Psyching yourself up for September -

Psyching yourself up for September

For first-year students, the transition from high school to university can be difficult


If you’re a third-year student you probably won’t start thinking about the new academic year until mid-August − or maybe not even until the evening of September 6. Many first-year students, however, are getting nervous already, wondering what university is going to be like.

After having spoken to dozens of students and professors the verdict is in: it’s going to be really different than high school. But the news isn’t all bad. While there will be some difficult transitions, many parts of university life are much better than at high school. Students say there is less social pressure (it’s no longer cool to bully people), they like having freedom from parents and teachers who take attendance and university campuses offer limitless opportunities for having a great time. But the one thing that everyone agrees on: it is up to you to make your university experience a good one, and much more so than it was in high school.

This new-found responsibility to take care of oneself starts in the classroom. Rey Buenaventura, an academic advisor at Simon Fraser University, says, “No one is checking that they’ve done their homework. Nobody is checking on their attendance that closely. Sometimes students feel like there is no one who really cares about what they do, whether they even show up. That can be a problem.” By seeking out professors and TAs during office hours, setting up study groups with classmates and participating in seminars and class discussions, students can create a more meaningful connection with a class that may have 300 or 400 people in it − but it’s up to the student. “In a class of 500 students, the professor isn’t going to come to you; you have to go to the professor,” he says. “You can create your own experience.”

Some students, particularly those who went to a relatively small high school, feel like they get lost in the crowds of people. No longer do their professors know their name and they may spend the whole day on campus without running into anyone they know. But other students found this aspect of university life a relief. “It was easier to find people that shared similar goals, values and interests,” said Michael, a student at McMaster University. Kady, a McGill University student, says, “A big difference for me was the new establishment of myself. Coming into school without any connections to specific people, teams or clubs gave me the opportunity to reconstruct my McGill life exactly how I wanted it to be.”

For the experienced university students out there: what were the biggest differences you noticed between high school and university? How did you cope with the transition?


Psyching yourself up for September

  1. The biggest change was the workload. I was an average student in high school without really trying too hard. I had to work three times as hard in college to get decent grades. And there was simply a higher volume of assignments to hand in. Preparation for exams took a lot longer. Expectations were generally a lot higher, but that’s normal for college.

  2. One of the biggest differences is what’s pointed out in the article – how nobody checks up on your homework. But a second key difference is how nobody is checking up on the ‘rest of your life’ either.

    I’ll come at this from the perspective of someone who moved away from home and lived in a residence. Certainly there might be some differences from those who are still living at home and/or have a watchful parent nearby, but by far the biggest difference for me was to learn initiative in many aspects of life.

    In high school, morning announcements told you what club or sports team was accepting recruits, and your teacher may have even passed around a sign-up sheet. Once you get to university/college, you need to discover all of the extra-curriculars on your own (luckily, most schools have some sort of volunteer or club fair during Frosh Week for you to find this information. Unluckily, most freshman bypass the tables and head for the high-paying corporate sponsors displays, which are giving out free plastic trinkets). In my experience, I went to these fairs, but I kept thinking ‘I’ll join later, once I figure out what my routine will be’. By the time I realized that I had no extra-curriculars, it was December. Certainly not too late to join anything, because all clubs are still willing to have you participate, but much harder to find the information about what they are doing unless you scour bulletin boards all across campus. Figure out what interests you BEFORE you get to your new campus, check out your student union’s website for a listing of the clubs BEFORE you get there, and then seek out that club to immediately get involved. Build your ‘routine’ around that club, rather than trying to fit the club into something else you establish.

    Second was the personal aspect. Money-management on cafeteria meal plans, money management on the rest of your personal spending including frequent liquor runs and bar nights, no regulated bedtimes (or wake-up times, when you do choose to skip your classes), learning how to cook and clean the bathroom, budgeting your week to make sure you have 4 hours to wait in line for a laundry machine, and making new friends while experiencing university life, and learning the appropriate ratio of ‘studying-to-class-time’. All of these things can be manageable on their own, but when you are thrown into all of these situations for the first time you are sure to miss something. The more of these you can learn before you go, the easier the transition will be. Don’t be the kid who hasn’t cleaned your toilet in 3 months. No matter how great your speaker system is, nobody will be visiting your residence room.

    Another adjustment is simply moving to a new city and learning where your essentials are: the cheapest grocery store, the bank, the trendy restaurants, the department store, and more. I knew a (male) who started university with short hair, and didn’t get a haircut for 5 months. It wasn’t necessairly by choice, he didn’t know where to go for a haircut for the first 3 months, and despite google searches after that, he never asked anyone for a recommendation on where to go. Learn the city, and learn the bus routes to maximize your experience. There’s a lot of social capital to gain if you can be the first one to recommend the 24-hour breakfast joint during midterm season.

    Lastly, friend management is one of the most important things to remember. Coming from the Ontario system which eliminated our OAC-Grade 13, enough freshmen have taken a ‘victory lap’, and I was one of those, entering university literally one day after my 19th birthday. Something about being 19 turns on a trigger that alcohol isn’t the be-all-end-all of university, and you can simply choose to drink when the time is appropriate. It was astounding that after just 5 minutes of interaction with someone, I could usually pick out the out-of-control underager, even if it was noon on a Wednesday and they hadn’t drank since they snuck into a bar 5 days ago. Partying is an important social element of university, but choose friends that know the proper time and place for partying. Go out on a weekend, but don’t surround yourself with people who hit bars 6 nights a week. You don’t want to get suckered into a friend-style that will leave your academics suffering and lead you on academic probation after your first semester. Find the responsible ones who will host a bedroom study-party with Mario-Kart breaks for fun, instead of alcohol and music, at least a few times each month.

    One tip to give. Always, always visit a professor during their office hours in the first 3 weeks of a semester. Even if you’re doing great and don’t have any questions per-se, just have a casual chat about their research, or bounce some ideas about an upcoming paper (if it’s a paper due 3 months later, they’ll be very impressed that you’ve read the syllabus and appear to be planning ahead). You do not want to become a random face in the crowd, and befriending the professor will have profound impacts later in your career on your references, possible research-study or volunteer opportunities, and make your next visit less intimidating. Don’t let your first visit be the one begging for a higher mark after a November midterm, if they’ve never seen your face before, guaranteed the professor will be much less generous.

  3. Can I be a real den mother and offer the advice to eat well, drink a lot of water and get some sleep?

    As an adult student I am still shocked, three years in, at how many kids get theit first taste of freedom and promptly come down with what I refer to as “Freshmen Kennel Cough” by late October.

    You can’t eat takeout pizza washed down with a 6 pack after pulling three all-nighters in closely cramped dormitories and not to expect to pick up some nasty virus. And this is usually just in time to be absent for the class when the Professor discusses your midterm question.

  4. I am going into my final year of my HBA in Gerontology & Psychology. When I started at university I had not been in secondary school for over 7 years. I was definitely nervous with not knowing what to expect. I can say that you learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t. Buenaventura’s advice is perfect in saying that the professor is not going to come to you and that you make our own experience.
    My advice is learn how to organize your time and prioritize. The workload is heavier than secondary school. Don’t fall into procrastination, or expect greatness if you are not going to put in full effort. Read every part of the syllabus, if there is something you don’t understand, ask about it. Never assume.
    Also, if you do feel you are struggling and are overwhelmed, talk to someone: your professor, a counsellor, the learning assistance centre, a tutor. It’s much better to address issues right away than to fall victim to student burnout. Take part in physical activities too, and be sure to get enough sleep and eat well.
    On another note, learn as much as you can.. make your education bubble bigger and take a class that interests you, or one that “you would never take”. The results are surprising and you will experience personal growth as well “something ventured, something gained”.
    Best wishes to those who are going in September!