IELTS speaking vocabulary: talking about university and student life

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You may be asked questions about university and student life.  

Read the following IELTS style questions and answers below and pay attention to the words or phrases in bold.

Use the ‘definitions’ section at the bottom of the page to check any meanings you are unfamiliar with.

Make a note of any new vocabulary and the best way to learn it is to use it!

IELTS speaking part 1 – style questions

Examiner: What subject are you studying at university?

Sophia: I finished my bachelor’s degree a few years ago, and that was in biology, as I have always enjoyed the Sciences, and I am currently studying for my Masters in Psychology which I am finding really interesting but also very challenging.

Examiner: What will you do after finishing your studies?

Joy: I am not sure if I would like to actually become a psychologist, working with mental health and neurological patients day in, day out but maybe I can use this wide-ranging and specialist knowledge to find work in health care, where there is a short supply of well-qualified professionals.

Examiner: Is there an increasing trend for further education in your country?

Andre: Yes, in the past decade there has been an explosion of those seeking extra qualifications as the jobs market is very competitive. Not only are there many more undergraduate places, but the demand for postgraduate studies has also grown, particularly in STEM subjects which is a positive development.

Examiner: What do you do in your free time at university?

Noah: I usually spend my free time reading a book in my student accommodation. I also cook with my roommates; sometimes, we organise movie and game nights.

IELTS speaking part 2 - style question

  • Describe an experience or meeting you had at university.

You should say:

  • what it was
  • when you had this experience or meeting
  • where you had this experience

and explain why this experience/ meeting had an impact on you.

Sara: I would like to talk about my own personal experience studying at a further education college in Germany a few years ago. I had enrolled at a technical college, as I was looking for a practical, vocational course in order to learn more about engineering and I had hoped that this course would include an element of hands-on training as well as formal classroom learning.

When I arrived at the college, I was allocated a place at a hall of residence which I had thought would be located close to the lecture theatres, however in fact, it was a 30-minute bus ride away. This was a disaster as far as making friends was concerned – it made it very hard to get involved in a university social life, which everyone knows is meant to be exciting and great fun.

At one of the seminars in our first month, I explained my accommodation issue to one of my new tutors, a very kind professor who was one of the leading experts in her field, and she was very sympathetic, and fully understood that this hall of residence was located a long way from the student’s union and other student areas.

Suddenly, while we were talking, her eyes lit up, like she had had an inspired idea! She explained that she was looking for a lodger or tenant as she lived in a large, empty house and she offered me the chance to rent a room in her house which I gratefully accepted.

For the next three years, I lived in central Berlin with this incredibly wise, kind and intelligent professor. She challenged and motivated me to study as hard as I could, as at one point I had considered dropping out because I was rather out of my depth in some of the technical detail of the course, and when I finally graduated, she was cheering the loudest at my graduation ceremony.

I was very lucky to have formed such a strong bond with this amazing teacher and the impact she had on me was life-changing as now I intend to specialise in the same field as her.

IELTS speaking part 3 – style question

Examiner: Is higher education too expensive in your country?

Alice: I think that it is very costly to go into higher education in my country. Prices rose dramatically a few years ago, making it extremely difficult for most people to afford it. Tuition fees are largely funded by loans which need to be repaid over a working life time, but while spending thousands on education is worth every penny, it can, as a consequence, bring years of debt to a student and their family. In today’s society, no one is guaranteed to get a good job straight after university, so these course fee debts often continue to follow them around for life.

Examiner: What advantages do universities bring to society?

Bolore: I think that there are many positive things that universities or further education colleges can offer communities and neighbourhoods around them. They bring students into the area for one, which means housing will be in demand. They will spend money on food, go out to eat and socialise and invest in books (new as well as second-hand) for their course, making the town or city a buzzing hub of student life. The students themselves benefit from having a high level of education, which can then be translated into skills in the workplace, keeping society progressing and the economy profitable with their increased skills and knowledge.

Examiner: Which is more important, research or teaching?

Jon: This is an interesting debate which has come to the fore as the tuition fees for University are so high and students are demanding high-quality contact time.  I think that for those students or potential Professors who undertake research, there is the need to complete a Master’s degree or a PhD. This can develop a further understanding of a subject and allow graduates to develop their research skills. Many people who complete these higher levels of education, also teach at University or College as a way of sharing their knowledge and gaining respect from their peers. It is not really possible to teach at that level without undertaking some sort of extensive research.

Vocabulary list and definitions:

  • Challenging: academically difficult
  • Day in, day out: full time without a break
  • Wide-ranging: covering a large spectrum / area of different knowledge
  • Undergraduate: studying for a degree but having not yet achieved it.
  • Postgraduate: having achieved a degree and now studying for a higher qualification, possibly a professional qualification
  • STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
  • Further education: studies after leaving school
  • Technical colleges: places which do not demand such high entrance qualifications as university
  • Vocational studies: focus on learning or mastering a skill
  • Hands-on training: practical work/ learning
  • To apply for a course: the process of registering for a university
  • To get an (un)conditional offer: an offer which does not depend on previous exam results
  • Halls of residence / student accommodation: a particular place to live for students
  • Student union: an organisation for students / sometimes a physical place
  • A fresher / an undergraduate / a graduate: a new student, someone studying for a Bachelors degree, a student who has finished their Degree
  • A graduation ceremony: a formal occasion when Degrees are given out
  • To take a gap year: a year between study and university
  • To drop out of university: to leave before the course is finished
  • Out of my depth: finding work / study too hard
  • Seminar: smaller class of students with a Professor leading the discussion
  • Lecture theatre: large building for a talk / lecture
  • Extensive research: in-depth work done in a particular academic field

More IELTS vocabulary tutorials to help you prepare for your IELTS exam: