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A beginner’s guide to the university academic year

If you’re heading to university, you may be a bit baffled by the academic year — after all, sixth forms and colleges tend to follow in schools’ footsteps. In contrast, university is quite different, and you’ll hear lots of new terms such as “fresher” and “semester” thrown around.

In this article, we’ll dissect the university academic year and some of the terms you’ll come across, so you’re fully in the know and ready to hit the ground running when you join student life in Leeds.

Below, we’ll take you through the academic year in the order you may come across events and words.

Freshers’ Week

A female student moving into university accommodation
Moving into university accommodation

Freshers’ Week takes place in the week before your lectures begin and is a week of activities and events aimed to help you settle into uni life.

In this week, you’ll have the opportunity to meet a lot of new people, attend a Freshers’ Fair where you can sign up for societies and grab loads of freebies, and do lots of partying.

If you’d like to know more, you can read our guide to surviving Freshers’ Week in Leeds.

Of course, Freshers’ Week will look very different to usual if everything is taken online due to the pandemic, but it will still offer you the chance to meet new people and take part in activities.


Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for — what is a semester?

There is often confusion around this word, with some people choosing to use the word “term” instead; however, a semester and a term are two different things.

The Leeds universities have two semesters each year; an autumn semester and a spring semester.

The exact dates vary each year but expect the first semester to last from September to December and the spring semester from January to May.

Each semester includes teaching and an assessment and examination period.


Terms are separate to semesters and exist between national holidays and breaks in teaching.

There are three terms per academic year and, again, the exact dates vary from year to year.

Still, you can expect the terms to roughly be late September to early December, early January to late March, and late April to late June or early July.

Each university’s term dates are unique, so even within Leeds, there are three different sets of term dates.

The universities share their exact term dates on their websites — you’ll be provided with the dates when you start your course, but a quick search will find them online at any time.

It’s worth noting that some study programmes follow a slightly different set of dates; however, you’ll be notified of these in your induction period.


A male student taking notes in a lecture theatre

Lectures will be new to you and are unlike lessons, so let us explain what you can expect from them.

Lectures often take place in large lecture theatres but can sometimes take place in smaller rooms, too.

Before the lecture, students will hang around outside the room until they are allowed in; you will often need to make room for the students from the last lecture to leave.

In the lecture, the lecturer will stand at the front of the room and teach you via a presentation — this may or may not include the use of Powerpoint or a whiteboard.

Sometimes, worksheets are given out.

The room is meant to be quiet throughout the lecture.

To get the most out of your lecture, it is best to listen and make notes. You may wish to write the notes up later, too, giving your brain a second opportunity to process the new information.

If you struggle to concentrate during lectures (perhaps because of others’ noise), you may wish to record your lectures, but it is standard procedure to ask the lecturer first.

If you wish to ask a question about what you have learned, you may be given the opportunity at the end of the lecture, or you may need to arrange to see the lecturer at another time.


Tutorials are more informal than lectures and are your chance to discuss what you have learnt in lectures with other students and a member of teaching staff.

These meetings are held in smaller groups (usually 10-25 students) and in them, there will be group discussion, debate and presentations on the themes and concepts covered in recent lectures.


You will be given regular written assignments to complete throughout your time at university.

These must be written in a formal, academic manner, which is a skill you’ll develop over time.

Your university will give you plenty of guidance on this. To get you started, you can read this guide to planning an assignment by the University of Leeds.


A female student working on her dissertation with a stack of books

You only submit a dissertation in your final year of an undergraduate degree or for a postgraduate degree, so it’s not part of every academic year; however, we thought it was worth including here as it often accounts for a large proportion of your overall mark.

Your dissertation — or thesis, as it is sometimes known — is a large written assignment based on original research into a topic of your choice.

The expected word count varies by university and department but can be anywhere between 10,000 words and 20,000 words.

This piece of work is an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and ideas while delving into a subject you are interested in.

If you’re heading to university in Leeds, you can browse your university’s website here:

University of Leeds

Leeds Beckett University

Leeds Trinity University

If you need to arrange Leeds student accommodation, then you can browse our range of quality student properties .

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