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?