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What to Expect

The first year of university is a time of transition for most students and their families. Students often experience many new things at this time. They may be moving away from home for the first time, exploring various interests and activities, or simply adjusting to their new environment. Throughout this transition, the support of parents and families is a critical factor in student success.

These pages have been specially designed to provide you with insight into the student experience throughout the first year of university. Students may only encounter some of these experiences or may experience them at different times than what is outlined here. We recognize many students have unique experiences prior to beginning university or may not be starting university in September immediately after high school. This section is designed to provide general information about some common first-year experiences that may be relevant to students at any time throughout their university career. Parents and families are encouraged to:

  • Be available to discuss with students what they are experiencing
  • Lend a sympathetic ear
  • Encourage them to seek support from the university services when needed
  • Push them to try new things
  • Encourage them to register for the university's Transition Programs

What to expect when your student is getting ready for their transition:

During this time, students are preparing to begin university life. Some students may be preparing to move away from home, relocating to a new country or establishing a new routine. For all students, this is a time of transition. This may also be a period of change for friends and family.

Students may be:

  • Excited about the future and meeting new people: our university has a large and diverse population. This presents an excellent opportunity for students to make new friends, learn from their peers and expand their knowledge.
  • Saying goodbye to friends: The student may be moving away from friends, or spending more time in the university environment. Long-distance friendships can begin to change as individuals continue to explore their values and refine their interpersonal skills.
  • Nervous about academic expectations: University is very different from high school. It is common for students to experience larger classes, heavier workloads and multiple demands. The transition to university includes many changes to the academic environment; it is common for students to experience a decline in grades, especially during the initial adjustment period. Students may also be adjusting to an increased workload; though students may have as little as 15 hours of class in a week, they are expected to spend an additional one to three hours on group and individual study for every hour spent in class each week.
  • Navigating changing family dynamics: Whether a student is living at home or away from home, their university experience will have an impact on many aspects of their lives, including their daily and weekly schedules. Students may have classes later in the evenings on some days, or no classes at all on other days. 

What to expect during your student's first semester 

Starting their first semester at university is one of the biggest transitions students experience. They are studying in much larger classes, being introduced to high-tech teaching methods, navigating new academic expectations, meeting new people and learning to manage their schedules independently. This is an exciting time, but also a time filled with change.

Students may be:

  • Feeling excited: The beginning of their university career presents countless opportunities for students to expand their knowledge, get involved and explore a new environment.
  • Experiencing homesickness: Students are often living away from home for the first time and sometimes living with new roommates. This transition can be difficult for students.
  • Introduced to new cultures and diverse communities: our university's growing number of international students adds a rich cultural texture to the campus community. Student have the opportunity to learn from other students who come from many different backgrounds.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: University students are expected to balance increased responsibilities and expectations with greater freedom and choice.
  • Making new friends: Students are meeting many new people and may be able to connect more easily with others with similar personalities and interests. 

What to expect during your student's second semester 

Students often return to university in the second semester with a better understanding of what to expect. Many of the themes and experiences outlined in the first-semester section may come up in the second semester as students continue to explore their new environment and develop their independence. They will also likely begin to prepare for the upcoming summer and the academic year to follow; these times will arrive quickly!

Students may be:

  • Excited to start new classes and implement new habits: Students are eager to implement what they learned in the first semester. The new semester can provide a fresh start.
  • Starting thinking about where to live next year: As friendships continue to develop and the academic year moves towards completion, your student may be making decisions about the following year and securing a place to live.
  • Experiencing financial burdens and planning for next year: As the end of the academic year approaches, students' funds may be increasingly depleted, which may influence how their money is spent over the summer and in the next year.
  • Thinking about summer employment and exploring internship possibilities: Many resources and events are available on campus during this time to assist your student in finding meaningful work experience.
  • Anxious about doing well: As the academic year draws to a close, students may start to feel the pressure to maintain or increase their grades. A student's GPA is often linked to scholarship and co-op opportunities. It is common for students to experience a decline in grades, especially during the initial adjustment period.
  • Looking forward to a break from academics: As the warm weather approaches, students may be excited about returning home or reuniting with friends. They are often looking forward to a break from their academics following exams and final projects.
  • Feeling the demands of multiple activities while preparing for exams: By the end of the school year, students have often become more involved on campus and may find it difficult to balance these activities with their studies as exams approach.

What to expect during your student's first year 

Following the academic year, students are often adjusting to a new routine again. Their schedule may be changing with the demands of a new job, or they may be returning home. Your student has successfully completed their first year and this should be celebrated! While enjoying their summer, the student should also begin to prepare for the coming academic year.   

Students may be:

  • Taking summer courses: Students may take additional courses to reduce their course load in the future, or to make up for a course they missed.
  • Adjusting to a changing support network: As your student settles into their summer routine, the people they are spending time with may also change.
  • Reconnecting with old friends: Students may be returning home for the summer or reuniting with friends who have been away.
  • Starting summer jobs: Students often work during the summer months to fund their education. Schedules may change with the needs of a new job or increased hours at an existing one.
  • Developing a financial plan: The knowledge gained in their first year can be applied toward creating a budget for the upcoming academic year.
  • Exploring options with the Student Awards and Financial Aid office: There are many scholarships, grants and bursaries available to students with varying criteria for eligibility.
  • Gathering all required documentation for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP): Students are encouraged to apply as early as possible.
  • Choosing courses for the upcoming year: Course registration for the upcoming academic year happens during the summer. Students should be aware of these deadlines and what courses they need to take.
  • Contemplating elective courses: Some courses are required, but certain programs also offer a choice of elective courses where a student can explore other interests.
  • Planning for new living accommodations: There are a variety of accommodations available on and near campus. Students may be thinking about what they want and need to bring for September.
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