The university experience is brand new to you, so you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions.

Can I apply even if I don’t know what I want to do for a career?

Absolutely! Deciding what to do when you graduate can be tough when you already have plenty of decisions to make right now. One option you can check out is doing general studies in your first year if you’re not sure what path you want to take. That will give you a chance to try a variety of courses to explore your interests and get a feel for university.

It’s important to always keep in mind you should try to find a program that matches your interests. You will have a much better chance of success no matter where your career takes you.

Timeline: Find out what to expect during your first year at university

How is university different than high school?

There are lots of ways your academic life will change from high school to university. Here are some of the things you can expect to come across:

You’re the boss of your own time

You will get to build your own class schedule, which means more flexibility. Some students end up with a schedule that’s similar to what it was in high school, while other students have something completely different. Depending on your program, you could find that you only go to school four days a week, or you have large gaps of time between morning and evening classes. It’s important to stay focused and take advantage of your free time by finishing assignments, studying and doing your readings.

Class sizes can vary a lot

Some classes you will attend might only have a few dozen people while others could have hundreds. It depends on your program, the course and the size of the school. Sitting in a lecture hall with a hundred other students can be a tough adjustment from high school if you’re not ready for it.

You might not get to know all your professors

In large classes it can be almost impossible for professors to get to know every person in the room. Professors will have office hours, which are certain days and times they are available to meet if you have any questions or want to introduce yourself. Some classes also have teaching assistants (usually called TA’s) who are there to help the professor grade papers and answer questions about the coursework.

You have to motivate yourself to go to class

In most of your classes, you won’t be graded on attendance. You will likely get a list of assignments early on so you know what’s expected of you. You might get a few reminders, but for the most part it’s up to you to manage your time. Every course and professor is different, so make sure you know what the rules are and don’t take anything for granted. Remember that you pay tuition, and that money will go to waste if you don’t show up. Even if there is nobody counting your absences, it’s still in your best interests not to miss too much class time.

When does the school year start and finish? How much time off will I have?

The exact schedule you will have to follow depends on your school and program. It’s common for universities to have two terms (or semesters) — one that starts in the fall after Labour Day and runs until mid-December, and another that starts in early January and runs until mid-April. Some schools offer summer terms that allow you to keep working on your degree and shorten the overall length of time it takes to graduate. You might also have the option to begin your studies in January or during the summer, although most students follow a September-to-April schedule.

Reading week

You will probably get a reading week away from classes at some point during the year, usually around February, although some schools also have one in the fall. Most schools keep a list of important dates, including days off, on their website.

Exams

Exams usually take place at the end of each term. The number of exams you will have to write and when they’re scheduled will depend on the courses you’re studying.

What if I change my mind about something?

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned. You might want to move closer to home, you might realize you’re not as passionate about a subject as you thought or you might think it’s time to reconsider university altogether. These things happen, and it’s important to know that you can still ask for help if you have to make a big decision like changing programs or schools.

Transfer to a new university

If university life isn’t a good fit for you, but you want to keep pursuing a degree, you can usually transfer to another school if your grade point average (GPA) is in good standing (check with both your current and future schools about this). Before you make a final decision to leave the school you’re at, you should speak to an academic counsellor or student services counsellor to make sure it’s the right decision. These counsellors can sometimes point out things you might have overlooked, or they can help make arrangements to improve your situation. If you still intend to transfer, you should contact the recruitment/admissions office to get the process started.

Transfer from college to university

If you are at a college and want to transfer to university when you complete your diploma, you should contract the recruitment/admissions office at the university you want to attend and they will help you get started. Many colleges have agreements with universities to make sure the transfer process is as simple as possible. In some cases, you will only need to take two years of university courses to complete a degree, rather than doing the full four years.