Life @ U of T

Introduction

How Hard is First Year, Actually? Transitioning from High School to University

How Hard is First Year, Actually? Transitioning from High School to University

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.

A computer sitting on a desk with candles.

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.

A list of literary terms

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! 

A report entitles "Insights on the Exilic Position: Exploring the Archives of Harold Morrey Smith"
A 35-page report I wrote in first year!

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. 

A book outlining a person's weekly schedule

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! 

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