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Five ways university is not like high school

Advice for first-year students from our resident professor

Todd Pettigrew
September 1, 2011
Ever heard the story about the university student whose paper was too long, so his professor
tore off the extra pages and graded the remainder? Its just an urban legend. But there are
some big differences between high school and university that freshmen should prepare
themselves for.
1. How you write matters. In high school, your teachers were likely happy if you wrote
anything at all, and were probably ecstatic if you wrote something clear and gave an opinion or
two. That wont cut it at university. Professors expect essays to be formally structured and to
provide analysis backed by evidence. They expect papers to be properly formatted, and they
expect you to cite sources according to professional style guidelines. Dashing something off at
the last minute no matter how smart you are wont cut it.
2. Class is only a quarter of your course. New university students often make the false
assumption that if they attend most of their classes, they are doing the course. But at university,
the sitting in class is only a small part of the work. Most of the course is reading the assigned
material, doing research for assignments, preparing presentations, meeting with your prof in her
office, and writing essays. You should be doing at least three hours of work outside of class for
every hour of class time.
3. No one is checking up on you. Unlike high school, no one will come after you or notify your
parents if you are falling behind. In fact, in one way, some professors like students who dont do
the work because that leaves them with fewer assignments to grade. So, on day one, scour your
course outline and figure out how exactly your grade is going to be calculated. Know when
things are due and get them done on time. Keep track of everything you hand in and what your
current grade is in every course at every point in the year. Avoid unpleasant surprises at the end
of term.
4. Expectations are based on the standards of the discipline. Your high school teachers
have probably been taught that they need to do whatever they can to make sure you have
success, even if it means changing what success means. At university, standards tend to be
more rigid. You have done well if you have met the standard that your prof thinks is reasonable
for a first-year student in that discipline. Whether you did well relative to your own potential is
irrelevant. As far as were concerned, your personal potential may not be university material.
5. Its not about you; its about the work you do. Many new university students are used to
getting credit for having really tried hard. But professors arent grading you or your effort or
your sincerity. They are grading the work you do. Many of your professors will never know your
name. If you are at a large university, they may not recognize you in the hallway.
All of this may make university seem intimidating, but summon your courage. Its about to
Todd Pettigrew (PhD) is an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University.

The Differences Between High School and University
By Gillian Corbo on September 10, 2012
This is probably the most exciting time of the year for students. Youre meeting lots of new
people, youre still enthusiastic about your classes and youre starting to learn what this whole
university thing is about. By now youve probably realized that university is pretty different from
high school and if youre really on the ball, youre making a mental note of all these things to set
yourself up for success. You and only you are responsible for you education, so check out some
of our favorite (and quirky) differences between university and high school to help you get



Profs wont come after you for missing assignments. If you choose not to submit
your work, thats your prerogative but dont expect to be able to turn it in at the end of the
term and get credit for it. It is your responsibility to get your assignment in on time, if you
dont, it just means one less thing for your prof to mark.
You dont have to ask to go to the bathroom. It may sound silly, but you dont have
to sit in silent agony with your legs crossed waiting for class to finish. You can just get up and
go but make sure to leave without disturbing your classmates.
The majority of learning happens outside of the classroom. Participating in research
labs or having discussions over a beverage is where the information sinks in. Dont be afraid
to invite your classmates out to chat about things.
In university you have to schedule time with your profs. Your professors want you
to come see them, but they also likely have research commitments as well as hundreds of
students, as opposed to 30 like in high school. Book an appointment to meet with them
(theyd love you to), because you wont be able to chat with them for 45 minutes right after
class when theres a line up of other students with questions.
Your classes will almost always be in different buildings this means potentially
long walks in between class (with an 85% chance that it will be raining). You also dont get
assigned a locker so you have to carry your life with you!

We think all these differences are great and enhance your experience as a university student.
Youll grow to embrace all of them and before you know it, youll forget what high school was