Student Transition: A Year in the Life of a Student

You will find that new students undergo a tremendous amount of change over the course of their university career — either drastically within the first months, slowly over their years at university, or somewhere in between. Even though it’s normal and inevitable, dramatic changes can be shocking to family members. Each person’s experience is unique.

Throughout the time that a student spends at the University of Guelph, they will experience many ups and downs, particularly in their first year. These ups and downs are completely normal and the University of Guelph has a plethora of resources to help students cope with their adjustment to university life. If your student identifies that they need assistance and are uncertain where they can go for help, the Student Transition Office (start@uoguelph.ca) is a great starting place, and may refer students for more specific help related to health and wellness, learning skills, stress management, or other areas as needed. 

  • Some students who have had lifelong dreams of being a doctor or veterinarian may realize that they would rather be an artist. Changing majors and programs is very normal; many students change their program of study more than once during their university career. Encountering academic difficulties, not enjoying the area of study they thought they would enjoy, and a feeling of “not knowing what to do” occurs with many students. Try to be patient and supportive as your family member explores their academic interests and potential career paths. Sometimes students will be shocked to discover that they excelled in a subject in high school in part because of the charisma and dedication of an exceptional teacher. When they get to university and have to work more independently and with more complexity, they may be less inspired and perhaps not as strong in a particular subject as they had once thought. Sometimes this is really hard on one’s self-esteem. Help them to reach out to Academic resources on campus.
  • Relationships will often change throughout a new student’s first year. Romantic relationships and long-standing friendships may change. Relationships with family members may also experience changes — some families find their relationships improve as a new student becomes more independent, appreciating each other more as individuals. Many of our students have commented that once they leave home, they realize that their parents are real people, and appreciate their support, advice and guidance much more than when they were living at home. Your family member may feel badly about missing events back home, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Sharing photos can be a nice way to involve them in an event.
  • New students will sometimes contact family when they are feeling down, either due to a bout of minor illness, a bad grade, a deteriorated relationship, or even just a bad day. Your family member may be looking for the comforts of home and may unload the stress onto you. The stress of the ongoing academic pressure, on top of changing relationships, new friendships, and a new environment, can take their toll on a university student, regardless of whether they are in first year or final year. Students are encouraged to pursue a healthy balance across each of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical.
  • Understand the highs and lows of your family member’s development as a student and provide the support and encouragement where they are needed most. Students may have the perception that these are supposed to be the best years of their lives. When they are afraid, confused, and overwhelmed it is important to realize their experiences are a normal part of life.

Orientation Week and The First Day of Classes

Your student will have the chance to transition into life at the University of Guelph through a variety of programs throughout orientation. These events will allow them to learn about how they can get involved, how they can succeed academically, and what resources are available to them. Orientation Week starts on the Saturday of the Labour Day weekend for all new students and runs until the following Sunday, regardless of where they live or what they are studying.  Your student will attend their first classes, complete their first assignments, and begin the university experience on the Thursday of Orientation Week. This is a nerve-racking time, as they are only just beginning their academic transition. For the first day of classes, we urge students to put all of their due dates and deadlines from each course outline into a calendar and to start their readings and assignments on the first day of class to avoid falling behind.

September

September is generally a whirlwind of jam-packed days full of meeting people, learning to find their way around the campus and the city, adjusting to living on their own, and adjusting to an entirely new culture. Some of their experiences may include:

  • Participating in all activities possible and making many new friends.
  • Feeling that O-Week was great! Or, is not for them and finding their niche in non-programmed activities.
  • Feeling homesick, regardless of whether or not they are making friends and participating in activities. keep them updated on home happenings, and maybe even send them care packages. The most helpful thing a student can do at this point is find ways to continue to engage at U of G and meet new people without retreating to their homes. The communities they build in the first few weeks will play a role in the overall success of each student.
  • Many students begin to realize that they must also learn to be students how to take notes, how to study for midterms, how to write essays, how to talk to professors, and the like. Getting into “study mode” at the start of the year can be challenging. · Identifying where on campus they can find food to accommodate their dietary needs, such as halal, kosher, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.
  • Students with financial need may begin to think about accessing the bursary and work study programs and if they wish to work on or off campus while they study.
  • For some international students, the week may be about trying to balance the excitement of meeting new people with culture shock, homesickness, new food, and shifts in the climate.

September is a great opportunity to encourage your student to find a club or on-campus organization to join. The University of Guelph has over 100 student-run organizations and clubs, and your student is sure to find an opportunity suited for their interests or needs. If your student is struggling with this, ask them if they've checked out the organizations or activities listed on GryphLife, the hub of all clubs and activities on campus.

Questions to ask your student in September: How are classes? Have you joined any clubs? Do you need anything from me? Have you found a cool place to study/hang out yet? What kinds of supports does the library offer?

October

  • The reality of courses begins to set in. With midterms and assignments around the corner, many new students begin to feel a little stressed at this point in the semester. Many students feel this acutely around their first midterm, which can typically be the last week of September or the first week of October. Encourage your student to proactively reach out to Academic resources for support.
  • Lack of sleep and an unbalanced diet may be catching up with new students.
  • Students may be planning a trip home for the Thanksgiving weekend. During this time, many students realize how much they have changed in a short time and may already feel that their relationships at home have changed. As with everything else, students’ reactions vary quite a bit. Some find re-integrating into their ‘home’ life to be challenging and can’t wait to return to campus. Others slip right back into their hometown lifestyle and find it difficult to return to the challenges of university life.
  • For international students, this may be a time when they miss home the most and are looking to form a community with other students who are not going away for the holidays. They may make plans to go home over the winter break.
  • For those who go home, upon realizing how much they have changed or how much they value their independence at this time of their lives, it is fairly common for students to break-up with a partner who is still at home or at another institution.
  • Some students may also realize at the midterm point that they do not like their program or their classes. Some students may begin to explore other areas of study. This is a common experience, and we encourage students to register for STARTonTrack or speak with their Program Counsellor as early as possible.

Thanksgiving Weekend: UofG gives students Thanksgiving Monday and Tuesday as a break from class. Many students take this as an opportunity to return home. For students who do not get to go home, they may experience more homesickness than normal, so a special call is likely to be appreciated.

Questions to ask your student, October-December: How many midterms do you have? How are you feeling about your grades? Are you getting prepared for finals? When will you be coming home for the holiday? Have you chatted with a program counsellor yet?

November

  • Grades from midterms have come back to students. It is not uncommon for students to notice a difference in their grades compared to high school – this is normal. 
  • November holds the last few weeks of classes in our 12-week semester system. The end of the semester quickly approaches, including deadlines for term papers and final exams. Students should begin to prepare for the upcoming exam period in this month.
  • Around this time of year, some students start to think about their living arrangements for second year because they hear that their friends at other schools are doing this. Students may consider applying in the winter semester to live on campus again next year or decide to look for a place off-campus.
    • Students who commute from home to Guelph may begin to consider moving to Guelph instead while they are at the university. Guelph has its own off-campus housing culture, and this is a great time of year to attend a workshop by Off-Campus Living to find out what off-campus living is all about, but we encourage students to hold off on the search until the winter semester when there is an abundance of off-campus rentals coming on the market.

December

  • Students prepare for and write their final exams. This can be both an exhilarating and a stressful time. Students are excited to complete their first semester, while also anxious about their exams. Faced with impending deadlines they may pull ‘all-nighters’, forget to eat properly, make academic integrity mistakes, and neglect their personal well-being. They are also likely to encounter exams with a large gymnasium full of hundreds of students for the first time.
  • Students living in residence are required to check out within 24-hours of their last exam or by noon on the day after the conclusion of the exam period (whichever comes first), or find temporary accommodation on/off-campus if they will not be going home. They may leave some of their belongings in their room, but may not return until January. This can be anxiety inducing on top of their academic workload.
  • Once again, if students return home they may express a wide range of emotions. Some students will easily fall back into their routine with family and friends, while others may experience difficulties with changing relationships and dynamics with friends and family members. Some students may have a hard time when parents try to influence their sleeping and eating habits, as well as ask questions such as “what time will you be home tonight?” or “who are you going out with tonight?” In addition, international students may experience reverse culture shock and may have some difficulty readjusting to their home culture after spending some time in Canadian culture. They may also find that they miss Canada and the friends they’ve made.
  • Final grades will be released during students' winter break.
  • Taking short breaks while studying will help students to be more productive and improve their overall health during this time. Various areas partner to offer "Stress Buster” workshops throughout the exam period to help a student to deal with exam stress in fun, interactive ways.

Exam Period: Each students’ exam schedule is different. For 2019, the exam period runs fro December 2 – December 13.

Winter Break: U of G’s winter break is a three-week long break for students to go home. Residence students must sign out of residence within 24 hours of their last exam. This will be your student’s longest amount of time off-school since September.

January

  • Students receive December exam grades back. This may result in them questioning whether they can handle university life, or whether they are in the right program of study. Students experiencing this type of stress should chat with a Facilitator in the Bounce Back program as soon as possible.
  • It can be difficult to get back into studying mode in January as they are coming off of a break and are generally not as excited as in September. Some may already start planning trips home or away for reading week and the summer. Others may be considering whether or not they want to return to the university next year.
  • Students planning to move off-campus for their second-year start to put their plan in place. There are decisions about where to live and who to live with – this could range anywhere from living alone or with 3 or 4 other students! Many first-year students unnecessarily panic about finding a place off-campus in the first few weeks of January. In reality, the off-campus rental options increase as the semester continues because current off-campus students typically only give 60 days’ notice of moving out to their landlord. Off-Campus Living offers a wide variety of information about apartment hunting, what can and can't be in a lease, how to live with roommates, and much more. 
  • Many campus organizations start recruiting during this time for the next academic year. Students who may have chosen not to be involved in the previous semester may feel that they are now better able to accommodate the extra time commitment that extracurricular activities might involve.
  • Students begin to consider how they are going to earn money over the summer break. For students who are looking for a summer job, it’s important to start looking early as these can be highly competitive. For some students, it may be their first time working. There are countless opportunities in the campus community to help them develop transferable skills that can help them succeed both academically and socially. Depending on the position, recruitment may continue throughout the semester.

Setbacks: If your student is struggling, or experiencing a setback, they should register for Bounce Back and meet with their Facilitator as soon as possible to discuss different causes and approaches they could try moving forward. Many students struggle in their first year, or at some point in their University journey, and go on to be successful.  

February

  • Back into the routine of the semester with midterms and papers around the corner.
  • Students should speak with their Program Counsellors about their educational goals, course selection, and how to create their academic plan.

Reading Week: There are no classes during Reading Week. Student’s activities vary from trips home to a vacation with friends to serious studying. Many students will return home for this week-long break from classes.

Questions to ask in February: How are classes? Have you started to look for a place to live next year? How many midterms do you have? When is your Reading Week break? Do you need anything from me? Who will you live with next year? What are you looking for?

March

  • Preparation for final exams commences again. Students may be experiencing feelings of stress or they may be feeling more comfortable now that they have already experienced a round of final exams.

Summer: Talk to your student about their summer plans, ensure any expectations about financial support or living arrangements are very clear so neither they or you are surprised about what the other person expects. There are on campus resources to help them find summer employment or volunteer positions.

April

  • Students will go through many emotions at this time. Many are preparing to return home for the summer which can bring feelings of sadness because they are leaving their new friends, as well as excitement to be returning home for a few months with friends and family.
  • Students will also have to juggle studying for their final exams, while also packing up their personal belongings to move out of the place they’ve called home for the past eight months. Students living in residence must move out their belongings 24 hours after their final exam. In the event that they have an exam on a Friday afternoon they must leave by noon on Saturday. If students are moving off-campus but not going home for the summer, this means that they may need to find accommodation and/or storage for a couple of weeks until their lease starts.
  • Some students may consider enrolling in summer courses, whether these are online or on campus. Summer courses allow some students to catch up if they dropped a course during the previous year, or if they are considering changing programs. However, many students also end up taking an extra semester or two at the end of their degree to catch up.

Final Exams: If your student struggled in December, ask them what they are doing differently this time. Simply working harder is rarely the answer; learning strategies, motivation, and wellness all play key roles in determining academic success.