions in your mind of what you want to learn;
- understand the significance and implications of the materials;
- make connections between known and new information/knowledge.
Monash is not just a place of learning, but a culture as well. Thus, you should be mindful of others as well as yourself. You should know, look after yourself and also be a supportive classmate and build lifelong connections throughout your course.
The following are some tips for you to do mindfulness practices which can help you stay focused and grounded:
- Concentrate on the moment, so you don’t miss out.
- Protect your wellbeing so that you can maintain your energy and attention.
- Avoid multitasking so that your attention is not divided.
- Be mindful and considerate of others too.
As a student of Monash University, you have a responsibility to uphold academic integrity. This means in all aspects of your academic career, you must adhere to the values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. In other words, you are required to:
- study and research ethically and with honesty and integrity,
- appropriate acknowledge the work of others,
- study independently on individual assessments,
- make sure academic work is not falsified and altered fraudulently,
- take reasonable steps to make sure other students cannot copy or misuse your work.
More detailed information about what academic integrity is and practices about academic integrity is available here.
Brick, J., Herke, M., Wong, D. (2020). Academic culture: A student’s guide to studying at university. (4th ed). London: Macmillan Education Ltd