High school vs. university: making the leap
University differs from high school in a number of significant ways. Students have more freedom but also more responsibility. They must adapt quickly to a campus environment that includes new ways to learn, new rules and responsibilities, and new relationships.
Teaching and learning approach
Your teacher's primary focus is teaching you how to learn a variety of subject matter. You are given group work, discussion, outlines and problem sets to give you the tools to do well on assignments, tests and exams. You usually receive the notes you need in class.
The professor's primary focus is the subject matter itself. The information presented in class highlights essential concepts. You must organize and connect these concepts yourself, so taking notes in class is critical.
How to deal
- Come prepared. Read and review material before class if you can. Check if your classes have additional support material on UM Learn.
- Take notes in class and pay attention to the main ideas presented. Do not rely solely on the instructor’s presentation slides for study reference.
- Use and apply new information by explaining concepts to your friends, solving problems (particularly the ones you're struggling with) and connecting new ideas to ones you already know.
- Monitor your understanding. Get help if you struggle taking notes or identifying main and supporting ideas. Meet with a tutor, attend a Supplemental Instruction session or visit your instructor or their teaching assistant during their office hours.
You complete the majority of your studying and assignment work in class.
Grade 12 requires more work and studying outside of class, but for most students this amounts to 2–3 hours per week.
You must complete all your reading, studying, and assignments outside of class. Time management and planning are critical to your success.
You should expect to study 10 to 20 hours a week.
How to deal
- Go to class. Listening and taking notes will help you learn the material. At the end of each lecture, try to summarize what you learned in two or three sentences.
- Schedule time to study. Organize your day like a workday and consider studying on campus.
- Form a study group or attend a facilitated study group, such as Supplemental Instruction, if one is associated with your class.
- Use available resources such as writing and study skills tutors, and attend a Study skills workshop.
Tests and assignments
Tests are given fairly often and in some cases you can rewrite them. Assignments have due dates, but these dates might be flexible.
Many course will have just a mid-term and a final exam, and the final exam could be worth as much as 60% of your overall grade.
Terms are just three months long. Final exams in the first term are in December before the winter break.
Your professors provide a course syllabus, which includes all assignment and test dates for the entire term and the grading scale used for the course.
Although some instructors allow you to hand in assignments late, some do not, and few or no reminders for deadlines are given.
How to deal
- Start preparing for tests and exams early. An academic term moves quickly, and each course requires you to learn a lot of information.
- Use the course syllabus to plan your study and preparation time for your tests and assignments. Make sure you work on assignments throughout the term and are ready to write your mid-term and final exams as scheduled.
- Review content regularly. Don't re-read and re-copy—instead, rehearse and test yourself.
- Do all assignments and practice problems (especially the difficult ones). They help you learn the material, which in turn will help you with final exams.
- Pay attention to what you understand and what you don't—then test yourself as you study!
- Seek out tutoring resources on campus. Get help from your instructor or teaching assistant during their office hours.
Most writing assignments are designed to introduce you to writing basics and to improve your writing skills.
In general, assignments are short, and although you must conduct some research, scholarly sources are not required, and critical thinking is not emphasized.
Professors expect you to write in a style that is appropriate to their discipline (e.g., history or biology). Format, style and grammar are very important.
You may need to write in a variety of styles for lab reports, research papers, or literary analysis papers.
Papers are not based on your opinion; they are based on your analysis of the evidence, and you are expected to find, organize and present that evidence clearly.
Essays in first-year courses are generally three to eight pages, and most will require that all evidence is provided by scholarly sources rather than from general information found on websites like Wikipedia.
You must cite all information from other sources in your work. Not citing a source could land you a charge of plagiarism, which has significant academic consequences.
How to deal
- Writing expectations differ from course to course. Pay close attention to each professor’s instructions. If there is a writing skills manual on the course’s textbook list, buy it and use it.
- Visit the Learn at the Libraries website to learn more about writing and doing research.
- Contact a writing tutor for help. Appointments are free and tutors are located in these libraries: Elizabeth Dafoe, Science and Technology, and Management.
- Contact a subject librarian for help with finding appropriate sources for your paper. Subject librarians can answer your questions through email, or meet with you online or in-person.
- Attend an Academic Writing Workshop.
- Check the Academic Learning Centre for workshops on how to integrate research into your writing and properly cite your scholarly sources.
Friends and community
Your community is often created for you. You may attend classes with your friends over several years, and you may know your teachers well. Your parents may socialize with your classmates’ parents. Student groups are well-advertised and may involve your existing friends.
You may need to create your own community on campus. For some students this idea is liberating; they can “re-boot” and make a whole new group of friends. For others, making friends can be challenging.
How to deal
- The UM Student Union hosts a large number of student groups. Check out the list of organizations and join one or more!
- Make contact with the students sitting near you in class. Even if you aren't feeling alone, others will be, and they'll appreciate the new contact.
- Participate in university events
- Volunteer on campus
- Look for jobs on campus
- Drop by the Student Life office to discover the activities they have planned.
Rules and regulations
School rules and policies are to be followed, but if you fall outside of them, you can often address the issue fairly easily.
It is your responsibility to know and follow university rules and regulations. Ignoring them can result in serious consequences.
If you miss the final date for dropping a course, for example, you must continue in that class. Missing an exam will also have academic consequences. And missing out on a course in the term it is offered could delay the completion of your degree.
How to deal
- Pay attention to Important dates and deadlines and course requirements, and get help if you don't understand something.
- Understand and practice the university’s principles of academic integrity as part of your university studies.
- Meet with an academic advisor for guidance on academic choices and degree plans. Advisors can also refer you to other resources and supports on campus.
- Review the UM Academic Calendar. It lists the policies, academic regulations and degree requirements of the university.
- Come to Orientation in September or January. This full day of activities is a great introduction to many university systems and resources, and it will connect you with friendly faces and departments on campus.