Once a student...

"Immersed" at the Triolet campus, high school students aren't holding their breath. Let's take a look at a few days designed to familiarize them with another world that could be theirs tomorrow.

Photographer David Richard

February 15, Triolet campus: a hundred high school students set out to explore the university. A fascinating world to explore, of which they still know little or nothing...
9:30 am: assembly in the hall of the university science library. A few dozen young people are waiting to set off on the discovery of a new universe, one in which they may well find themselves next year. To the outside observer, nothing really distinguishes these high school seniors from first-year undergraduates. Three high schools in the region are hosting the event today: Lycée Jules Guesde in Montpellier, Lycée Pompidou in Castelnau-le-Lez and Lycée Gide in Uzès.

"Immersion day

" There are still three missing", worries one of the accompanying teachers. worries one of the accompanying teachers. The latecomers make their appearance as Sophie Khachni puts her guests at ease: " During class, the teacher may say some complicated things, and you may not understand everything. Don't worry, that's not why you're here! Today's objective is to get a first glimpse of the university, to soak up the atmosphere.
The high school students are here on an " immersion day ": that's the expression used by the SCUIO-IP where Sophie works. The first item on the program: attending a lecture. The group of Terminale S students from Castelnau set off for Amphi 5, for a lecture in general chemistry. The students cross a small part of the 20-hectare Triolet campus, already enough to leave one dreaming... Atmosphere? A little lost, but serene, the students...

- There's even an ATM!
- It's bigger than the high school, I'm telling you!
- Look at that! You have to take an Uber to change lecture halls! (laughs)
- This morning in class, you'll see, we're not going to understand a thing.

A prophecy that seems to be coming true when the group finally takes its place in amphitheatre 5, where enigmatic questions resound: " What influence does the 10s electronic cloud have on the behaviour of the 1s electron? On the benches of the 250-seat amphitheater, deep silence reigns.

Uncertainties with 4 months to go

Outside, another group surrounds Thomas Bessède, " student ambassador". Along with other volunteers from the University of Montpellier, he is here to guide these visitors for the day. " You're going to see the teacher-researchers: they're very knowledgeable. But sometimes they're hard to follow! Sometimes you think you can't do it. But with hard work you can do it". A few years ago, as a high school student, Thomas was in the shoes of the people he was talking to. " I felt lost the day I visited the university. It looked hard," he recalls.
In front of an audience hanging on his every word, he paints a quick picture of university life. With just four months to go before the baccalaureate, his listeners seem rather uncertain about their immediate future. What's next? It's not yet easy to say... Only two girls have clearly made up their minds: one is going to IUT, the other to medical school. The rest of the group are still unsure of what to expect next year...

High school students at university" operation

At the University of Montpellier, the "Lycéens à l'université" (high school students at university) operation gives students a glimpse of their future. The idea is to welcome them at certain times of the year to give them a taste of the university experience, for a day or half-day. Time to discover this new world and begin to familiarize themselves with it.
Occupational psychologist Virginie Baudelot is in charge of this mission. According to her, high school students experience the post-bac period as a real leap into the unknown. " University? High school students have no idea what that means! It covers so many different streams and courses. What they do know is certain parts of the UM: an engineering school like Polytech, the faculty of science or medicine, or the IUT".

Discover the campus

Classes come with their teachers: more and more of them are signing up for this program, initiated in 2006 with the Montpellier education authority and the region's high schools. The program includes lectures, as well as discussions with students who volunteer to come and talk about their experiences: a particularly popular moment.
" We talk mainly about the first year, emphasizing the new things they're going to encounter. We provide practical information on student jobs, grants and accommodation. Above all, it's a question of detailing the different streams and types of training, to help each student find the path that suits him or her best. We're not here to sell dreams, but to set the record straight: is university easy because there's no selection? Not true! Are professional integration rates good? True!
In all, nearly 600 high school students took part this year, registered by their teachers. Their first major discovery was " the need to be autonomous and organized, to define one's career path, to take steps on one's own", on a campus perceived as " a small town within a town, with its own cultural, social, associative and sporting life".
According to a study carried out in 2016-2017, almost all high school students are satisfied or very satisfied with the opportunity to take part, particularly as it gives them an insight into the demands of higher education and encourages them to reflect on or rethink their career choices. The teachers, for their part, were largely satisfied with the organization and welcome they received.

Nicolas Maillet is a laboratory technician and accompanies high school students at Lycée Pompidou in Castelnau-le-Lez. Having himself " spent time on the benches of Montpellier's science faculty from 1998 to 2004″, he is well aware of the importance of " immersion days" in easing the transition from high school to university.
" High school students are discovering a new reality: university is an open place, where you have full control over your career path. It's a far cry from high school, where students are still very much assisted. Here, for example, the teacher doesn't dictate: it's up to each student to take his or her own notes.
The main benefit of these days? "We help them to get a more realistic ideaof what it's like to go on to higher education.It's important to show them the reality of the situation: it's not always easy, and they don't necessarily see themselves in the future they had planned".
Any advice for future students? " Think about your future very early on. University is very diverse, and offers many possibilities. You need to have a clear vision of your path from the outset, otherwise you risk getting lost. It doesn't happen in a day. But it can help!