All Posts Tagged With: "first-year university"
For first-year students, the transition from high school to university can be difficult
If you’re a third-year student you probably won’t start thinking about the new academic year until mid-August − or maybe not even until the evening of September 6. Many first-year students, however, are getting nervous already, wondering what university is going to be like.
After having spoken to dozens of students and professors the verdict is in: it’s going to be really different than high school. But the news isn’t all bad. While there will be some difficult transitions, many parts of university life are much better than at high school. Students say there is less social pressure (it’s no longer cool to bully people), they like having freedom from parents and teachers who take attendance and university campuses offer limitless opportunities for having a great time. But the one thing that everyone agrees on: it is up to you to make your university experience a good one, and much more so than it was in high school.
This new-found responsibility to take care of oneself starts in the classroom. Rey Buenaventura, an academic advisor at Simon Fraser University, says, “No one is checking that they’ve done their homework. Nobody is checking on their attendance that closely. Sometimes students feel like there is no one who really cares about what they do, whether they even show up. That can be a problem.” By seeking out professors and TAs during office hours, setting up study groups with classmates and participating in seminars and class discussions, students can create a more meaningful connection with a class that may have 300 or 400 people in it − but it’s up to the student. “In a class of 500 students, the professor isn’t going to come to you; you have to go to the professor,” he says. “You can create your own experience.”
Some students, particularly those who went to a relatively small high school, feel like they get lost in the crowds of people. No longer do their professors know their name and they may spend the whole day on campus without running into anyone they know. But other students found this aspect of university life a relief. “It was easier to find people that shared similar goals, values and interests,” said Michael, a student at McMaster University. Kady, a McGill University student, says, “A big difference for me was the new establishment of myself. Coming into school without any connections to specific people, teams or clubs gave me the opportunity to reconstruct my McGill life exactly how I wanted it to be.”
For the experienced university students out there: what were the biggest differences you noticed between high school and university? How did you cope with the transition?
Understanding academic probation, what it means and what to do about it
As exams wrap up across the country, most students are looking forward to patio nights and a stress-free summer. But some students are dreading their final grades after a not-so-perfect year.
A failed class, a flunked exam, or a mediocre grade-point average are outcomes no student wants to have come May. But what are the actual consequences of an ‘F’ on your transcript? Or missing required credits to move on to your next year or to graduate?
While most students may have heard of “academic probation,” not everyone knows what it entails. The first thing to remember is failing a class doesn’t mean you need to pack up your textbooks and join the circus, and getting put on academic probation won’t necessarily cripple you academically, if you seek help.
“The whole point of academic standings is to identify students who are at risk and then make them aware of the services that are available in obtaining better academic grades,” University of Calgary’s associate vice-provost (enrolment) and registrar David Johnston said. “When we admit a student, we want them to graduate.”
Academic probation is just one of many possible academic standings a full-time student can be assigned at the end of the year. In many cases the bad outweighs the good. At most schools, the only desired outcome is “In Good Standing,” which means you’re in the clear. There are varying degrees of unsatisfactory standings that come with conditions for the following school year, ranging from meeting benchmark grade-point averages, to withdrawing for a year.
In addition to “In Good Standing,” most universities include “Academic Probation” and “Failed” as the three possible standings. And the conditions of these standings are typically outlined in the university’s academic rules and regulations. Students receive notice of their standing in the summer, after grades are calculated through a mailed letter or an online transcript.
At a school like Calgary’s, when a student’s grade-point average is less than 1.70, the equivalent of a C-, students are put on a probationary period. This is typical of most schools, though the grade-point average threshold varies.
“The purpose, of course, of the first warning is to get them on track academically,” Johnston said. He said it’s normal for first-year students to come into university unprepared for the heavy course-load and higher academic standards than they are accustomed. First-year students, he said, are the largest group his school sees placed on academic probation.
Since grades are dealt with at the faculty level, it’s not clear exactly how many students each year are put on academic probation at each school.
It’s often just a matter of showing students their current learning styles aren’t working, associate dean of the faculty of science at the University of British Columbia Paul Harrison said. “Universities are pretty selective of who they invite in,” he said. “Students deep down have the skills if they apply themselves. Unfortunately some of them don’t.”
He said students also usually come out of high school with limited exposure to their chosen program or knowledge of the university’s expectations for them.
Manager of the Student Academic Success Centre at Carleton University, Kathleen Semanyk said besides academics, there could be any number of circumstances that prevent students from meeting program requirements. “We hear everything from ‘We’ve had a serious illness in my family,’ ‘I’ve lost a loved one,’ ‘I had to find a second job,’” Semanyk said. “It’s really common for students to think they’ve hit the end of the academic road.”
Johnston said, what also tends to happen is students may find their chosen program is not as well suited for them as they had hoped. “It’s aptitude and interest,” Johnston said. “If you don’t have an interest it’s hard to apply yourself.” Just the same, students may find their skill set doesn’t match what their program asks of them.
Don’t waste time regretting big decisions (like your choice of university)
I had a very hard time deciding where to go to university. One of the hardest parts was my choice to turn down a position with the House of Commons page program, where I would have worked on the floor of the House in the midst of the political process. For whatever reasons seemed relevant at the time, I decided it wasn’t the best place for me, so now I’m at the University of Toronto.
I’m very happy here, but whenever Canadian politics comes up in conversation I feel a twinge of regret. I find myself trying to justify the decision I made, coming up with reasons why the decision I made was better (the university has a better reputation, the school provides a great sense of community) and why I wouldn’t have been happy there (the House of Commons is full of discouragingly barbaric MPs, Ottawa is less interesting than Toronto, and so on). It’s stupid, I know, but apparently the grass is always greener on the other side.
Despite the obvious fact that I have no idea how happy I would be in Ottawa (having not experienced it), I think that the root of this problem is that I’m attaching my happiness to something outside of myself. I realize that real, non-temporary happiness is ultimately independent of anything outside myself, but I still can’t help myself from slipping into this black hole of regret. Being in Ottawa and making high-powered connections in the political world might be exciting and, sure, it would make me feel pretty good. But the feelings would pass, just as an unhappy person who buys a new car will still be unhappy after the initial thrill wears off. A happy person will still be happy if he gets a new car, since his happiness is not attached to something external.
In this light, I suppose my spurts of regret are essentially a non-material form of buyer’s remorse. Choosing where to go to university is a very big decision, and whenever you make a big decision you’re bound to regret it at some point, because while you’ve opened one door, you’ve inevitably closed another. This is scary, since you want to know you made the “right” choice, but you can’t.
When I do find myself slipping into this realm of doubt and regret, I have to remind myself of something that might sound a little ethereal. I was fortunate enough to visit every university I was considering, and when I came to U of T it just felt right, while this feeling was completely absent in Ottawa. I think this relates to what I wrote about last week, namely the inadequacy of logic in some instances. When you “just know” something is right – even if logic suggests another option – I think it’s wise to follow that feeling. After all, nobody knows what’s best for you better than you do – even if you can’t explain it.
As the awkward socializing of Frosh Week ends, the real stuff beings
The whirlwind that is Frosh Week (variously called Orientation Week, First Week, etc), is now officially over. It was certainly an interesting week, meeting dozens of people every day, hearing the same 2 questions over and over (what’s your major, where are you from), staying up ’till at least 3 a.m. every night, sometimes 6. Initial awkwardness (clearly not an issue for this guy) gradually warmed to tepid familiarity and was even heated to boisterous enthusiasm on those rare occasions when the drinks began to flow – responsibly and moderately, of course. Other than the incessant socializing, I signed up for about 10 different clubs, from debate to intramural soccer; learned the requisite school cheers and attended countless orientations and tours.
To celebrate the end of the party and the beginning of university in earnest, a Matriculation Ceremony formally welcomed the class of 2013 to the College, complete with speeches in Latin, formal gowns, and the official signing of the College register by all new students. There were also speeches in English, some of which were quite inspiring. One of them, made by a newly confirmed Honorary Fellow of the College, struck me as particularly pertinent.
He reminded us that attending university in a country like Canada is a privilege and an accomplishment and that with both must come responsibility. As we celebrate the beginning of a new age in our lives, and at the risk of sounding preachy, I think it’s important to remember that us Freshmen (and women!) are indeed in a fortunate position to contribute to society in a positive way.
With that in mind, (a mind forgivably clouded at times, perhaps, by the many distractions a Freshman inevitably encounters), let’s celebrate this dawning of a new age in our lives. At least until the homework starts.