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Transition to University

What are some of the differences between High School and University?

The differences between high school and university are many, some of which are highlighted in the table below. The change may seem daunting, and it may seem as if you are alone in all aspects of your experience at university, but you are definitely not. You are expected to be a lot more independent than in high school, but if you remember the following, it will be a much less scary place:

  • Your instructors are always willing to help and discuss things with you if you approach them. It is a good idea to start building contact with them as early as possible-they are often your greatest resource.
  • There are many services available on campus to help you transition to the work load and learning style of university, such as the Student Success Office, the Global Learning Centre, and Supplemental Instruction , to name a few.
  • Your faculty office and academic advisor are always willing to answer any questions you may have. If they don't know the answer, they can help you find it.
  • Take breaks from studying and go meet people (living in residence, if possible, makes this even easier). Friends make the transition easier and can often help you study.
  • Remember to have fun. A balance between studying and recreation is just as important as achieving the grades needed to graduate with your certificate or degree.

The Differences Between High School and University

High School


Amount of contact with instructors

Constant access to teaching staff.

Access is less constant; however instructors are available during regular office hours,  and via email.


Assignments types are usually the same and the answers given in assignments are often indicated by requests set by an instructor.

Assignments types vary and can come in many different forms.  Acceptable answers are in a broader range, and you are expected to engage in analysis and interpretation.

Attendance and missed lectures

Attendance is taken and arrangements are often made to send material home or be provided to you when you return.

Attendance is not generally taken.  If a lecture is missed, it is the student's responsibility to obtain the material from another student and to contact the instructor for follow up if there are any questions.

Class hours

Set hours for class attendance with a fixed timetable (ex: M-F 8:30-3:30).

Depending on your program, class hours can seem minimal, and you can have an hour or more in between them.  Your timetable is structured on a schedule that you choose yourself based on your choice of program and course availability.

Class size

Small classes, often around 30-50 students.

Classes can be very large (100-300 students), especially within the first year.

Deadlines and exam dates

Students are often reminded of these dates frequently.

Exam and assignment dates are included on the course syllabus that the student receives in the first week of each class.  The student may or may not be reminded of these dates as they approach.


Students are similar in age and likely live within the same locality.

Students are from a vast range of age and cultural groups.  Many students are from a variety of countries across the world.

Feedback from instructors

Constant feedback throughout school year.

Feedback is limited to some assignments, but not all.  Exams don't often have feedback, nor are they often discussed in class.

First grades

Initial test grades, even if low, may not adversely affect your final grade.

Initial tests are often a good resource in discovering what is expected of you - but they can also be a substantial part of your grade.  If you have any doubts before a test, go speak with your instructor for clarifications on topics or structure of the exam.

Material review

Often independent review isn't as important as material is reviewed and discussed in class.

Independent review is very important as there often won't be much, if any, review time in class.  Class material and the textbooks should be reviewed independently on a regular basis.

Missed exams and assignments

Instructors will often offer make up exams and remind you of outstanding assignments.

If any exams or assignments will be missed, inform your instructor as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of alternate arrangements.  Sometimes arrangements can be made, but contact must be made prior to the material deadline/exam date.

Note taking

Notes are often written on the board and may be supplemented with detailed handouts.

Notes written on the board and given in handouts may be limited to key points.  From there, the student is to take additional notes based on the discussion of the topic.  Seminars in note taking can be helpful.

School year

The school year runs from September to June, with two terms (September - January and February -June).

The academic year is divided into semesters (September-December, May-August, and January-April), plus two weeks at the end of each semester for exams. There are important dates and deadlines throughout the year.

Structure of lessons

Face-to-face teaching, primarily in a classroom.

A variety of different teaching methods including: lectures, tutorials, labs, online learning, laboratory or field work, and in-class or take-home exams or assignments.

Study time

Study time may range from none at all, to a few hours a week.

On average, appropriate Study time is at least 2-3 hours for each hour spent in class. 

Time management

Time is structured and managed for you.

Time is independently managed.

When and where you learn

Most learning is done in the classroom.

Most learning is done independently, relying on information from texts and additional resources that do not necessarily coincide with your lecture notes.