Getting Ready for University

University life is very different from high school life, so the transition from high school to university deserves attention. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to focus on this upcoming transition, with all the demands of Grade 12 academics, extracurricular activities, and university planning. But students and parents can take practical steps to help with the high school to university transition, with tangible benefits for everyone.

How can you prepare yourself?

1. Learn how high school and university are different. 

High School

  • Your time is structured by others.
  • You spend about 30 hours in classes each week, with all five weekdays heavily scheduled.
  • You have limited choices, but classes are mostly arranged for you.
  • Assignments are often short problem sets or readings, which are often discussed and re-taught later, in class.
  • Teachers check your homework, and often follow up if you neglect it.
  • Teachers approach you if they think you need help.
  • Tests are frequent, cover small amounts of material, and form just part of your grade.
  • Effort counts. Attendance, participation, and consistent homework may offset low test scores. Extra-credit projects are often available.


  • You manage your time.
  • Classes meet for just 12-16 hours total each week. Large blocks of time are unscheduled.
  • You choose your classes and arrange your schedule.
  • Professors assign substantial amounts of reading, writing, and problem sets, without always following up in class.
  • Professors generally assume that you’ve done the assigned work.
  • Professors expect you to initiate contact if you need help.
  • Tests are less frequent, cover lots of material, and largely determine your grade. To prepare well, you must be organized.
  • Results count. Your grades on major papers and exams determine your grade. Professors don’t offer extra-credit projects to help you boost your grades. 

2. Make a list of things to learn before starting university.

  • Laundry. Do you know the ins and outs of doing laundry, including sorting, washing, drying, and folding?
  • Cleaning. Can you dust, sweep, vacuum, wipe down sinks, showers, bathtubs and toilets?
  • Food Preparation. Have you planned meals, shopped, and followed recipes? Can you safely use a microwave, stovetop, and oven?
  • Transportation. Have you used your local busses and trains? Called taxis, Ubers and Lyfts? Will you be flying to get to school? Can you purchase plane tickets online?
  • Auto Basics. Do you have a car? Will you have one at school? Are you familiar with buying insurance? Filling the tank with gas? Can you check the tires’ air pressure and do other basic maintenance? Do you know when to get an oil change? Can you change a tire and top up fluids?
  • Banking. Banks often offer “no fee” accounts to students. Have you opened a bank account? Have you banked with tellers in branches, and also on your phone?
  • Tipping. Do you know how to calculate the tip for your waiters?
  • Credit Cards. Do you have a credit card? Intend to obtain one? Do you know the basics of regular payments, carrying balances forward, and interest charges? Can you spend responsibly, make on-time payments, and communicate with the company when necessary?
  • Mail. Do you use “snail mail”? Can you properly address an envelope, affix the proper postage, and get the letter mailed? 
  • Personal Information. Are you in the habit of keeping track of your passport, driver’s license, health card, bank cards, Social Insurance Number, and other important information and documents?
  • Health Care. Are you experienced communicating with doctors and dentists? Making and keeping track of your appointments? Knowing where their offices are and planning how you’ll get there?
  • Emergencies. Do you know whom to contact in the case of an emergency? Have you ever had to make a call to report a fire, or a medical situation? Will you organize emergency contacts and keep them in an easily accessible place?
  • Personal Organizer. Do you have a trusted calendar system to keep track of your academic and personal commitments? Are you good at creating a long-term work plan for projects that extend over weeks or months?

3. Learn about student support services available at universities. Every school has services to support students, but you’ll have to take the initiative to see what they are, to identify when you need help, and contact them. Find out what’s on campus at your university.

Writing Center. Get help writing papers, from brainstorming, to outlining, to editing and checking your bibliography.

Career Center. Find support as you prepare your resume, search for a job or internship, or get an introduction to someone already working in a job or industry you want to explore.

Office Hours. Professors usually dedicate a few hours a week as office hours, set aside for talking with their students. You’ll have to take the initiative – pay attention to when office hours are and get yourself there. It can be valuable to chat with a professor for a few minutes or longer, whether about the course material or anything else that may be a common interest. Introduce yourself, ask questions, communicate about any problem you might have that affects your class performance. You might learn helpful information and – sometimes – this is how long-term valuable mentorship relationships are built.

Libraries. University libraries have a lot to offer. They provide quiet study spaces and often have extended opening hours (especially around mid-term and final exams). Librarians have a wealth of knowledge. They can teach you the best ways to access information and resources, help you improve research skills, and explain the latest technologies to enhance your learning.