Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Starting your Studies

There are certain ideas about student life at university in comparison to school: to be able to concentrate just on one subject, to be more independent concerning schedule and attendance, long vacations etc. We want to talk about the changes you have to face when starting university, helpful skills for sucessfully studying and how studying can promote your personal development.


What will be different at university coming from school?

Self-studies required

The schedule you are used to from school with lessons of 25-30 hours a week is over. You will be able to study independently, without control and constant company. Your academic schedule contains only half of your study time. The other half takes places through self-studies.

More extensive subject-matter

You are studying one to two subjects. But the subject matter is much more extensive than you know it from school. The same applies for the exams. Your previous learning strategies might not be sufficient anymore and you might need to adopt new strategies.

More self-resposibility

More self-responsibility and autonomy is required in every area of life. You will have to deal with your finances, your apartment and organizing your daily life yourself. It also means that you will have to find information concerning your studies yourself, you have to prepare lectures and reread your notes after, you have to find and read relevant literature. Some of it will not be possible during term time but has to be done in between term times. So, „non-lecture period“ does not only mean vacation, but also reading, self-studies and writing assingments.

Less guidance

You will be less in touch with your teachers at university than with your teachers back at school. You will mostly not be asked questions directly in lectures, your attendance will normally not be checked. There will not be anyone who checks whether you have done your reading or not. Autonomous working is required. 


Which attitude is required for successfully studying?

Proactive action
  • Proactive action means that you take responsibility for your life and shape it actively without letting external conditions affect you. Actively shaping could mean e.g. making decisions, improving skills, building relationships and trying new things.
  • Concentrate on situations which you have an influence on.
  • Acting proactively also means to question learned content, reread and repeat and not just passively consume it.
  • See your studies as a challenge, not a duty. You have the possibility to grow intellectually and personally through your studies.
  • Do not worry if you are feeling low but think about ways to promote motivation. Take action against procrastination.
Think self-critically
  • Question yourself self-critically in a constructive way. Discover potential for improvement without falling into perfectionism and self-criticism.
  • Do not give up or start to complain if you receive bad marks. Think about what has lead to this result and what could be improved.
  • Mistakes incite reflection and personal development. How else would you be able to develop further?
A positive prevailing mood
  • A negative view on your studies promotes anger and limits your motivation. To see the positive aspects, what there is for you to gain, the learning experiences even from difficult situations on the other hand cause a positive mood which rather helps with academic success.
  • This also includes appreciation for your fellow students and teachers. Instead of competing and comparing yourself you can practice being cooperative and analyzing what you can learn from others.
  • See the benefit of unloved subjects. You might not like maths, but dealing with formulae improves your concentration, abstract and logic thinking.
  • Let yourself be infected by others’ enthusiam. You do not know what could be interesting about a certain subject? Ask your fellow students what they like about it. Let yourself be inspired!
Show respect
  • Respect for other views and people creates a mental space for encounter and development. Negative and degraded judgement on the other hand create stress and are on the expense of relationships. Why should others want to interact with someone who treats them condescending?
  • Research also shows: non-judging people are more happy (Kabat-Zinn 2003 in Voss 2012). They take decisions, act more effectively and feel better.
Free of fear
  • Fear limits you and your mental performance. If we are frightened there are ususally three evolutionary patterns setting in: we want to either attack, flee or we freeze. Logical thinking is not possible anymore. In examinations this behaviour expresses itself as postponing the exam, test-anxiety or mental blackout. The attention is focused on being evaluated and cannot be focused on the learned content.
  • Practice relaxation techniques early on. You cannot be tense and anxious and relaxed at the same time. Breathing techniques and meditation can also be helpful.
  • Change your view of the frightening situation (e.g. instead of „the teacher will recognize that I am too dumb“ rather „the exam is an expert discussion in which I am able to show which aspects of the subject I am interested in).
  • Question excessive perfectionism and ambitions. Practice modesty. Think about the sense of failure.

What is there to personally achieve with my studies?

Professional skills

Acquisition of expertise leads to prefessional skills: you will be well informed about the scientific discourse. You will know how to collect, analyse and interpret data and you will be able to see complex coherences. That will improve your ability to reason, you will train your memory and your written and oral communication skills.

Methodical skills

These refer to your learning and working techniques which are not restricted to the subject you are studying. How do you make choices? What is meant by logical thinking? How do you organize yourself? How can you prepare yourself effectively for an exam? These are questions that you can ask and answer yourself during your studies.

Social skills

Studying also trains your social skills. During your studies you will communicate with fellow students and teachers, you might have to negotiate things, work in groups and cooperate with others, take responsibilty, act autonomously, as well as show commitment and fairness.

Competence to act

Successfully developing skills in the social field, your specialist area and in the field of organizing yourself will result in the competence to act. And when you see yourself as capable of acting and experience that your actions are successful it will stengthen your self-esteem and personality.


Source: see Voss, R. (2012).  Studi-Coach. Studieren für Anfänger. UVK Verlag, Konstanz und München.

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