Preparing for University: Academics

The academic transition between grade 12 and first year university is unlike any other within the span of your education. This is because attending university is often not only a graduation of school life, but of life as you know it. Between all that of having to grow as an individual, sometimes the way in which you must grow as a student can be overlooked.

Your teachers and parents have no doubt been trying to prepare you for some time now. But it’s been a while since they first sat in the massive lecture room of a first year university course and scrambled to keep their pencils at pace with a professor’s voice. Luckily though, many of us were there just months ago and can offer a few words for the wise.

If the last year of high school is like being a big fish in a small pond, well then going into first year university is a lot like that fish taking a stream right straight into the ocean. “Unlike high school there won’t be many teachers who will learn your name, you are just a number; 1 of 400 people instead of 1 of 25. That’s a huge change and something you must adapt to,” advised Tyler McKone, a recent first-year psychology student.

Don’t let this make you feel like you’re on your own.

“At Laurier professors are very approachable and willing to help. You just have to put yourself out there and ask them,” said Gem Maravilla, a first-year economics student. “And if you are intimidated to talk to the professor, you always have other options. You can talk to another professor in that section, your [Teaching Assistant] … there are many things you can do to find the answers you seek. You just have to remember that you need to find the answers because the answers certainly won’t come and find you.”

In this way, self-motivation becomes an essential trait. “Unlike high school there is no one there to check if you are staying in line,” commented McKone, “your parents aren’t there to tell you not to drink if you have class the next day, and in residence there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to be the best influence on you. Although the experience is unlike anything that you could ever have anywhere else it must be enjoyed in moderation, because now you are paying to go to school.”

Other than the cost of education acting as drive though, self-motivation can be naturally inspired due to the fact that you are now choosing what you want to study and, hopefully, enjoying it. The new way in which you have to study in university is just something that takes some getting used to.

“It is important to read the textbook in my opinion; it’s different for everybody though. Some people are content with just lecture material and sometimes people learn nothing from lecture and just decide to read the textbook. I did a bit of both and I found it helped me,” said Maravilla.

In university you have to take responsibility for your own education, so taking relevant notes and self-teaching at times becomes a factor. First-year Laurier arts student Katia Taillefer found, “It’s also hard to find an environment that allows you to focus and accomplish your assignments; you have to go out of your way, to the library for example, which is something I wasn’t used to.”

Total academic independence can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially when there is so much weight put on so little. “Instead of the unit tests and mini quizzes most people have had all through their high school year, almost your entire grade in university comes down to two or three tests per class,” said McKone.

It’s important to remember that although the choices you make the night before that big exam can feel like they make or break at times, that isn’t necessarily true with every decision you’re faced with in university.

“I knew many who hated their majors and changed. Through my first year classes I discovered what I liked, what I didn’t, what I didn’t like but was good at, and which professors I really didn’t want to take a class with,” reflected Victoria McCabe in first year political science. It is important to make your mistakes and take your risks sometimes in order to really discover what you want out of your university experience.

There is always room for change because change it is a fundamental of growth, something you will be doing a lot of as an individual during first year university. Although your academics should be your biggest priority, they should most certainly not be your only.

“Balancing extra-curricular activities and school was not difficult at all. They definitely added to my first year experience in the best possible way ever. Doing other things besides school helped me keep my sanity intact,” jokes Maravilla.

An education is what you come to university for but it definitely won’t be all you leave with. It is important to prepare yourself and establish good habits early on but don’t let your academics get in the way of your learning.