What to expect at university and TAFE

 Universities and TAFEs are great places to be, however there are many differences between high school and university/TAFE. Becoming aware of the differences can help you manage your expectations.

High school vs. university/TAFE

High school

In high school, you start your day around 9 am, go to all your classes, and finish around 3.30 pm. Class sizes tend to be small, around 20 to 30 students. Teachers usually tell you what you have to learn, give you lots of directions, and you have lots of interactions with your teachers.

University and TAFE

At universities and TAFEs, there is not the same daily routine or relationship with your teachers. Some days you might study all day. On other days you might study for only part of the day, or may not even have to attend classes at all, but you will be expected to do a lot of work outside class times.

The amount of time you spend at university or TAFE can also depend on the course (program) you are enrolled in. For example, if you do a science course you may have practical classes to attend as well as lectures and tutorials.

University lectures

In universities, some lectures may have hundreds of students. Unlike high school, attendance at university lectures is generally not compulsory; that is, the lecturers will not mark the roll at the start of each class. However, it is highly recommended that you do attend all your lectures to help you learn the lecture content and to keep connected with the course. If you miss classes it can be very difficult to catch up.

Tutorials and laboratory classes

Attendance at tutorials and laboratory classes may be compulsory, which means you will be expected to attend the tutorial or laboratory class for which you are enrolled.

Tutorials are an important part of the learning process and bring together smaller groups of students to discuss material presented in the lectures.

Check your subject (course) outline in your subject (course) guide. Subject (course) guides can generally be found online on your university or TAFE website.

If you are unsure speak with your lecturer, teacher, or tutor to make sure you understand the attendance requirements for your classes.  

Independent learning

Learning at university and TAFE is different from learning at high school. As a tertiary student, you have to learn to become more independent in your studies. You are expected to manage your study timetable and deadlines.

This may include:

  • Preparing for classes before they start by reading class notes, textbooks and other recommended materials.
  • Finding your own resources for completing your assignments from the library or internet.
  • Making sure you complete and submit assignments on or before their due date.
  • Making your own study plan will help you organise your time.

If you experience difficulties with your subject (course), do not be afraid to ask your teachers for help. There are a range of support services available at your university or TAFE to assist you. Read more about support for students.

Online resources

Many subjects, units, courses or programs use online resources. These include:

  • subject (course) notes
  • lecture/class notes
  • lecture/class overheads
  • handouts and other reading materials
  • audio recordings of classes or lectures (you can listen to classes or lectures online if you were unable to attend)
  • video recordings of classes or lectures (you can watch classes or lectures online if you were unable to attend)
  • class discussion boards
  • blogs
  • links to readings held in the library
  • links to related websites and online articles.

Most universities and TAFEs have their own online systems for accessing these resources. Please check with your university or TAFE to find out what system is used and how to log in before the first class. If you have trouble accessing course notes or lecture notes, check with your lecturer, teacher or tutor.


Assessments usually take the form of essays, individual or group assignments, laboratory reports, take-home exams, formal exams, and individual or group oral presentations. Each subject (course) may have very different forms of assessment.


The library should become a resource that you use for many of your study needs. You can usually find a quiet area in the library to complete some study or simply to relax.

The library is quite large and borrowing books can be a stressful process for many students. If you find it difficult to borrow books or find the resources (both online and offline), you can speak to one of the librarians at the library's help desk. Most libraries have special tours or introductory classes during orientation week.

Things like checking the catalogue, requesting books that are on loan, and checking due dates on books you have borrowed can be done online.

Services and Facilities

There is a wide range of services and facilities available at universities and TAFEs including cafés, restaurants, markets, and gyms. To find out what is available on your campus, visit your university or TAFE website.

Glossary of tertiary words

Assessment. A piece of work which is marked or graded. Assessment can take a variety of forms including written assignments (essays or reports), examinations, laboratory work, oral presentations, and practical assignments.  Attendance at some classes may be required as part of the assessment: check this as soon as possible after you commence study.

Contact hours or contact time. The number of hours per week a student spends in class (classes include tutorials, lectures, workshops and practical sessions).

Attendance. Records of attendance are maintained by teaching departments and may impact upon a student's successful completion or even be a compulsory requirement.

Course. Depending on the university, course could mean one of two things: 1) the degree or diploma you are enrolled in or 2) another name for subject.

Credit. Recognition of prior learning granted towards an academic program.

Elective. A subject that is chosen according to your interests, or a non-compulsory subject. Some restrictions may apply to what electives you can select.

Faculty. An organisational division within a university (e.g. Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science) covering a particular area of study.

Lecture. A lecture is a formal presentation by an academic staff member at university, usually to a large number of students. Lectures may include the use of handouts and audio-visual presentations. Opportunities for asking questions or discussing the material being presented are usually limited.

Program. Another word for 'course' or 'degree'.  Some tertiary institutions may use program.

Statement of results. A formal record of your academic results recorded against your module.

Subject. A subject is a particular area of study. For example, Accounting 101, Biology 101. However, some universities and TAFEs may use the word 'course' or 'unit' instead of 'subject'.

Swot vac. In university, swot vac is the free time before exams when there are no classes scheduled, which enables students to prepare for exams.

Tutorial. A tutorial is a learning opportunity in which students discuss the key topics, concepts and ideas of the course with their tutors. Tutorials are closely linked to assessment and often involve small group discussions and group work. All students are expected to prepare for tutorials by reading required material and preparing questions and /or answers to questions. Students are also expected to participate actively in class discussions and small group activities. Tutorials often complement the lectures given for a course and usually run for one or two hours.

Support for students

Every university and TAFE provides support and services to their students. These services are available to ALL students.

You are no different to any other student who needs help, so do not be afraid to find out what services and supports are provided by your university or TAFE and ask them for help when you need it.

Academic and learning skills

People at the academic and learning skills unit will be able to help you to develop studying and learning skills. They can provide you with tips on how to:

  • organise your study and time management
  • write essays and reports
  • understand your assignment tasks
  • arrange the reference lists and bibliographies
  • read efficiently and effectively
  • improve your language and literacy skills.

The actual name of this unit may be different at your university or TAFE. If you need help with any of these studying and learning skills, go to your university/TAFE website to check which unit provides these services. Email them or go and see them.


We all experience difficult and confusing times in our lives. Your university/TAFE may provide a free counselling service for all students. The information you provide in the counselling sessions is treated as confidential, which means your teachers and other students will not know about anything you say in the sessions.

The types of issues students frequently discuss with counsellors are:

  • anxiety and depression
  • study-related issues
  • difficulties in relationships with other people
  • questions of identity
  • self-esteem and confidence
  • loss and trauma.

If you experience any of these issues and would like to speak to someone, go to your university/TAFE website to find out where the counselling unit is located and who you can contact to set up an appointment.

Careers and employment

It is important for every student to start thinking about their plan for a career early on during their studies. Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What would I like to do after I finish my course?
  • What area interests me?
  • What kind of job can I imagine myself doing?
  • What do I need to do to get to my preferred job?

Your institution's careers and employment unit can help you with answering these questions. They can also help you with job searching, résumé writing, and preparation for interviews.

Disability support unit

Disability support units provide services to empower students with a disability to become independent learners, including students with autism or Asperger's Disorder. This support can be tailored to your specific learning needs.

If you have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder it is important to talk to a disability advisor as early as possible to discuss supports you may require. It is best to do this before you start the semester to ensure you are not unfairly disadvantaged in your learning by any special needs you may have.

Examples of things disability advisors can help you with include:

  • provide a note taker for taking class notes
  • use a computer for exams instead of paper and pen
  • allow you to complete exams in a separate room
  • provide extensions for assignments
  • adapt your learning environment to reduce noise and other stimuli.

If you have already contacted the disability support unit at your university/TAFE and you are working with a disability advisor to provide you with the support you need, then that is ideal. You have completed the first important task which will ensure you get the best support available.

If you have not yet contacted the disability support and disclosed about your diagnosis, you may like to read more about disclosing you ASD diagnosis to learn more about the reasons for disclosure.

The name of the disability support unit may be different for every university and TAFE. Go to your university/TAFE website to check which unit provides disability support services. Email them or go and see them.

Other services

Your university/TAFE may provide other services such as:

  • clubs and societies
  • financial support
  • housing or accommodation.

Glossary of tertiary study words

Learn the language of tertiary study.

What support is available to students?

Students with an ASD can access a range of support services at university or TAFE.