Finishing high school and starting on your post-secondary studies is an exciting time in a student’s life, but since they are different institutions and the expectations are varied, the transition can be very stressful. Here we’ve given our favourite tips (and added some we wish were told to us) to help lessen some of the pressure of this (potentially) hectic shift.
1. Be prepared for a different rhythm. In high school, teachers will often give time in class to do homework or for group work. In a post-secondary institution, this will most often (if ever) be confined to tutorials. A lesson will generally consist of a professor talking to (sometimes at) you and a large group of students. It can be intimidating to ask a question (if they will even take questions during the lesson, as some professors do not). It is a different pattern of teaching that takes some getting used to, but once you figure it out, it is generally easy to apply to other classes/tutorials.
2. Make sure to regularly check your online platform (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). Most post-secondary programs have some type of online platform where the professor/TAs can post assignments, grades and other relevant information for the course. It is very important that you check this resource regularly. Unlike high school, where most teachers let you know during class about important information, professors and TAs generally do not. If you are not keeping up to date on your courses, there can be a lot of information that you miss (including hints about exams/tests, cancelled lessons, room changes, etc.).
3. Check your syllabus or ask your colleagues first. A lot of important information can be found in your syllabus. Professors and TAs generally hate getting asked questions whose answers can be found in the syllabus. Always check the syllabus or ask your colleagues first about questions whose answers can be found in the syllabus (how much an assignment is worth, dates of exams/assignments, etc.). Only when you are sure that the information you need isn’t in there, ask your professor or TA. If you do not, you run the risk of your instructor having a negative impression of you. And of course, why would you want your professor’s or TA’s impression of you to be negative?
4. Keep yourself on track with assignments, tests, exams. One of the best ways we’ve suggested and heard is to keeping yourself on top of your work is to create a calendar with due dates, exams, midterms, etc. as soon as you get your syllabuses (and refer to it often). This way you will not be caught unaware of missed tests or late assignments. Plus, this gives you a nice way to figure out your packed weeks and will give you a nice overview of when you should have more time to study.
5. How well you do is up to you. One of the most common things students have trouble with in their transition is that professors/TAs will (generally) not remind you of assignments, exams, etc. It is up to you to keep in mind and figure out. In high school, a lot of teachers will have a “homework board” where they will keep a list of assignments and due dates. Professors will not. This is often not because they don’t want to, but because there are lots of other professors who use the same classroom during different times, so there is nowhere to write these things, except on the syllabus. It is also up to you to ask for help and to learn. Professors and TAs do not circulate around the classroom and ask every student whether they understand and everything is clear. It is up to you to ask for help.
6. Be prepared to go to office hours. One of the most under-estimated studying tools and new experiences to get used to in a post-secondary institution is going to office hours. In high school, teachers generally do not have office hours and it can be a strange concept to get used to. Once you do get used to it, it becomes one of the most useful ways to study (provided you have specific questions and not just “I don’t get it” type questions).
You can add your professor’s/TA’s office hours to your schedule so you can go whenever you need help (or just to chat with them about the subject matter).
7. Get to know your campus. While high school was probably all within one building (or maybe a few outside buildings as well), chances are your post-secondary institution will be much larger. It is worth spending a bit of time getting your bearings before you officially start. The time you put in trying to figure out your campus will pay off in lessening your stress in between lessons when you are trying to figure out where you need to go next.
8. Pick/change your study habits. A lot of students try out a few study habits in high school, but very rarely are those the ones you end up sticking with. You can decide to study with a group or alone or some combination of those (Check out our blog post on this topic here). It might seem like these study habits are only useful in academia and for marks, but that is not the case. The habits you pick up in your post-secondary studies will serve you long after you graduate in various situations like your work, keeping yourself organized when you are juggling a lot of information, etc..
9. Consider going to Orientation. A lot of post-secondary institutions have an organized orientation day/week to help students acclimate to and learn about the campus. Here, you will meet new people who you might have classes with and who you can become friends with. Generally, Orientation is used to help ease the students into their post-secondary studies and to show the fun aspects of this time in their lives (it isn’t all stuffy classes and exams).
10. Don’t forget to take a bit of time to relax and unwind! Attending a post-secondary institution can be a very stressful time and one of the often-forgotten parts is taking some time to enjoy relaxing with your friends, doing your favourite hobbies and enjoying your activities.
It might seem like a scary time, and it can be, until you figure out the new pace and change some habits you’ve grown accustomed to in high school. Once these things happen, most students realize how interesting and freeing the “Post-Secondary” way of doing things is. This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions; it is just our personal favourites and ones we wish were told to us before we started our post-secondary studies and had to learn it on our own.
Need more help with your post-secondary studies?