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Thursday, 29 January 2015

On the Differences of College and University

Just a note, I am not using college in that nasty foreign sense of university. Instead, college refers to secondary education (i.e. high school), as it should.

Recently I came across, on Facebook, a Buzzfeed video entitled High School versus College You. As it was one of the last things I encountered during the day it naturally weighed on my mind a bit and I decided that imitating it in the course of considering my opinion of what it contained would be fun. I should point out that I am fairly sure that the video is playing for humour and like good humour it is working from a position of truth.

Post-College vs. Post-Uni

In the video the central character (played by Eugene Lee Yang; so we'll call him Eugene) has some fairly clear ideas of where he wants to be post-college. He'll stay in the same state (it is an American production) and has a list of potential universities which he's keen on. Unigene! (get it?) in contrast has "no idea". I blame his use of an Apple laptop for this (hahaha).

This is a question that comes up reasonably often in my experience both at college and at uni. In may respects, I am in exact agreement with Eugene. My response in year thirteen would have been, "Uni" although what I was intending on doing specifically was more vague. This aspect may not necessarily have struck the makers because, apparently, the US system specialises later on than first year. If you ask me now, my answer will be "no idea". On one occasion I said, "I can see myself writing a lot of reports" which is probably the closest I have come to actually narrowing down a career path for some years now. But, yeah, I agree with the video's point that in university one has to consider the wider world and, for a lot of us, the question is just too huge, especially when put in context with our current results. I think most people in my situation have vague dreams which would be used as answers if a way of making them come true was realistically out there.

Punctuality

So, Eugene turns up at 7:58am and has a few minutes to get to where he needs to be. He's kind of keen to get there on time as well. In the uni section he rocks up at half twelve, coffee in hand, and just shrugs off the administrator's line.

Okay, so this one is totally unrealistic with my experience of university and, for a lot of people. high school (we use college and high school, often in the same breath). At university no-one is actually checking if you're there or not, except in the case of tutorials (which a fair few people won't turn up to). At college, you get a lot of too cool for school types so... But Unigene has got something of a point with "This course is an elective". It's incredibly dismissive and, in fact, pretty disrespectful. Which is, really, the point. Turning up on time is a matter of respect for your lecturer (or, in some cases, lack of respect for the variations of transport). In some lecture theatres with the entrances at the bottom (i.e. near the lecturer), you're likely to just resort to a recording rather than walk in part-way through and have everyone see you as you do so. You may not even intend on turning up and, instead, rely on the recording instead (a riskier strategy, but still commonly done)... which is an indication of how much you care about being there in the first place. Ironically, you're probably more likely to care about something you've chosen (unless it's one of Auckland's GenEds) because that's a course that you've chosen, rather than something that you have to do as part of your degree. The GenEds do, in my eyes, function more like Unigene's elective because they're something most people have to do to get a degree and they're quite likely only approximately close to the interests of the person in question.

In short, uni does absolutely nothing to incentivise you to turn up other than provide the education it provides anyway. Tutorials are something of an exception as sometimes stuff like plussage is only an option for those who are always there. Maybe one or two marks. Mostly when they take the role it is purely administrative. This is is one reason why teachers in year thirteen and orientation stuff done by the uni push a message of increased student responsibility. I'm not sure how things are in the states but this is how it is here in NZ.

Angst

At college, Eugene moans about the dullness of his peers and speaks of a desire to escape. Unigene (I'm really pleased with this name) moans about the sharpness of his peers, speaking of the meaninglessness of "Asian Excellence".

I liked college. It was fun, I had fun. There were the odd bad days and times where I was less keen but they were very much the exceptions. So, for me, I never had any particular desire to be gone as soon as humanly possible. I also didn't spend much time whining about idiots because most of my friends were as smart as me, close to it or smarter. This is what happens when you start in an advanced class: you don't tend to spend a lot of time with people who are dull. Although, of course, what really matters is the ability of your peers to maintain your interest and, frankly, intelligence doesn't have to come into that. Certainly, intelligence in the sense of "does well in the classroom" is something that people shouldn't hold in too high a regard. At uni, I kind of agree. I did write a post where I mentioned my mediocrity. I think, for many people, they'll do stuff at university which challenges their perception of their own intelligence. The tail ends of Maths 150 was that for me but earlier on there were things I struggled with, hinting at later problems. If you take the message of this segment of the video to be "success at school won't necessarily translate to success at university" then I agree completely.

Crushes

Eugene tries and fails to mention his interest in a girl to said girl. Unigene, though, downs a shot for a little Dutch courage and manages to get something out. I'm more of a "Don't bother with this sort of thing person" so I never mention my like like feelings to anyone except my head. As a result, I have nothing to add to this. Or, really, anything to say.

Drinking

Basically this relates to acquisition and behaviour. At college, Eugene can get a single can of beer from his older brother. At uni it's "chug! chug! chug!" with much more alcohol around. Drinking isn't my scene but I heard about some excessive parties while at school and at uni I've been to parties which have included excessive drinking (but also less alcoholic things otherwise I wouldn't be there; and neither would a few of my other friends who also don't drink/drink little). Personally, I am inclined to say the only difference is that uni parties are more able to obtain drinks. I don't think, once you're beyond year nine, there is any difference in how people behave when able to drink to excess.

Meals

At high school, Eugene has what amounts to a lavish feast laid on by his mother. Unigene gets 10c two minute noodles. The implication is clear: cost dictates decisions more in university when it comes to food. That's both in terms of quality and quantity.

This one is interesting, mostly because I feel as if it is neither experience that is particularly realistic. I eat pretty much the same stuff for morning tea and lunch at uni as I did at college. That is to say, sandwiches. In fact, there's an argument that I frequently eat better as there is a greater tendency to not have what amounts to jam sandwiches and instead have ones with fillings. This is, of course, despite the train introducing additional costs. Unigene's meal is straight out of Craccum's povo student stereotype, which is probably the point (I did, after all, decide this was a video largely made for humour) as it is in Craccum (Auckland's student magazine that aims to amuse and frequently almost gets there, stopping at bemuse). Certainly, uni strains budgets but, looking around, there are a lot of people who have no qualms stopping at what are fairly expensive locations in and around uni. Or people go into the city a bit more (i.e. walk for five minutes). What I am saying is that while cost probably becomes a consideration for a lot of people who would never have thought too much about that before, it doesn't reach the extreme in the video for most people. When it does reach that extreme I urge anyone in such a situation to research and reach out to people and groups that will help. They exist. Also, perhaps try a more rigid budget (which is, I appreciate, hard... people talk about sanity purchases for a reason: they're part of being human).

Parents

College finds a frustrated Eugene who's living up to the teenage stereotype that cries 'give me some space mum!'. He doesn't actually say that but Eugene probably would get feels from someone who does.  Unigene is another story. I think it's pretty clear that Unigene is living away from home because he says of his mum that he "[misses] her so much". In general their relationship is very different, Unigene actually wants to talk to his mother, for one thing.

Again, I don't really have much to add here. Largely because I've never had any parental issues like this and because I still live at home and instead commute to uni. My mother often helps me with my lunch, to continue the previous section. I did know someone whose mum came to visit him at uni and some of my friends who went further afield seemed very happy to get back home (as did the first year bloggers that Auckland recruits for its Inside Word thing) so I'm going to say, it's pretty close to how it is.

Homework

This one is quite clever. Recall the very first segment where Eugene has a clear idea of where he wants to go post-school? Well, here he's irritated by a friend suggesting they get lunch lest he miss out on getting into a good school (weirdly Americans call their colleges schools: this doesn't really happen here despite the Business School). It also recalls Unigene's not knowing his post-uni plan and in the Angst section Unigene complains about everyone else's being so clever. Why? Because Unigene jumps at the chance to go and have lunch with a friend (okay, so jump is hyperbolic: he does contemplate it in the way that one does before doing something one knows one will regret/feel guilty about later). Considering that context I think the video is providing a reason for Unigene's thoughts in those sections.

This is a very variable one. For some things you'll do the workload where you might not have previously. As an example, Business 101 where each workshop is based on everyone's having already done the readings. At the same time, more classical style homework probably is less likely to be done because a) no-one follows up on it b) answers may well not be provided and c) you can convince yourself that you'll make up for it when you study for the exam. Even if b) doesn't hold true, the only people who will notice are probably the two people either side of you and yourself so, again, there is simply less incentive. I'd also argue that the opportunity to spend time with friends will be seen as more precious so the opportunity to do so is viewed as being more valuable than it is in college. You see less of them because timetables are all over the place and even if you share substantial portions of your timetables there is simply less opportunity for socialising within lectures (and, to an extent, tutorials) than there is in a high school lesson. On the whole, though, the video's probably bang on.

Fitness

A study in motivation. College Eugene isn't keen on PE: he has no respect for it. As a consequence, he sees no need to exercise. Unigene considers exercise in what we might consider a more primal level. "Why is everyone here so hot?" he complains and gives himself twenty.

This is a more complex issue. At the start of last year I was, for me, quite into a fitness regimen. This was more due to being really unfit but I did see uni as an opportunity to start over. Eventually, though, getting back after dark really put a stop to this (even though it didn't need to). Now I find myself having to do a lot of stretches due to having 'clinically tight hamstrings' (which has resulted in a back complaint) so I've tried to start up again. But the time is the thing. Where a lot of people manage to stay in their fitness routines, a lot of people don't have the time for this. One girl/woman/female human I happened to over hear is a good case in point. Essentially, she went on a run for the first time in (I gathered) a while and it felt very good. According to the explanation offered to her friend she simply didn't have time with her uni workload. I had and still have a suspicion that she was trying to get into second year med so she would, therefore, have been in what is both an intense and high stakes programme.

Friends

"You're the only one who gets me" Eugene says to a solitary female friend. Unigene, though, is inundated with friends. Maybe this puts a different perspective on what I said about the Homework section... could he just want to talk to one person at a time?

Well, here's the thing with friends and I. Firstly, literally all my good friends went to uni (one even pursued and achieved discretionary entrance so was already there). Secondly, most of said friends went to Auckland (same as me). Thirdly, most of them are also pursuing BComs. Fourthly, I commute to uni instead of living in, say, a hall of residence. Fifthly, a lot of people I am merely friendly with also went from my college to my uni. What is my point? Well, I didn't make very many new friends at all (in my first year). At the same time, I had more than one good friend in the first place. Although, I would argue that there are fewer to no best friends who completely "get" me. But the fact that so many people I already knew were around and that I was good friends with quite a few of them doesn't help one make more friends. I'd definitely have liked to make more new friends. There's a definite advantage to knowing a wide range of people and being able to talk to them pretty much whenever you're both free (sometimes you just don't feel like reading in the library but with the number of friends I have being not huge there's frequently no-one around). So, my advice is pretty clear: even if you've got lots of friends around go out of your way and try to make more of them. This isn't really very easy due to the restricted social time in lectures and the like, but it is possible... especially with tutorials.

Conclusions

When I set out to make this post I envisioned myself having more points of disagreement than I actually did have. Mostly I just had comments where I decided I departed because of peculiarities in my own experience (a fifity-five minute commute is atypical; catching the train itself isn't so much) or random things that I thought confirmed deeper truths. However, there is one important addition that I think is missing from this. And I like to think that the reason it's missing from a list that is 70% not directly related to the main point* is because, in the States, the good-time parts of uni seem to be what is really remembered. That is, of course, Lesson versus Lecture, That's what's going to replace the "Post-College" section. Although, I have to agree, 30's kind of old.

*The main point is education. Naturally, being fed (meals), psychological well-being (angst and friends), well-being more generally (fitness) and healthy relationships (friends and parents) are really important as well. It's also worth recalling that I don't think this video is a serious comparison so I'm actually being unreasonable. If this was a forum, a cynic might say that I am looking to score easy ideological points. It gets worse when you remember the video's angle is the differences between the person. Furthermore, I considered one's direction to be directly relevant along with homework and punctuality. But back to the main drag.

Classtime

When it comes down to it, this is the big difference. University is what we can consider to be big scale. A lecturer talks at maybe hundreds of people at once. This will usually last, reasonably non-stop, for about an hour. That's the basic model of a lecture. These days the lectures are often recorded so you can go back and check details, or even not turn up in person. Good lecturers have decent pacing and utilise humour and other tools to keep interest or explain points. In many courses, simply moving through material isn't sufficient and significant portions of the lecture will be used to work through examples. In some courses there is a hell of a lot of content and the pace is relatively breakneck. The student, in fact, has little time reflect, if any. Such courses are the most likely to rely on words and the odd visual aide or supporting data. Some lectures are more reliant on readings having already been done while others theoretically act as companions to readings most people won't do. Those are the ones most likely to have videos. In short, though, they all run on the same idea that the lecturer is the one with the knowledge and the lecturer uses the lecture as a medium to impart that knowledge.

School is a little different. There's this same core principle of teacher imparts wisdom to pupil but it's not done via lecture. At least, not usually. Instead it's more PowerPoint driven with some discussion. Subjects like maths involve a lot of examples and explanations of examples. Worksheets are frequently deployed and sometimes reading from textbooks is undertaken (typically with exercises at the end). There's quite a lot of down time. And, ultimately, that's the big difference for you. In school your classroom self is typically talkative and inactive rather than the busy, silent student of the lecture theatre. In many ways this is what I liked about Business 101 and 102. It had the downtime. It had the social elements. It was a break from the standard model. Which is another difference, uni makes you more aware that there are different ways of doing things.

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