The decision to go to university is huge, it’s not one to be taken lightly. University life brings with it many changes. In particular, the way you study and learn changes quite dramatically. So, with the hope of helping you grasp what exactly you may be letting yourself in for if you choose to study in York and at the School of PEP, here are six key insights into what studying and learning is really like. Some may excite you, put you off, or just make you think!
- Teaching is very different compared to school
As is the case with most Russell Group universities, our Politics, Economics and Philosophy departments (which teach PEP students) employ quite traditional university teaching methods. Most of your “contact time” (time when you’re directly taught) will be either lectures or seminars. Lectures are essentially presentations given by academics to all students on the module. They normally canvass the existing literature on a certain topic and give an overview of core content. Seminars by contrast are small (between ten and sixteen students) discussion based sessions. Led by academics, they offer the opportunity for students to clarify ideas, to delve deeper into topics and for interaction between students and academics. Tutorials are provided by the Economics department in the place of seminars, they differ from seminars in that they are structured typically around a particular problem set that students have been asked to complete. Firstly then, teaching at university is less formulaic compared to secondary school. Contact hours aren’t simply designed to tell you everything you need to know. There’s a lot more than these contact hours to university study, as we’ll see below.
2. There’s less teaching compared to secondary school learning
Philosophy, Politics and Economics modules typically have about 3 contact hours per week (normally one or two lectures and one seminar or tutorial). Given you’ll typically study three, four or maybe five different modules per term you won’t have many contact hours. Generally, you’ll have 14-16 hours a week in first year decreasing to 6-7 hours in final year as you study fewer modules at a time. This seems not a lot at first!
Both the key differences I’ve mentioned so far offer significantly different challenges to studying at university compared to school. They also have different perks too! I’ll outline these in the remaining points.
3. You’ll need to do lots more reading
Given you’ll have so few contact hours what are you meant to be doing the rest of the time you’re studying? Generally the answer is reading (and note making from reading). The vast majority of my time studying at university is time spent reading articles and books. In Philosophy and Politics, you’ll read in preparation for lectures and seminars. Topics in the academic world are immensely diverse and broad and so it’s by reading that you gather most information. Economics modules are often text-book based so that’ll be what you’ll read.
4. You’ll have a lot more “academic freedom”
As mentioned above, teaching hours facilitate rather than dictate, they open doors for you to delve deep into topics that interest you. Since the fields are so large, they can’t be covered in classroom-style learning or by any one individual in the course of a module. You can though, with the time you have, do plenty of reading and researching of topics that interest you. You won’t be assessed on all the module content but in-depth expertise in certain areas is expected of you and is necessary for high quality work. Generally you get to chose what you want to write about within a module so you can target your reading and research accordingly.
5. There’s more emphasis on original thinking and independent research
Another thing you’re meant to do besides attend lectures and seminars is independent research and thinking. Particularly in Philosophy and Politics there is an emphasis on originality in your assessed essays. York is a research intensive university and so the aim for students is to appreciate and make new contributions to certain fields. This differs from school where generally there’s a greater focus on knowledge and regurgitation rather than originality.
As I’ve mentioned above there are some differences in how modules are taught by the different departments of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Teaching in Economics differs by having fewer seminars and more tutorials. Also, the set reading is often from a text-book. The tools used by each discipline differ also: political science utilises more statistical research than Philosophy, Economics uses the most mathematical-based problem solving. On our programmes, particularly in your second and third year, you can largely choose which modules you take and so you can tailor the teaching and learning styles to match you. If you prefer reading from a set text-book you may pick more Economics modules and fewer Philosophy and Politics modules as a result. This opportunity is pretty unique to the School of PEP.
In total, it’s important to think about whether the different challenges and aspects to studying at York are suited to you. Hopefully many of them excite you! Also, it might be useful to think about which teaching styles appeal to you most so that you can choose the right degree for you from the selection on offer in the School of PEP.
I hope this has been helpful. Next time I’ll be giving an outline of a typical day of studying at university.