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

At some institutions, you will attend classes that might only have a few dozen people while others could have hundreds (not at MSVU). 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 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.

How do I find the right ‘fit’?

Finding the right fit doesn’t need to be difficult. Ask yourself some questions:

  • What is the university’s culture? What values are important at the school?
  • Do you want to live close to home or do you want to move ?
  • Do you prefer to live in a city or a rural area?
  • Is it better for you to live on a large campus with a lot of students or on a smaller, quieter campus?
  • What other programs and activities does that university offer? Schools will have different societies, sports teams, volunteer opportunities and more for you to consider.

After you answer those questions, take some time to visit the schools that seem to be a good fit. Book campus tours (universities often have a link to their campus tour website like Do your research and ask people who go to those schools how they like it. Getting to know your university will go a long way toward ensuring your success, both inside and outside the classroom.

Take a campus tour

When you take a campus tour, you are able to get a better sense of the layout of the campus, and what the lifestyle will be like at a university. Universities offer a variety of different methods of taking a tour, from taking a physical tour of a campus, to self-guided digital tours. Many universities offer campus tour videos, so you can get a preview of the campus that you can watch at any time. Campus tours are often lead by students, so you can ask questions and get advice from someone who might have been in a similar situation to you.

Should I choose a big or small campus?

For some students leaving high school, the idea of sitting in a classroom with hundreds of other students is overwhelming. For others, it’s an exciting new experience. Here are some features of big and small university campuses:

Big campus

  • sizes range from thousands to tens of thousands of students
  • large variety of programs to choose from
  • more anonymity because there are more people, sometimes less familiarity
  • getting around can take longer than it would at smaller schools
  • environment can feel like a big shift from high school, especially with bigger class sizes

Small campus

  • usually fewer than 5,000 students
  • smaller class sizes, depending on the program
  • more familiarity among students and faculty
  • getting around and moving from class to class will usually take less time
  • feels more like a high school experience
  • usually focused on fewer programs with less variety than bigger schools

Do you want to live on campus or off campus? Picking the right living situation can help you relax, have fun and make the most of your time at university.

How much does it cost to live on campus?

How much you pay depends on the school you choose, because each one will have a different fee structure. If the school requires you to pay for a meal plan in order to live on campus, there’s a good chance you could pay $8,000 or more per year on top of your class tuition fees.

Should I live on or off campus?

On campus

No matter where you go to school, living in residence is a unique experience that a lot of students want to try for at least their first year. You’ll get to meet new people, you’ll have more independence and you’ll stay fully involved with everything that’s happening on campus.

You’ll also be physically closer to school — you’re right on campus! — and some universities even have tunnels that connect the buildings so you don’t have to go outside to get food or go to class.

Off campus

You might choose instead to live off campus, such as in nearby apartments with friends or in a room you rent. You’ll miss out on some campus fun if you’re not around school all the time, but you might feel like it’s important to get away from school when you’re done classes for the day.

Splitting living costs with others can help you save money and being away from the campus can give you more opportunity to explore the surrounding town or city. If you don’t live within walking distance of your school, however, you’ll have to make sure you have a way to get there, whether it’s a car, a bike or public transit.

At home

If you’re going to a school in your hometown, living at home is another option. It’s a great way to save some extra money and put it toward your tuition or other expenses, but you will probably feel less connected with what’s happening on campus.

Some schools have a large number of students who don’t live in residence but come every day for classes. They’re usually called day students or commuter students, and sometimes there are groups set up for them so they can be more involved in campus life.

What type of campus is right for me?

There are plenty of options to consider when you’re looking to find the right campus fit. Here are some of the common campus types and the features they offer:

Rural campus

  • usually located in small towns that are an hour or more outside the nearest city
  • smaller and focused on undergraduate education
  • more connected with their surrounding communities, with lots to do within a short walk of campus
  • many students come directly from high school, so the average age tends to be younger compared to an urban campus
  • most students live in residence on campus
  • usually no professional post-graduate programs (medical school, law school, etc.)

Urban campus

  • usually located within city limits
  • all shapes and sizes — small, large, research-focused, etc.
  • lots of options for eating, entertainment, off-campus housing
  • higher number of mature, part-time and commuter students
  • more program options (medical school, law school, etc.)

Universities come in all shapes and sizes. Your success at university doesn’t just depend on how much you love your program. It also depends on how much you love your school. Think about the place you want to call home for the next four years, and how the academic culture can play a role in your studies.


  • usually more opportunity to engage with professors and classmates in smaller-classroom settings
  • many opportunities such as the ability to do high-level research, which other schools normally reserve for graduate students
  • few or no options for master’s (graduate) degrees or professional programs (medical school, law school, MBA, etc.)


  • more degree programs and opportunities to explore a variety of courses
  • options for master’s (graduate) and professional programs (medical school, law school, MBA, etc.)
  • usually larger class sizes, especially in the first-year courses
  • research opportunities are usually more competitive, so can be harder to obtain as an undergraduate

What are my options for getting food?

Most schools will have places to eat around campus — coffee shops, cafeterias, fast-food restaurants — and you can use your meal plan (if you paid for one) to get food in some of those spots. If you don’t live on campus, you can usually still eat at campus locations, but you should also check your neighbourhood for nearby stores and restaurants. Some places offer discounts if you show your student ID card, which is a good way to save money on food. Most universities will offer daily options for students who may have significant food aversions.

What is a meal plan? Do I need one if I live on campus?

Meal plans are a way for students who live on campus to make sure they always have access to food. For most meal plans, you pay a fee at the start of the school year for a set number of meals you can cash in at cafeterias and restaurants on campus. If you live on campus, you’ll usually have to choose one of the meal plans offered by your school. The biggest benefit of meal plans is they make it easier to budget your money.

What is welcome (or frosh) week?

Welcome week, sometimes called orientation week or frosh week, is your first official week as a student on your new campus. It’s a time for you to meet your fellow new students in a fun, social and safe way (hazing rituals are not permitted). You’ll experience early-morning wake-ups, traditional cheers, games and events, and make lots of new friends — it will be a great week with lots to enjoy.

You should know: Frosh is a term meaning first-year students, which is why some schools use it to promote events for new students.

What is a students’ union? Do I have to join?

When you go to university, some of your student fees will go toward a students’ union or association. As a student, you’ll automatically become a part of the students’ union at your school. You’ll get to elect leaders (e.g., president and vice-president) who will represent your interests to the school administration. They will also organize events and provide services on campus to give you a positive and fun student experience.

Should I check out any clubs or societies?

University clubs and societies give you an opportunity to get involved in activities related to your interests. Schools often have clubs and societies that cater to your hobbies and interests outside the classroom — things like board games or cars or computers — as well as ones aimed at academic interests (for example, a History society).

These groups take on many different forms and even if there’s not a club for your specific interests, you’ll have the chance to create one and find out students who want to join.

How can I participate in sports?

If you play a sport, you’ll have a few options when you start university. There are varsity teams if you’re good enough, although what sports have teams depends on your school. If you’re don’t play varsity, most schools will still offer you the chance to play sports at an intramural level depending on what facilities are available. Even if the school doesn’t offer your sport as an intramural activity, someone from the student life department or students’ union might be able to help you find a local league to join.

Should I be working while I go to school?

There are a few reasons you might want to have a job while you go to university. It’s a way to earn extra money you can put toward school costs and other expenses, and it can also reduce the amount you need to borrow and pay back after you graduate. Some programs might also offer opportunities to gain experience working in your field, or include work components in the courses you’ll take.

Remember that having a job will occupy some of the time that you’re away from class — time you can use to work on assignments, study for exams, socialize with friends, or kick back and relax. You can start school without a job and see how things go before you decide if you need one. You might find you only want to work during the summer when you’re out of school, or you might decide that you can handle working a few hours a week to earn extra money. Try to find a good balance between everything so you can stay on track in school and not get overwhelmed.

After you spend a bit of time getting to know your school and get a feel for the university lifestyle, you might start second-guessing your decision. You might wonder if you’ve chosen the right school or the right program, and it’s important to know that it’s not unusual to have doubts. In fact, there may be many other students at your school going through the same experience. Sometimes the doubts don’t go away and you’ll want to know what your options are.

Most schools offer a number of different services that can help make the transition to university easier for students. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Campus health clinics, which can help you with your overall well-being. Registering usually only takes a few minutes.
  • Counselling and accessibility services, which are usually free for students. If you register early, finding support when you need it will be much easier.
  • Academic supports, such as writing centres and tutors, are available to help you stay on top of your work. Check with your department or the university library to see what’s available.

If you feel like your social life and your new school are not meshing well, or if you’re feeling homesick, or if you’re having other difficulties that aren’t related to your courses, you should speak with a first-year advisor or a person who works in the student life/student affairs office. If you have trouble tracking down a person, your students’ union should be able to help you find someone.