Students talking

1st year

The first year of university is a big transition for most students and their families. You may have been very involved in your student’s education in the past, helping them to seek opportunities, to make important decisions and to develop the study habits they needed to make it this far. You may have saved up money to send them to university.

But from the moment students are admitted to the University of Toronto, they are treated as adults by the institution. That is to say, in academic and other matters, the University deals directly with students, not with their families. This is both a legal obligation and an important part of students’ development into responsible adults. And, it can be a big change for you.

Students need to take charge of their own education, but they still appreciate your support. We know that families play an important role in helping students succeed in university. Although we’re not permitted to tell you what their grades are, we can tell you about some of the changes that students are likely to experience and what you can do to help.

New environment

Adjusting to the new learning environment may leave students fluctuating between feelings of excitement and apprehension. They will be enthusiastic about meeting new people and trying new things while becoming familiar with the campus and adjusting to the increased academic workload. Being away from family, friends and home can also be very difficult for some students. Anxiety about fitting in and meeting new friends is common.

Academic expectations

University presents many challenges for students as the volume of reading and independent work is significantly larger than in high school. Students need a great deal of initiative and self-discipline to succeed since their work habits will no longer be monitored by a teacher on a regular basis. To help students adjust, professors, teaching assistants and registrarial staff in each college and faculty can advise students and refer them to more specialized services for improving learning skills.

Changes in support systems

In their first year, some students will continue to rely on familiar family, friends and services; others will broaden their circles and turn to new people for support. Encourage the student in your family to develop connections with classmates and peers, to get to know their professors and teaching assistants, and to meet with academic advisors, personal counsellors and other campus professionals when or even before they need help.

Increased freedom and flexibility

The daily schedule of a university student differs greatly from that of a high school student. Learning is largely self-directed, meaning that students are not usually assigned work on a daily or weekly basis, and need to keep up with homework and readings on their own. This can be challenging, especially for those students who are used to relying on the structure and discipline of the high school system. However, a variety of tools are available to help students adapt to the new academic environment.

New independence, new ideas and new ways of thinking

Students are exposed to many different cultures, perspectives and beliefs at university. As a result, they may start to question some of their own values and aspects of their identities. It is important that students have the freedom and opportunity to have new experiences and explore new ways of thinking. And while students may change in significant ways, they are likely to maintain their core values and identities.


In this Section

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  • Milestones

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  • Get started checklist

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