Before school starts, sit down and talk with your student about the transition to university and lifestyle changes, including financial issues, living arrangements and part-time jobs. This is also a good time to negotiate any new curfews, family dinner times and study space. Exchange lists of telephone numbers and addresses and talk about how you’ll communicate if there is a problem or an emergency. Students planning to live on campus should leave plenty of time for deciding on and packing what they’ll need while they are away from home. Some families prepare a care package of food treats, stationery, or a small booklet of favourite, easy recipes for their student to take with them.
Move-in for students living in residence
Move-in day is a big day for students and their families. Discuss your plans for that day in advance, but don’t be surprised if the plan changes at the last minute as your student deals with the significance of leaving home.
Orientation is a safe environment where new students can get acquainted with each other and have some fun before classes begin. The activities will be planned for the students, with transportation and most meals arranged, so all they’ll have to worry about is meeting new people and getting to know U of T. Your student may be extremely busy and slightly overwhelmed during this week. Some students even forget to plug in their cell phones, so if you don’t hear from them, please don’t panic. Encourage your student to get involved with the activities; then give them room to absorb and make meaning of their experiences.
First week of classes and settling in
Although Orientation is over, your student will continue to experience new things in the transition to the U of T environment. This can be overwhelming for many students and their families. Listen to your student’s concerns and let them know that you have confidence in their ability to do well. Students may also spend more money in September than they budgeted for. This is common as they are establishing peer groups and socializing more during this time when academic pressures are minimal.
Share in your student’s excitement in learning
Students may be excited by all the new ideas and information they are learning and may enjoy discussing them with you.
Midterm exams begin
In October, students usually experience their first midterms and essay assignments. Many students will feel the pressure to do as well as high school and may have feelings of doubt. Be sympathetic and continue to communicate confidence in your student’s ability. You can also be supportive by referring your student to campus resources to learn the skills needed to be successful.
Thanksgiving is the first weekend home for many students who live on-campus. Before the break, talk with your student to get a sense of their plans for the weekend. Students are excited to re-connect with high school friends and return to something familiar. Many students choose this weekend to break up with high school sweethearts — this is sometimes referred to as the “Turkey Dump.” For others, Thanksgiving break is viewed as a good time to catch up on reading and prepare for exams.
By October students are well into their first round of midterms. Commuter students may be balancing a long urban commute, family responsibilities at home, and possibly part-time work. This flurry of activity makes full involvement in university a challenge, and commuter students often miss out on opportunities for exploration in a conscientious drive to meet their obligations. Talk to your student about interests outside the classroom, encourage them to get involved on campus (join a club) and figure out some house rules (curfews, time spent at home, and attendance at family gatherings) that support their independent growth and exploration.
Friends and social networks
University is a great place to develop social networks. Many students also make lifelong friendships while at university and some even meet their life partners here. Students may be very busy attending both informal social events as well as ones that are organized by the University.
Roommate conflicts for students living away from home
The honeymoon is over. Just as the stresses of academic life increase, so may the tensions between roommates for students living in residence. Many students have not had the experience of handling conflicts on their own because they always had a family member around to act as mediator or judge. If your student has a roommate conflict, encourage them to talk to their roommate as they would a friend. If the problem persists, they may contact their residence don or advisor.
Midterm exam marks determined
When students receive their first exams and papers back, they get their first indication of their academic progress — their first marks at university. Many students will experience their first “C” paper or exam and this can be very depressing and stressful. Reassure your student that they have the ability to do well and that they are experiencing a normal adjustment period. They may seek help from campus services and/or from study groups with classmates. Some students become consumed with trying to do well academically; encourage them to take breaks from time to time and to have fun so that they don’t burn out. This may also be a good time to rethink part-time employment for students. If time management is an issue affecting student performance, students may want to minimize work hours until they’ve successfully adjusted to university.
Exploring new interests
By this time students are feeling more comfortable on campus and begin to explore new opportunities. Encourage your student to take advantage of the many clubs and student organizations on campus, which are a great way to discover new skills and interests. The three campuses have indoor recreation facilities that include swimming pools, gymnasiums, squash courts, fitness centres with indoor tracks, teaching/dance studios, and multipurpose rooms. Outdoor facilities include playing fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and beautiful grounds for walking and jogging.
The first term ends with an examination period that extends for several weeks. Exams represent the culmination of the term’s work and most students study very intensely to prepare. This period requires focus and dedication. You can help by minimizing distractions. At home, create an appropriate study space for your student, keep healthy snacks and meals flowing — good nutrition improves concentration! If your student lives in residence, you might expect less frequent communication during this stressful period.
The end of exams provides a much-needed break for your student. If your student has lived away from home these last few months, you may be surprised to see dramatic changes in both their appearance and behaviour. These changes are all part of your student’s need to explore and develop a new adult identity. While you may not agree with some of their choices, this is a normal part of human development and you may want to give them the space and support to do this.
For other students, the break may be a time for them to reconsider their academic and career goals. Having concluded one semester of course work, they may feel that their original choice may not be the best one. Your student may need your support in terms of exploring new ideas and identifying resources to help make some decisions.
Send a care package and encouragement
This is a good time to let your student know that you are proud of them for having completed a successful first semester. If your student is not returning home for winter break, this is a good time to send a care package.
Renewed commitment to academics
After the break, students may return to university with a renewed commitment to academic success. Having navigated through their first term, they may be seeking new strategies for success or may have gained confidence from their first semester’s experience. You can be supportive and stress the importance of balance and overall wellness as the student plans their new strategy.
Decisions for year two
This will be a very stressful month for your student. In addition to working on large projects and papers and juggling midterms, students in most divisions will be asked to select their program of study, may be starting the summer job search and deciding on housing for year two. Your student may experience confusion, uncertainty and high levels of stress. Be supportive and express confidence that your student will make the right decisions. There are many campus resources to help your student make some of these decisions.
This week may be disappointing for students unable to afford a “Spring Break” trip. Other students may plan to use the week to catch up and forget to relax and recharge. You might want to plan something special to do with your student so that they have something to look forward to and have the opportunity to relax.
Reading week is usually followed by assignment deadlines and midterm exams. If your student is going away for the week, they’ll need to have a plan to deal with the academic commitments that follow.
Summer job search & choosing summer courses
The summer job hunt will add another challenge to your student’s busy schedule. Studies indicate that 80% of all jobs are not advertised so, in addition to checking the online listings at U of T career centres, students need to make time for networking. Some students may consider taking a summer course so that they can work ahead, or because they’ve identified a new major. Be sure to discuss the financial ramifications of that decision with your student.
As the year progresses, your student’s sense of self reliance will grow. As they solve problems and get answers to their questions, they’ll develop life skills that will serve them well in the future.
The first year ends with an examination period that extends for several weeks. Exams represent the culmination of the term’s, or year’s work and most students study very intensely to prepare. This period requires focus and dedication. You can help by minimizing distractions. At home, create an appropriate study space for your student, keep healthy snacks and meals flowing — good nutrition improves concentration! If your student lives in residence, you might expect less frequent communication during this stressful period.
This is a good time to extend well wishes for your student’s upcoming exams and to send a care package to students living in residence.
Winding down & gearing up for summer
The end of the school year brings a sense of accomplishment and a time for reflection. Students may be sad to leave their university friends and confused about their future direction. If your student is concerned about the lack of a summer job, discuss alternate sources of funding. Students living in residence may have grown accustomed to a certain amount of independence and may be nervous about moving back home again. Have a conversation with your student about your expectations for their summer at home. They will appreciate the fact that you are treating them as an adult and respecting their needs.