Bridging the college gap

Bridging the college gap

November 26, 2009
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University is totally different from secondary school - you are truly on your own, writes Timothy Chui

Your first year at college or university is a whole new world. It might be the first time you encounter a new medium of instruction or the first time you've lived away from home, but one thing universal about higher education is that students are mostly responsible for themselves.

While many students remember the much cherished - or loathed - secondary school teacher who was always on their backs to get things done, university professors are a very different breed, according to Alvin Yuen, former Young Post intern and first-year student at the Hong Kong University of Science Technology.

'Unlike secondary school, you need to be active when learning and always ask for help when you need it. E-mailing and arranging appointments are good ideas since it is not possible for the professor to tend to everyone's questions after class,' he said.

Most professors have regular office hours during which students can swing by to ask questions, or just to show their face to the person who will be deciding their marks at the end of term.

Guangdong University of Foreign Studies student Huang Zhongzhu said professors opened doors to a field of knowledge and offered guidance on how to explore those areas, while secondary school teachers tended to only impart textbook knowledge.

'Professors are not as strict as secondary school teachers,' he said, adding that the responsibility of learning was on the student.

Patrick Tang Hay-tim, dean of student affairs at the University of Hong Kong's Centre of Development and Resources for Students, said students only get as much out of their university days as they put in, but added nearly all schools have some sort of orientation programme and support office that nervous newcomers should make use of.

'University students will find they are suddenly responsible for their own learning and that goes beyond the classroom. They have to learn how to cope with people, put up with others and contribute to the on-campus and off-campus communities. Even if they have no time management skills, they will develop them very quickly,' he said.

Tang recommended students balance their academic studies with other pursuits, such as joining student clubs, hall associations or participating in fitness programmes and sports.

'First year at university is an incredible chance to explore different opportunities. If it's possible, students should take optional courses in other fields to get a taste for other subjects. That way, they can be sure they are studying what they are interested in,' he said.

While students are at university to learn, they also need to adapt to other aspects of campus life, such as making new friends.

A place to make friends is the cafeteria, since most students don't have time, or the facilities, to cook for themselves. The library - more than just a place to read - is another gathering point.

For those lucky, or unlucky, enough to live on campus, Yuen says a simple trick for meeting people is leaving your door open because it shows you are welcoming to others.

'Leave your door open and play some decent music. People will pass by and stop to look in. You can strike up a conversation when they try and figure out what's playing.'

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