Transition : From Sixth Form to University


Indonesian Student Sarah B. Teja, Studying Abroad in United Kingdom, Transitioning from Sixth Form to University

Terkadang, kita tidak bisa terus diam di dalam zona nyaman.  Ada saat-saat di mana kita harus beradaptasi dengan dunia yang baru, seperti ketika menjadi mahasiswa.  Simak cerita Sarah Teja saat ia memulai petualangannya di universitas.

The process of transitioning from school to university was not frictionless.  Though it was challenging at first, but I managed to get through it.  Everyone has their own personal story to tell, and this one is mine to share.

There was no denying that I enjoyed the summer after completing my A-levels immensely.  It was a solid 3-month long holiday with near-zero mental burden, because summer readings ceased to exist.  However, little did I know that it was just a mere beginning of a new chapter, which was going to university.  The fact that I had to finally step out of my comfort zone, and navigate through an unfamiliar surroundings on my own was a challenge that must be faced.

Sixth Form

I attended a secondary school in England to obtain A-levels qualifications.  These 2-year period is often referred to as Sixth Form.  It is divided into Lower and Upper Sixth, which are identical to year 12 and 13 respectively.  Students usually study 4 subjects of their choice in the first year, and could drop one in the second year.


With the number of subjects, that one takes, being dramatically reduced from 11 (in pre-A-levels) to only 4 subjects, this means each subject will be explored in more depth.  Hence, developing your own understanding from the beginning is key.  One simply can’t procrastinate.

In Sixth Form, students definitely are able to study a wide-ranging set of subjects, unless you intend to pursue a specific degree e.g. Medicine, which requires you to take Biology/Chemistry.  Nevertheless, such cases only apply to a few number of students (there were only 4 students wanting to become medics in my school).

I took Maths, Philosophy, Economics, and History, though I dropped the latter in Upper Sixth.  The perks that I found through studying different subjects include testing one’s capability in approaching various kinds of problems.  For example, different techniques are needed in solving mathematical problems, in comparison with answering essay questions posed in other subjects.  Moreover, especially during revision  (it is synonymous to exam preparation), I found it extremely useful to have polar-opposite subjects, such as Maths and Philosophy, because if saturation point was finally reached after a Philosophy marathon, I could easily switch to Maths.  It resulted in a more efficient use of time.  However, the downside is that due to the stark difference between them, if you were unlucky and got those exams on the same day, you will be mentally and physically challenged.  Once, I had a Maths paper followed with a British History exam shortly afterwards, and difficult was an understatement.


Teachers tend have a great influence on whether or not I would enjoy studying a particular subject.  So, one of my biggest of worries, when starting A-levels, was the teaching quality and method.  Having been taught in a conventional Indonesian-speaking school before, where teaching was mostly a one-way communication, the notion of group discussions was simply unnerving.  However, such discussions are designed to aid your overall learning, instead of making your life complicated.  Most importantly, teachers are there to help.

Since class sizes were relatively small (approximately 6-12 students), it was easier for students to build a good relationship with teachers at school.  I also noticed that they genuinely wanted their pupils to do well in exams and took extra efforts in making sure, that we were on the right track.  One time, a History teacher gave my friend a handwritten note, explaining things that she was unable to comprehend in class.

Social Scenes

Going to a new school is not easy.  On top of that, being an international student, whose first language is not English makes the prospect even more daunting.  However, as time went by, it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought.

When I was in Sixth Form, there were around 90 students in my cohort, making  it somewhat easier to know all their names and maybe get to know some of them. When I said ‘some’, this was because there were people that I never met in lessons.  This was purely because of the difference in the subjects that students take.  However, it didn’t deter burgeoning friendships between us.  Lunchtime usually brought students together, regardless of the subjects they take.

Having gone to a boarding school myself, I could assure you that it was nothing like Hogwarts.  Nevertheless, it was still an unforgettable experience.  There were days filled with laughter and joy, but some days were wearisome.  Ultimately, I was fortunate to have these boarders around me, sticking with each other through thick and thin.  Even though boarding life was not always easy, I found camaraderie among the people that I lived together with.

I was able to be involved in a variety of extra-curricular activities mainly because of the relentless push from the school.  On top of attending all of our lessons during the day, students were expected to do ‘games’ twice a week.  These ‘games’ are not Nintendo games, it means ‘sports’.  As a non-sporty person, they gave me the options to choose between going to the gym or do some volunteering.  It was a no-brainer for me, I immediately decided to volunteer at a local primary school for one whole term.



The distinctive aspect in university is a broader sense of liberty, as you are now treated as an adult.


Prior to entering university, students have all applied to a course of their choice.  In my case, I have chosen to read Economics.  By doing so, I am able to learn about the subject in more depth, as opposed to in Sixth Form where I had to juggle 3 to 4 different subjects at the same time.  Though it is nice to focus on doing something which interests you, but during exam season, it gets slightly monotonous to prepare for 5 different Economics modules.   You are also allowed to choose some of your modules, but few of them will remain compulsory.


Class sizes are much bigger in university.  In a compulsory module like Microeconomics, the total number of students is around 300 people.  This makes it impossible for professors to know students individually.  However, some of them will still give us opportunity to contact them, should there be any questions.  Furthermore, these lecturers will teach the general understanding about a subject, meaning that teaching is not tailored strictly tailored for exam purposes.  In addition, unlike in school, where teachers strictly adhere to the exam specifications, lecturers are able to teach whatever they want.

Social Scenes

Here in the University of Nottingham (where I go to), there are approximately 40,000 students in total.  Therefore, it is only natural that you may not know all of them in person.  Sometimes, it is amusing when you go to your exams and yet continue to see new faces.  This is just one proof of people having the tendency to not to go to lectures when they are recorded and are made available online.

There is also a vast number of societies (there are over 200 societies in the University of Nottingham).  They range from the traditional Model United Nations to the ludicrous Quidditch society.  Unfortunately, for the latter, they play on the ground.

During freshers’ week (the first week of university, where first-year students are given the opportunity to settle in), all societies looked appealing and I wished to join them all.  However, this is unfeasible, as time is a precious commodity.  So, choosing the ones that you can actually commit in doing seems to be the best way.  Another thing that could be considered is the possibility of acquiring new skills after joining a society.  For example, if you want to brush up your public speaking skills, then you might be interested to join the society.

With countless opportunities being offered to students in university, your personal university experience depends on the decisions you make.  Such opportunities could either be used to your own advantage or only be enjoyed by others.

In sum, the transition from school to university is inevitable.  During the process, try keeping an open mind and see every hurdle as an opportunity for you to learn and grow.  Remember, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Photo provided by author. 



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