When I first started at U of T, I worried a lot about how hard university would actually be.
For high school, I went to a public school with a strong academic reputation. Now that I’m in university, I study Political Science. *Note that if you had a different high school experience, or are in a different university program, you might see things very differently. But, here are some things I’ve personally noticed that differentiate high school academics from university academics.
Analysis > Memory.
In high school, I remember actually studying a lot for tests. Especially for my History 12 class, I was expected to remember every single detail about every major historical event in the 20th century (ughh). So, when I came to university, I assumed that studying for tests and preparing for essays would require me to do the same thing.
But, I found out pretty quickly that tests in the humanities and social sciences required me to know the big ideas. In terms of readings, I had to understand the main arguments theorists were making and be able to compare and contrast these ideas. But knowing exactly what was said on a specific page of my reading was definitely not necessary.
So, when I’m studying in university, I make sure I’m focusing on the big picture and learning how to analyze, rather than memorize.
From small to big.
In high school, I also had multiple smaller assignments per term. These were more low-stakes, as I could screw up a couple and not ruin my entire grade. But, in university, most social sciences or humanities classes only have a few major assignments per term, which can make or break my mark. Because they’re so high pressure, I start early and remain calm!
But as long as I understand the assignment properly, give myself adequate time, and reach out to the professor or TA with questions, I get a good grade.
Freedom… use it wisely!
The biggest difference between high school and university is probably how the classes are set up. In high school, I spent A LOT of time in-class. My teacher taught basically everything I needed to know about the subject I was studying.
But, in university, I spend way less time in-class. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be relaxing outside of class though— in that free time, I’m expected to learn a lot of material on my own, and spend hours doing my readings. Not everything I need to know for my tests is taught by the teacher— a lot of it I have to learn independently, outside of class.
So, I make sure I’m scheduling my free time properly in order to learn that extra material.
Overall, university is different from high school, but not significantly harder once you get the hang of it. For more information on transitioning to university, U of T Student Life holds great university prep courses to connect you with resources. Good luck, and have fun!