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University is a different environment than high school, complete with its own demands and expectations.  Most students successfully make the transition, but keep in mind that it is a process, with bumps in the road for many.  Experiment with different approaches and be kind to yourself as you learn the ropes.  Success in the first term of university may be defined as passing your courses and persisting, with ideas on how to improve in the second term!


In what ways are university and high school different?

High School


Everyone attends class at the same time on weekdays

Your own schedule.  You may have evening classes – occasionally Saturdays or online too - or days off.

Classes are all around 35 people.

Classes may be 10-450 people.

Light readings – that you can often skip – from textbooks.

Heavy required reading from textbooks, journal articles, websites, and various other sources.

Frequent tests and assignments, each worth a small percent of your grade.

In many classes, only a few tests or assignments, each worth a large percentage.

Attendance is taken.

Attendance is usually not taken.

Homework is checked.

Homework is usually not checked.

Teachers check on you to make sure you are keeping up.

It is your own responsibility to make sure you are keeping up.



In general, in university you need to be more self-directed than in high school, and take responsibility for your own self-management.


You will need to pay attention to:

women sleepingSleeping

8.5-9.25 nightly hours of sleep is recommended for university students aged 17-22, and students who get this amount tend to do better than students who sleep less.  Anything less compromises your ability to solve problems, concentrate, and learn, not to mention your ability to show up to class and follow through on study plans!


student at lectureAttending class

The commute is long, attendance is not taken, and lecture recordings or notes may be posted online.  So why go to class?  Because it is a much easier way to keep up with the class material than learning everything on your own.  Because class is a great place to make connections with classmates and instructors, potential sources of help.  Because without attending class, you will be without reminders that you need to do the work.  Need I say more?


student readingPrioritizing schoolwork

This may not be so easy to do with so many other things competing for your attention: a job, volunteer work, extracurricular activities, exercise, friends and family, Facebook, Netflix, PlayStation.   Success at university is more about time on task than ‘natural ability’, and to stay on top of their schoolwork, university students should plan on spending 2-3 hours per course unit per week on schoolwork
(i.e.: 24-36 hours per week for a 12 unit load) in addition to class time.  To find the time needed, you will likely have to make sacrifices.  Figure out how many hours you can reasonably take on at work and stick to it.

You may need to get comfortable saying ‘no’ sometimes – to social invitations, requests for help, extra shifts at work, your own worst instincts – but friends and family who care for you will understand.  You will need to start thinking of going out with friends, video games, TV, and social networking as rewards for a job well done, rather than activities to do whenever.


Starting your schoolwork from the first day of class

With the excitement of Week of Welcome, Clubs Days, and whole new possibilities for your social life, and with your first midterm a long way off, it is easy to be lulled into feeling that you don’t need to do schoolwork in the first few weeks of university.  Do not fall into this trap!  Given that you may need to study 24-36 hours per week or more, it’s much easier and more effective to put that time in regularly from week 1 than to have to double- or triple-up on it in the two weeks leading up to midterms, just to catch up.


student taking notesStudying effectively

Don’t waste the time you have set aside for schoolwork; spend that time productively!  Find a study environment that works for you, and turn your technology OFF.  Many students find they are more effective in the Library than at home, and the W.A.C. Bennett Library at the Burnaby campus has a floor that is suitable for every preferred level of background noise.  Research has shown that studying consistently, a little bit every day, and reviewing material that you have already covered, is far more effective than cramming.  As well, studying by answering practice questions that you have either found or made up has been shown to be far more effective than other study methods such as re-reading or summarizing.  Consider finding study partners or study groups to make up and answer questions with you, or just to increase your motivation to study!


Accessing support

Although the same friends might have accompanied you through high school, people in your university life may come and go according to changing schedules. It is important to build your community. Look into Clubs and Departmental Student Unions.  The onus is on you to seek help when needed from professors or teaching assistants, or from other University services such as:


Using all the resources available to you is a sign that you are on your way to becoming a strong University Student!