SSC Academic Skills Orientation: Online header. This one says "Expectations versus Reality."

High School vs. University Academics

Hey Marauders! 

Welcome to our second week. We hope that your summer has been going well! There are only a couple of months left until Welcome Week and we’re sure that by now you’ve heard that there are many differences between high school and university, especially academically. This can be a difficult transition to wrap your head around. With this in mind we thought that we would outline some of the differences that you can expect to see in university especially as it relates to workload, learning in class, and daily schedules. 

One of the first impressions that you might have about university is that there are far fewer assignments and tests and this might seem great! True in most cases, however, this means that assignments and tests are worth a lot more and it’s important to not procrastinate. If you hold yourself accountable to your own deadlines, you’ll be less likely to fall into the habit of leaving things to the last minute. For example, we find it really useful to map out a plan for completing larger projects. This could involve breaking down your work into smaller, more digestible pieces. This can be as simple as reminding yourself to re-read assignment expectations or building in enough time for revision and editing.

Image of the McMaster arch.

Once classes start, you’ll immediately notice another difference between high school and university⁠, the size of classrooms themselves. In high school many of your classes were probably quite small, with about 30 students in each. However, in university⁠—especially in first year⁠⁠—your classes can be large; you might find yourself sitting among 600 first years! This may seem intimidating, but you may find that you enjoy big classes. We personally enjoyed the sense of independence that came along with larger class sizes. If large classes don’t end up being your thing, that’s okay too⁠—remember that your professors are invested in your success. It doesn’t matter if you are in a group of 600 students or 60; know that you are not just your student number. You will have the same opportunities to connect with your profs and peers.  

Outside of lecture, there’s still lots to do. Last week we talked about independence and this is a piece of that. With only 3-5 hours of instructional time a week (lectures and tutorials/labs combined), you will be expected to engage with readings, online modules, discussion forums, pre-/post-lab assessments, and more outside of this time. Unlike in high school, where supplementary material seemed optional, university classes require you to stay on top of this work. This can be difficult because it requires a lot of self-discipline. But by setting time aside each week to do this work, you will find that the workload is more manageable. This can be a steep learning curve but with practice and experience you’ll feel comfortable managing this style of learning. 

Image of the McMaster University campus.

University schedules often do not resemble high school ones in the slightest. Yes, you still have to go to classes, and yes you still have to make sure that you are eating lunch, but the times and places that these events take place can change drastically depending on both the day and the semester. In high school you probably had a set schedule from around 8:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m. moving from back-to-back classes with set break times for things like lunch. All of this changes in university. You will now be responsible for making your own time table each semester, and you will find that there may be days when you have tons of back-to-back classes and other days when you have a 4 hour gap, or no classes at all! This can be a weird transition, but the important thing is to use the free time that you do end up with effectively (this means everything from feeding yourself to reviewing lecture notes). 

It is also important to factor in time for extracurriculars. In high school a lot of these opportunities are built into a set lunch time or directly after school. This also changes once you get to university. You will probably want to make sure that you have specific times in the day or certain evenings free in order to participate in groups that you are passionate about. Remember, university is about more than simply classes and assignments. This can be hard to juggle at first but we will discuss how to manage all of this later on this summer, so stay tuned! 

We understand that these changes can seem overwhelming, especially as September creeps closer and closer. We hope that today’s post helps address some of the concerns you might have about how things are different in university. However, as we learned, Mac is a wonderful school filled with many supports and people to help you, not just in your first year, but every year.

Your Pals,
Tabatha, Tory, and Emily

Questions from today’s post? Join us tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. on Facebook Live when we will continue this conversation. 

By now we’re sure that you’ve heard that there are many differences between high school and university, especially academically. This can be a difficult transition to wrap your mind around, so today we thought that we would outline some of the differences that you can expect to see in university concerning workload, learning in class, and daily schedules. 

I’m sure that you’ve learned a million anecdotes about what university will be like; we know that we certainly did. Whether it be the freshman 15 or endless all-nighters, we know that these myths can make university seem intimidating. Today we’re debunking four of the more common myths that we ran into before we started first-year.

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