Transition to University

Survive and Thrive:Your First Term at University

  1. Welcome to University

  2. How Does University Differ from High School?

  3. How can I survive and thrive?

    1. What to do before arrival

    2. What to do in the first week

    3. What to do in the first month

    4. What to do in the first term

Download this Guide (pdf)

Welcome to University!

So, you’ve finally made it. Congratulations! Feeling excited? Nervous? Wondering what’s ahead, how you’ll do? University life can be exhilarating, nerve-wracking, confusing, illuminating, and, yes, sometimes boring. But no matter what happens, you will be forever changed by the experience.

You want to do well, right? Naturally. It’s also natural to keep on doing what has worked for you in the past; after all, you have reached university because you learned the skills and habits that bring success in high school. But the game has changed, so you need to learn a new set of rules.

There is no formula for success at university or anywhere else. Just as you are unique, the experiences you will have, the problems you will encounter, and the solutions and methods that you will devise will also be uniquely yours. Consider the strategies we suggest, and then figure out what works for you. Remember, there is no one “right” way to do anything – there are many ways.

What is University Anyways?

“University” is as much a state of mind as it is a place. When you become a university student, you do more than attend a particular institution; you enter into the world of scholars, a world that engages many cultures and reaches through time. You will be engaging with an intellectual community that has deep roots, and just as you will build on the work of others, future scholars may one day build upon the work you do. This is serious business!

But it is also fun. University is the place where you finally get to learn about things that interest you. And, herein lies the first key to how you can survive and thrive: figure out what interests you and work on that. The best part is that by working on what interests you, you will be doing something that you really enjoy while you develop valuable skills like organization, research, analysis, and communication.

How Does University Differ from High School?

University is a different world. The amount and type of work differ from that in high school, as do the pace, the purpose, and the style of your studies. These differences provide a wealth of opportunity but also a range of challenges.

A Difference in Attitude: Independence and Responsibility

At university, you will be expected to manage your own affairs. No one will make you come to class or hand in your work. No one will check in on you to make sure that you stay on track or contact your parents to express concern. Instead, they will allow you to make your own decisions and to face the consequences of those decisions.

Therefore, you need to make decisions that are in your best interest. You are now responsible for your own education and your own life. There are many qualities that can help you to make good decisions about your education.

Key Qualities for Success

A Sense of Responsibility

You have a responsibility to yourself. You must take control of your education, choosing the right courses, making the right decisions, and acting in a way that is in your own best interest.

Self- Direction

Your university education must be self-directed, the result of your choices, your abilities, and your desires. When you set the path of your education at university, you are more invested and committed to the work of learning.

An Open Mind

University will expose you to new ideas and ways of doing things. Consider these new approaches carefully and completely instead of dismissing them right away. The views of your professors, university staff, and fellow students are based on training, experience, and study; theirs are “informed opinions.” This is what you have come to university to get: the training that is needed for you to develop educated and informed views. And you will – if you keep an open mind.

Openness to Taking Risks and Making Mistakes

Don’t be afraid of making errors; just be sure to learn from them. Instead of thinking solely about marks, concentrate on doing your very best work; the marks will follow.


In university, you will encounter challenges and sometimes obstacles. Keep trying, keep learning, and keep asking questions, even when you feel like giving up. You will find that reward comes from hard work and dedication.

A Difference in Time: Managing Your Time and Workload

Without a doubt, you will spend less time in class and yet do more work in university than you did in high school.

The First Year Workload

On average, a Trent first year student

  • Spends 15-20 hours a week in lectures, seminars, or labs
  • Is assigned approximately 250 pages of reading per week
  • Spends approximately 15 hours per week completing weekly reading, online assignments, or problem sets
  • Writes up to 60 pages per term for which he or she completes additional reading and research

In high school, you probably completed many small assignments throughout the year. In university, you will find that the work tends to be less evenly distributed throughout the term. This means that you may not have any assignments due until the end of term, but then you will have five papers due on the same day (plus exams!).

It is important to organize your time so that you can get your class work done, get your assignments done (on time!), and have a life too. This is achievable with good planning and time management skills (more on this later).

How Can I Survive and Thrive?

In this guide we offer practical advice to help you adapt to the different academic environment that you will find at university.

Before You Arrive

  • Read all communications from the university. Set up your email for regular access.
  • Attend an orientation day for new students.
  • Review the academic calendar and register for classes.
  • Get a feel for university expectation and find resources to support your reading, writing, and thinking skills.

The First Week

  • Review your courses and understand the requirements for each. Make any necessary course changes soon.
  • Explore the campus and learn about supports.
  • Explore the library; complete the online tutorials.
  • Establish a workspace that will work for you.

The First Month

  • Organize your courses; read your course outlines regularly.
  • Make a time management plan for the term so that you can manage your time; include both your school work and your life.
  • Get to class; establish good habits right away. Speak up; don’t be intimidated by anyone; persevere.
  • Practice your listening and your notetaking skills; find a notetaking system that works for you.
  • Develop reading, math, and writing skills to meet expectations for critical thinking and analysis.

The First Term

  • Review lecture and reading notes each week
  • Review and modify your study habits and time management plan as needed
  • Seek help if you need it
  • Persevere if you face set-backs and challenges!