Starting Tertiary Education…What’s to Know?

The prospect of finishing high school and starting tertiary education is a daunting one for many students. They’re forced to leave the friends, teachers and surroundings they have spent years with for a whole new environment. Although this can be a little overwhelming, it can also be an exciting and rewarding time. If your child is starting tertiary education, give them a chance to read over this and see if anything strikes a chord.

You will need to be more independent

With the move into post-compulsory education comes more freedom: uniforms are a thing of the past, you can come and go when you please and can choose subjects that interest you. But keep in mind that greater freedom brings about greater responsibility, which means that you are responsible for staying on top of assessments and turning up to classes — and no one will chase you up if you miss a class or forget to hand in an assignment. You might also need to manage competing priorities such as your part-time job and new social circle. Bear in mind that many institutions also keep attendance registers. If you’re not paying for it yourself, it can be very easy to justify “taking a day off”, especially if there is no detention to fear. Heed the warning though, someone will be taking note and you owe it to yourselves and those counting on you, to succeed!

Learn to budget

Depending on your circumstances, you may be working off a very tight budget. Get into the habit of budgeting for travel, food and the “occasional” social event, as it can be very easy to spend your money when you’re studying. You may become familiar with the term “student food”, which is what people often resort to when on a budget. This usually incorporates some combination of beans on toast, instant noodles, terrible coffee and lots of tap water!

You will have to adjust to a new learning and teaching style

There are a number of different class structures at tertiary level, including lectures, tutorials, laboratories, practical workshops and field work. Lectures consist of the lecturer speaking to a room full of students. Tutorials are much smaller and feature a more interactive and personal style of learning. Workshops, laboratories and field work allow students time to obtain certain practical skills and knowledge. Instead of studying the same subjects for a full year, subjects change each study period. You will also find that learning is more self-directed, which means that you will be expected to do a significant amount of independent study and research in addition to attending classes.

Get out ahead of it.

Unfortunately this is a lesson often learned too late. When you have to read 2 Jane Austen novels in one night, you’ll realise how important it is to systematically get through your reading material, ahead of time. At this level, entire forests are felled to provide reading material for each student, so be prepared and don’t get snowed under by a pile of paper.

Get used to being around different people.

In school, your classmates were all roughly the same age and mostly from the same area. At tertiary level, students of all different ages and backgrounds will form your peer group. Some may come straight from high school while others will be mature age students returning to study. There are ways of behaving and talking that once applied to high school and may not translate too well into tertiary level. Learn to ask questions of each other and respect (not necessarily agree with) the opinions of others. Yours is not the only answer that may be relevant.

Speak up!

This level of education can cost a lot of money, especially if your college is an independent organisation. If you are unhappy with your experience, speak up, but go through the right channels. At this point in your life, you’re bridging the gap between being a learner and being a participant in society. This is a great chance to learn how to work within an organisation and to ensure that your right to a quality education is respected!

Be an adult as often as you can

In South Africa, we are considered an adult by the time we are 18 years of age. Most of us are well aware of this long before that age, but it is a difficult thing to navigate still being dependant on your family for food, shelter and education, while asserting your independence as a young adult. Prepare to encounter this conundrum at some point in your tertiary education and handle it maturely. Understand that they will still have expectations of you, if they are still supporting you. Measure your autonomy and independent mind-set with responsibility and respect and hopefully it will help reduce the impact of any conflict that may arise.

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