First semester proves to be too stressful

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With mid-terms out of the way and final exams looming, a major percentage of first-year students across Canada will find themselves evaluating their immediate academic plans. Some of these students will drop out by winter break along with thousands of students across the country that will have experienced the so-called Christmas graduation.

According to Stats Canada, retention rates of students after first year typically vary from 80-90 per cent depending on the institution. The good news is that the numbers are on the rise.

Students often struggle due to the change of pace from a high school environment and dealing with a university course load can seem overwhelming at the beginning. Sarah March, a third-year student at the University of Western Ontario said, “I made it through alright, but it did seem really overwhelming for the first — and even second semester.”

Universities have identified this trend as an immediate concern, and have been working to actively reduce dropout rates.

“There are those students who simply have trouble in particular courses, when they lack background knowledge,” said Maureen Coulter, the academic advisor in the dean of science office at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“In looking at the different courses, if we find that it’s a single course, we have a discussion[…], and whether or not they’re accessing the supports available to them.”

There are programs available for course-specific assistance at universities across Canada.

“We have the mathematics assistance centre specifically for the math based courses and we generally encourage students in first year, taking calculus, which is quite common to our bachelor of science students, to access the mathematics assistance centre,” said Coulter.

“They offer workshops, mock exams and mock midterms. They also have peer homework sessions, and drop-in tutor sessions.”

The University of Waterloo has its own director of learning services position, which, according to their website, “Is accountable to the director, student success for institution-wide leadership and management of services that support the learning needs and aspirations for our graduate and undergraduate students.”

The University of Guelph also promotes their learning services available at their school providing assistance and support to students at all levels who want to enhance their skills and performance and achieve their intellectual potential.

They also attempt to provide assistance with a variety of issues and topics.

Schools can also feature the Academic Partnership Program for first-year science students, where students get paired up with a senior student to whom they can direct program specific questions. For students that are having second thoughts about a university education Coulter stresses, “We strongly recommend students to see an academic advisor, to help make that decision, talk through that decision, and see what alternatives are available.

“If a student is struggling in one or more courses, it may be that they are feeling overwhelmed with the faster pace of our 12 week semester.”

Linda Bouchard a fourth-year at the University of Guelph said, “I was kind of nervous about going to see someone though, that’s why I didn’t go. It probably would have helped.”

Coulter went on to explain that a possible solution could be reducing the number of courses a student is taking, “[It could] allow them to focus on fewer courses while taking advantage of learning services.”
–With files from Amanda Steiner


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