In case you are wondering, there are at least 50+ differences between the average, normal Canadian high school experience and what you will experience at university. Yes, 50+. When some of us get bored, we make lists like this. Some differences are small. Some are big. Some will not matter to most people. Some will matter to many. Some will matter to a few. In any event, there are lots and lots of things that will require adapting to. Although this may seem overwhelming, there are supports in place to help you succeed.
Some students will accept this reality and be ready, open to change, but we have seen many students deny that things will be different. It will be different for others. The instructors and counsellors are talking about others. They are not talking about me. What I did in high school will work. Really! Then there is some anger. They tricked me. It is not fair. The expectations are too high. Etc. Then there is some bargaining - I will study harder (more of the same), I will double down. It is possible to be special and successful at university too - it is not that hard to do, but you do have to do a reset and think about how you are going to do this, you are starting afresh. It is up to you what skills and abilities you really want to develop and excel at. You have to think about how you are going to adapt.
What is different and why is change inevitable and important to manage? Here are some of the 50+ points. When we talk about adapting to university, it affects every student differently. You will adapt and figure it out but it will take some adjusting.
You are in class more and the expectations of school work are different - about 50-60 hours every week depending on the courses.
Holidays and long weekends are not really considered - we expect you to be a student most of the time and still do some school stuff regardless of weekends and long weekends - still the 60 hours - if you want the long weekend off, put the time in before or after - it does not go away.
There are teaching assistants and you are often being taught by professors - teaching (all of their courses and teaching related tasks) is only about 40% of a professor’s job. It is not like secondary school where a teacher is a teacher and is there for you.
It is assumed that you will have or will develop appropriate study and learning habits and be an ‘adult’. Often you will not be reminded or nagged about assignments. You forget - you get zero. If you are told to read something or do something, it is assumed you did it. If you do not come to class, it is your problem, not the instructor’s. You do not come to class, it is your decision, live with the consequences. Don’t care about the class, don’t expect the instructor to care about your mark. Effort is assumed and you are assessed based on the course’s outcome goals.
The material is the material. If the class does not get to all of the material, the instructor may or may not say to read something or do something - does not matter - if the syllabus says you are responsible for chapter 11, you are responsible for chapter 11 - even if the instructor does not say a word about it. It can (and likely will) appear on the mid terms and final exam.
The average in many junior courses can be 68-72. This is a far cry from what you had in high school. You might have your first experience of having a mark below 80, or below 50 (OMG). Lucky you. Everyone comes in with high marks and we spread you out. Do not let marks define your success as an undergraduate.
What will you do when you get a 50? 60? How will you react? Deny? Be angry at everyone except yourself? Make pretend deals with yourself about how you will just work harder? Get all funky? Or, will you accept that you will need to rethink how you study and learn. You are smart enough. You just need to do things differently.
The lectures are quick, more stuff per hour, and it just does not stop.
Almost all can handle the load, topics, and work, and learn to deal with it. Almost everyone has the ability to do it. It can be dealt with. Enough proof of that. However, the question is when do you want to deal with it? Do it later, or do it ASAP? ASAP hurts less. And, do not think you can or should change everything at once. That does not work either. Identify a couple of key habits and work on them. Then after they improve, identify the next couple. It can take many students 8-10 weeks to figure out what needs to be changed and how to change it. Be realistic. Make a feasible plan for change!