What Do You Actually Do At University? – A Student’s Typical Day

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For students receiving their exam results and their places at university, there are about as many new questions as there are answered ones. What is university like? Will you fit in? How much work do university students really have to do? University can definitely seem like an intimidating place from the outside, and previously being in that position, I can say that I had no idea what a day of university looked like before I went!

A student’s typical day at university is not as busy as some might think; students attend one or two lectures, and maybe an arranged seminar or tutorial. The rest of the day might be spent reading new material for an upcoming class or planning and writing an essay. A university student has a few hours of free time in between contact hours, so their days aren’t packed full of endless studying, despite how it may look. Each day is different depending on your course and your university!

Disclaimer: This article was written by an Oxford University student studying English Language and Literature. Their experiences may differ from your own. Not every university is the same, but this article aims to provide you an insight to how a typical university day may play out.

If the mystery of a day at university hasn’t been debunked yet, don’t worry: this article is here to guide you through what a typical student might do with their day.

What does a typical day at university look like?

What your typical day/week looks like at university will depend heavily on which course you’re studying at which university.

Usually, most students probably won’t have a lecture, a seminar, and a tutorial all in one day. However, some of your days will be busier than others, so you may have multiple lectures and seminars in a day and then none another day. University is not as rigid and strict as it may seem!

However, there are some general similarities across the timetables of university students, like lectures, seminars, and essays, which I’ll cover below.

1. Attending lectures

Lectures are the most consistent part of university life, usually happening at least once every weekday for an hour or longer. However, they vary greatly by subject. Some students may have multiple lectures in a single day with a day of no lectures at all.

A typical student will attend at least one lecture every day (5 in a week), but you might attend even more than that, especially if they are compulsory.

As an example, the Geography Department at the University of Cambridge states on their website here that students can expect 7 to 8 one-hour lectures per week, which is about 2 a day.

Lectures probably take up the most time in a student’s week since you have to go to them Monday to Friday.

Are all university lectures mandatory?

For some subjects, lectures are mandatory as they will actually teach you the content for your course. This is particularly the case for STEM subjects.

However, for other subjects, particularly humanities, they might not be mandatory. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend them though, because your absence may become obvious when you’re tasked with work that was covered in lectures.

To find out more information about whether attendance at university is mandatory or not, I’d recommend taking a look at this Think Student article.

Are university lectures useful?

Most lectures are useful, because they’ll be teaching you content for your course, or at least information to help supplement the things you learn on your course.

That being said, if your lectures aren’t mandatory, you don’t have to attend every single one. Some of them may not apply to what you’re studying/writing an essay on at the moment. However, you can attend lectures just because you enjoy the topic if you want to!

Going to lectures even if you think they won’t be useful is still a good idea, because it means you have to do less independent study. Check out this Think Student article on how much independent study you should do at university.

Is it okay to skip lectures at university?

It’s not a good idea to miss lectures at university for no reason.

If you’re legitimately unwell or accidentally miss a lecture, then obviously lecturers will understand why you weren’t there. However, you shouldn’t miss a lecture just because you don’t want to attend.

If attendance is mandatory for your course’s lectures, then a period of absence will be noticed by the university and you may be reprimanded (which can eventually lead to suspension!).

No student is a perfect student and attending every single one of your lectures (if they aren’t mandatory), is quite unrealistic. If you do have mandatory lectures, they should be spread out so that it isn’t taking up all of your day.

2. Studying and taking breaks

In between lectures, classes, and tutorials, at university you’re expected to study in (some of) your free time. Students can go to their university library, a local café, or even just study in their room.

Personally, I like to grab something to eat before I make my way to the library to study for a few hours (don’t eat in the library though!). It’s important not to cram your entire day full of studies, and make sure you eat and drink enough throughout the day.

You might have a lecture early in the morning at 9AM, and then no classes until the afternoon, for example, at 2PM. In between contact hours, students try to stay productive and catch up on their other work.

How much free time do you get at university?

Any time that isn’t part of your contact hours (i.e., the mandatory time you spend in classes, or with tutors) is part of your free time!

University life is very independent, and you’re expected to plan and manage your time on your own. While you can hypothetically spend all your free time doing what you want, you should still try and spend it responsibly.

As a university student, I try to get my work done during the week so that I have the weekend to relax. It does mean I have to work hard during the week, but knowing I have the weekends completely free is a great payoff!

3. University seminars

Seminars at university are like classes, which you’ll usually have been asked to prepare material for beforehand. They’re typically around one to two hours long.

Some courses may have a multiple seminars a week – one seminar for every lecture. The idea behind this being once you’ve learned the content in the lecture you go away and do your “homework” ready for the seminar on the same topic. Others may have one long seminar per week.

Each university and course have a different structure unfortunately there is no set rule. Check out this Think Student article for the differences between lectures, seminars, and tutorials.

The reading for a seminar won’t be too intense since most of the work will be done in the class. You only really need to spend around an hour or two preparing work.

How do you get the most out of seminars?

Seminars are a great opportunity to share ideas and build your knowledge. Since you will only have a small amount per week, it’s important to make the most of the time you have.

This page by Prospects has some great advice on how to prepare and act during seminars which I’d recommend checking out.

After your seminar is finished, you’ll want to spend a bit of time, maybe 30 minutes or so, writing up your notes and making revision materials.

4. Writing essays and going to tutorials

During the day and definitely at some point during the week, your tutor will probably assign you an essay. These can be from 1,000 to 3,000 words long and you’ll typically be given a week to write them.

For some essay writing advice, I’d recommend checking out this page of the University of Oxford website.

After the essay deadline has passed, you’ll have to attend a tutorial where you’ll discuss with your tutor and other course-mates about your essays.

Essays and tutorials are a common part of student life and you’ll probably end up writing anywhere from 6 to 10 essays per term, alongside attending tutorials for them.

How many essays do students write in a week?

Depending on your course, you might be asked to write one essay every two weeks, an essay every week, or sometimes even two essays in a week. For STEM students, you may also have labs and have to produce lab reports.

Don’t leave your essay until the last minute and spread the work for them out across your day/week. In a day, the typical student might spend an hour or two reading for, planning/drafting, or writing your essay.

If your mental health affects your ability to work, you aren’t alone. Speak to your personal tutor or university counselling service if you’re struggling. This Think Student article has helpful advice on how to manage stress at university.

How do you get the most out of tutorials?

Tutorials may last from one to two hours, so they don’t really take up much time in the day. You’ll also probably only have one a week or one every fortnight. That’s why it’s important to make the most of them!

Sharing your essays with your tutorial partners before the tutorial is a good way to prepare yourself. They may have written about things you didn’t consider or made points you didn’t think of.

For making the most of your tutorial, check out some advice from the University of Hull’s website, linked here.

After the tutorial, you might spend 30 minutes to an hour writing up everything you discussed and making some notes for future revision.

How much time should you spend on campus at university?

There’s no right amount of time to spend on campus during your day. You’ll probably have to spend at least a couple of hours every day though, depending on how many lectures or classes you have.

Personally, I’d recommend spending at least one to two hours on campus studying (not including any compulsory classes or lectures you might have). I’d recommend reading this article from Future Learn if you’re concerned with how much you should be studying.

However, you might find you spend more than that, especially if you’re involved in university societies. Most societies run events in the evenings on weekdays, and many students attend them after they’ve finished with work for the day.

If you’d like to know more about societies, you should check out the Student Union page for your university. Alternatively, you can read the Think Student guide to societies here.

What does a typical weekend look like at university?

The weekends during term, like at school or if you’re working, are completely free. You won’t have any lectures, seminars, or tutorials (unless for some reason a tutor decides to reschedule, but this is quite unlikely).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your weekends will be totally free of work, as you may have an essay to write or work to catch up on.

However, you can definitely afford to go out a lot more and meet up with friends on the weekend whilst at university.

As a university student myself, I definitely spend more time relaxing than working on the weekends, especially in first year. Check out this Think Student article to read more about how important work is in first year.

How do you manage your time at university?

I would personally recommend making your own schedule for university as soon as possible, if your university doesn’t provide a timetable for you.

You can get overwhelmed with work quite easily at university, and almost every student is at some point, so having a schedule can help prevent crashing and burning out.

Also, it’s important to make time for yourself and your friends at university. Work is definitely important, but university is also about having fun! Achieving a balance can sometimes be hard but make sure you’re at least leaving your accommodation regularly.

Remember: there’s no “right way” to experience university, so do what feels right for you!

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