Midterms are (almost) over, and while it’s hard to believe, my first year of university is coming to a close. With this in mind, I decided it would be the perfect time to reflect on my experiences, and write about 5 differences between high school and university that really stood out to me (shoutout to one of my friends for this topic suggestion :)).

1. Time is even more of an illusion.

Compared to high school, where students spend roughly 30 hours in the same building each week, there seems to be so much more “free” time in university. Even with a full course load, I only spend about 13.5 hours in classes each week, or between 2.5-3 each day. Consequently, it’s easy to start the semester thinking you have all the time in the world. Hint: It’s a trap…just wait until after reading week if you don’t believe me.

2. How much is this worth again?

Generally speaking, my university courses require a fraction of the assignments I had to submit in high school. For example, I’m taking a course right now that consists of one research paper, a midterm, and an exam, with each assessment being weighted between 25-40%. Needless to say, small homework assignments that make up only a percentage or two of my final course averages, are few and far between.

3. An A is not an A.

In other words, do not expect to get the same marks for the same quality of work you submitted in high school. As far as written work in any of the liberal arts go (I can’t comment on the sciences/math), it is significantly more difficult to achieve an A+ (90-100%). While it depends on the professor, my impression is that most reserve the high end of the grading scale for absolutely exceptional, knock-your-socks off, out of this world work. My point? Don’t be discouraged if your average drops.

4. Research takes on a whole new meaning.

I remember the days when research meant doing a google search, skimming a few helpful websites, and copying and pasting some links into a MLA citation generator. If you are still in high school, enjoy the simplicity of these days while you can.

When it comes to research papers and assignments at the undergrad level, sources are expected to be scholarly books or journal articles, and websites are not counted as fulfilling source requirements. Depending on your program, you may have to learn the mechanics of multiple citation styles. So far I have used MLA, APA, and Chicago, which vary greatly in their rules regarding title and bibliography pages, in-text citations, and footnotes. On top of this, citation styles are changed on a regular basis, making it your responsibility to keep on top of the latest updates, which leads me to my next point.

5. It’s really up to you.

At university, your parents have no way of knowing what or how you’re doing unless you tell them. Report cards do not exist. Some profs might clarify test format/content, or assignment requirements a few days in advance, but there’s no one chasing after you to submit things, do the assigned readings, or to start studying for a test. It’s completely up to you, the student, to keep on top of things and meticulously complete coursework like a ninja timekeeper.

The Takeaway

If you’re planning on starting university in the near future, don’t be intimidated. Use this information as motivation to hone your study, organisational, and time-management skills. These skills will be essential to your success as a student.

If you’re a fellow first-year student, I hope this encourages you as the semester draws to a close. The fact that you are still enrolled means you have survived all of these adjustments, and the many others that I didn’t mention!

If you are an innocent bystander who has no intention of ever touching anything even related to post-secondary education, well, I really don’t know why you’re here. But anyway, thank you for visiting. I appreciate you reading my ramblings!

Until next time!

Verity Bellerose