High School vs. University: 5 Things You Need to Know
I just finished my first year of undergrad and can say from experience that university is an enormous jump from Grade 12, especially if you’re moving away from home. Campus life can be warm and familiar, but it can also be intimidating and confusing. To make the jump less high and forceful, here’s a list of five things to consider as you leave your high school and dive into the new and unfamiliar waters of post-secondary life.
1. Lectures are very different from classes
While high school classes tend to be small and packed with friends, lectures can be full of hundreds of students who you don’t know. My Political Science classes were like that. While high school teachers generally get to know their students on an individual level, professors don’t always make an effort to, especially when hundreds of students are enrolled in their courses. It was refreshing to have some anonymity in my lectures during the year, but sometimes I felt more like a number than a student. To ease yourself into the less-than-comfortable lecture-hall lifestyle, I’d recommend meeting a few classmates early on in the year so you have some friends to sit with. It’s also nice to have students to exchange notes with and study with during the term.
2. In university, you create your schedule
Unlike in high school, where a schedule is usually made via a computer and carefully handed out to you by a teacher or guidance counsellor at the beginning of the year, university gives you the opportunity to choose your classes and create your timetable. Being a person who would willingly stay up until 4:00 am on an average night, I planned my first-semester schedule in a way that ensured most of my classes started after 11:30 am. That was a good idea. On the other hand, in my second semester, I took a 9:30 am Anthropology class and regretted the sleep deprivation it wrought. If you’re going into your first year of university, I’d recommend choosing class times, at least in part, based on whether you’re an early-morning or late-night person. Know which one you are! It’ll improve your university experience immeasurably.
3. You may not be living with your parents anymore
For most students, one of the most potent differences between high school and university life springs from moving away from home. While you may miss your parents at times, residence life can be supremely exciting. Your friends may be roommates or living only a few doors down. Parties will become more accessible, and your parents won’t always be standing over your shoulder demanding to know where you are at 3:00 am. Being on your own will come with a number of new responsibilities, including having to do laundry on a regular basis, but it will also give you more opportunities to hang out with friends and enjoy yourself. Take advantage of that!
4. The freshman 15 is real
When you’re living away from home for the first time, you gain a new kind of independence and control over your life. There’s a good chance you’ll be on a meal plan, so preparing meals from scratch won’t necessarily be something you have to worry about. That was my case. Your meal plan gives you easy, instant access to all kinds of food. Pizza, poutine, burgers, and Oreos were constant go-tos for many students throughout the year. If you’re not used to having a wide-range of sugary and otherwise less-healthy foods conveniently placed only a few steps away from your dorm, the freshman 15 may become a reality. Just keep that in mind.
5. University is what you make of it
In university, no one is forcing you to do anything per se. Professors don’t take attendance in lectures, and Teaching Assistants don’t call your parents when you don’t show up for a tutorial. It’s up to you to find a healthy, delicate balance. When you don’t party at all, university life can get reduced to a dizzying and seemingly endless academic grind. But when you don’t study at all, things can get infinitely more stressful. It’s also up to you to take advantage of the opportunities that university offers you, even the ones that seem less crucial. I met one of my closest friends at a Welcome Week (our version of Frosh Week) football field event that I was about to ditch. Had I stayed inside my dorm that day, my whole year would have been different. You never know what things will lead to.
With that said, university life may seem anxiety-inducing and overwhelming at more than one time. Maybe everyday. But you have the power to make your first-year experience transformative and awesome. You got this.