The process of learning is the main point

It's not what you learn, it's how you learn it that matters, writes Tamsin Smith

Marsha Vitali, Schools and Colleges liaison officer for the University of Manchester, says it is the lack of a strict structure which most confounds the prospective students she meets on her rounds.

"It is my job to tour schools and colleges to give talks to sixth formers about the advantages of going to Manchester university, and to arrange open days so that children and their parents can come along and get a feel for the place and learn what university life is all about.

"The thing they ask most about is accommodation and what is available, followed by what facilities there are for their particular interests.

"They also want to get an idea of how cool the university is. If it has a lively atmosphere and lives up to their idea of what kind of social life they will have.

"What always surprises them is how little university is like school.

"Most A-level students are used to working by themselves for a certain amount of time, but they will still be taking part in a very structured course, and expected to turn up to class every day and to hand in essays regularly. At university arts and humanities students will be expected to turn up to lectures and to do 5,000 word essays twice or three times a term, but no one will be there to tell you off if you miss things."

"Modern university courses are moving away from the lecture/seminar-based teaching methods towards more group-based approaches," says Jacqueline Henshaw, head of undergraduate recruitment and admissions at the University of Manchester.

"I think students expect a lot of hand-holding in terms of academic study. They are used to having a close syllabus and using what they have learnt in class as a basis for essays and projects.

"University tries to encourage independent thinking and critical analysis and to question what people say."

"Students are expected to base their work on their own research. Therefore they have to learn how to go about collecting information, how to use the library and computer equipment, how to use reference books and analyse data, all very useful skills later on in life.

"Most universities now have general induction courses during the first week of term, which aim to give advice to students about study skills and research.

"They will often involve being taken on a tour of the library and show what facilities there are for study including the how to use the Internet."

Some people may well wonder what a degree in underwater basket weaving or a thesis on seventeenth century shoes has in relevance to ordinary working life, but they are missing the point.

The point of university is much more than academic expertise in a particular subject, or the final degree, it about the process not the product.

Studying for a degree is primarily about learning and how to go about it and 99 per cent of employers will tell you they are less concerned with what type of degree you have, or which subject it is in, rather than the sort of person you are.

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