Surviving the Transition from High School to Post-Secondary

By Cheryl Finch

I had the pleasure of attending Nipissing University’s New Student Orientation Day with my nephew.  This well-organized and enlightening program consists of information sessions, panel discussions, and Q&A opportunities for graduating high school students.  Upper-year students, professors, university administrators, and resource centre staff offer helpful and practical pointers for students entering their first year of university. They covered everything from classes and exams to residence and social life.  Here are a few tips and hints I jotted down.

You’re in Post-Secondary Now! Be Prepared For …

  • larger classes
  • more readings
  • more independent study
  • no deadline extensions
  • a drop in your grades
  • writing exams with hundreds of people

Tips for the Transition:

  • Find your passion and study what you love! Attending and preparing for classes is much easier if you enjoy what you’re learning.
  • Do your readings before class. Don’t just study after class – you will fall behind and it will be harder to catch up.
  • Don’t skip classes! Exams usually involve lecture material and textbook material, so you have to go to class AND read your textbooks. No shortcuts!
  • For every hour you’re in class, expect to spend an additional 2-3 hours outside class on readings, research, and assignments. 15 hours of class per week quickly turns into a 45-50 hour “work” week. Therefore, treat your education as a full-time job and put in the hours.
  • The studying, note-taking and research skills in high school won’t be sufficient for university. You learn the skills you need by doing the work. But ask lots of questions and take advantage of student help centres and skills seminars.

Get to know your professors

  • Your university experience doesn’t have to mean that you’re just a number, even if you’re at a larger school. Take advantage of professors’ office hours and make a personal connection. Your professors want to help you, but they won’t initiate contact with you. So go to them.
  • If you’re struggling with a class or assignment, don’t wait until you’ve fallen too far behind. Seek help from your professor, librarian, fellow student or the student help centre as soon as you feel lost or confused.
  • Don’t leave research assignments to the last minute. Some topics can take a long time to research, and the library materials you need may be in use by another student. Therefore, leave plenty of time to complete your assignments.
  • Plagiarism is a serious offense! Even if it’s unintentional. Reduce the risk by learning proper citation rules and seeking clarification if you’re not sure.
  • Learn to manage your time! Consider putting all of your assignments and exams on a 4-month wall calendar, so you can see where you’ll be busiest during the semester. This will allow you to plan ahead and make time for assignments or exams that fall on the same day/week. Also, identify gaps for social events and personal time.

Unlike high school, post-secondary involves more independent study:

  • Profs don’t take attendance, so it’s up to you to get yourself to class. Remember, you’re paying for it!
  • If you don’t come to class or you don’t hand in an assignment, your prof isn’t going to follow up. Take personal responsibility for your education.
  • Your class syllabus will identify your assignments and exams. Your prof isn’t going to give you reminders, so keep track of your deadlines and don’t lose your syllabus!
  • Unlike high school, you won’t be granted deadline extensions. So if you miss an assignment, you’re likely getting zero.
  • If you have 2 assignments due on the same day, your profs aren’t going to change the deadlines. You will need to plan ahead and complete both assignments on time.
  • Your grades will drop, even if you are an A+ student in high school. Be prepared for lower grades, especially at the beginning. Persevere, work hard and study what interests you. Your grades will improve.

Get involved!  If you were involved in sports, arts, student government or other extracurricular activities in high school, continue with them in university! There will be time for these activities, and they will give you a more balanced university experience and reduce the risk of social isolation

Even a small university is different from high school. It’s a chance for a fresh start with new people, new professors and possibly a new city. So, feel free to be yourself or even reinvent yourself!  Try new things that are outside your comfort zone.

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