University 101: Real Students Share Tips For Post-Secondary Success

University Students

Everyone chooses a slightly different path after graduation: some travel, some go right into the workforce and many pursue post-secondary education.

You’ve made the decision to go to university. But what happens now? We spoke to a panel of three university students who fielded all of your most pressing questions about campus life, from university applications to living in residence.

We asked 100 teens about their college/university plans…53% started making plans in Grade 10 or younger.

Planning for University

The first step is to start planning for your university career. This might include researching programs, saving money and building up a portfolio of volunteer and extracurricular activities.

Q: How did you decide which university and program to pursue?

Casandra: You definitely need to shop around to learn what will fit you best. Attend university fairs and use them as opportunities to ask questions.

Q: How can I increase my chances of getting accepted?

Rena: Study hard and keep your GPA up. Participate in lots of extracurricular activities!

Casandra: Find out the average grade required to get in and try to aim at least 5–10% higher than that.

Tamara: If you don’t get accepted to the program you want, go to the school for a general degree (they usually have lower grade requirements), then keep your marks up and try to get into your program in second year. If that’s not an option, look around for similar programs at other schools.

Q: How much does university cost, and how did you plan financially for the expense?

Tamara: It depends on the school. Most schools publish their fees online, so take a look at the websites of universities you are interested in. I used to find extra scholarships and bursaries—this is a fantastic resource!

Living in residence

If you go to university in your hometown, you might consider living at home to save money. However, all three of our panelists agree that living in residence is a great choice for first year students.

Q: What is the transition from living at home to living in residence like?

Casandra: The first little bit is just getting used to doing everything on your own: cooking, cleaning and laundry. It’s also hard being away from family.

Rena: But, as hard as it is, it’s a thousand times more exciting! The freedom you get is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Tamara: The school puts a ton of resources and activities in place to ease this transition. If you’re homesick, keeping busy helps you forget to miss home. I loved having so many people around; it made me feel safe. You always have a friend down the hall.

Q: Can I choose my residence or my roommate?

Casandra: You cannot usually choose the exact room or ˜ oor, but you can choose which room styles you like best, and you’ll usually get one of your picks.

Tamara: It depends on the school, but most schools will try to accommodate you if you have a roomie in mind.

Campus life

Our panelists will be the first to admit that frosh week activities can be a bit cheesy, but they encourage you to attend nonetheless. The time you spend outside of the classroom is where you will make lifelong friends and lasting memories.

Q: What is the best way to be involved on campus?

Rena: Join clubs, apply for committees and create study groups. Interacting with other students is a great way to get involved and have your voice heard.

Q: Can I get a part-time job on campus?

Rena: Yes, there are tons of on-campus jobs for students, such as Resident Assistants in dormitories or cashiers in the university stores.

Tamara: However, many jobs are reserved for students who demonstrate a financial need. That means, if you have student loans, you are more likely to find a job on campus.

Of our students polled, 29% said money is their biggest worry.


University College StudentAmid all of the fun and friendship, you will also be doing a lot of learning (it is university, after all). Making sure to attend classes and developing a focused study plan will put you on the road to success.

Q: How do you manage the university workload?

Casandra: My program is very demanding, and the workload was a struggle at the beginning. I dealt with it by keeping to a schedule, prioritizing what was most important and making sure I gave myself enough time to finish everything.

Tamara: If you’re having trouble with workload, go visit the academic counsellors. They helped me make a schedule, attack each problem one by one and learn to study differently.

Q: Do you find that professors are approachable?

Rena: The professors are there to help you! They are very approachable. If you have a problem, you can always find them during their office hours.

Tamara: It’s much better to approach them in person than to send an email.

Q: Is it hard to balance your social life and academics?

Tamara: I’d be lying if I said no; balancing social life and academics is a skill you will have to learn. I found that rewarding myself with a night out was really helpful. If you finish your work that week, you can justify going out on Saturday.

Rena: Always make sure to set time aside for yourself and your friends, but be sure not to let it come before school work.

Facing challenges

A quarter of Canadian students will experience a serious mental health issue, such as stress, anxiety or depression. It is important to be aware of the services and support available to help you through the challenging times you may face.

Q: What were you most worried about when you started university? In the end, were those issues a big deal?

Rena: I was most worried about being on my own, independent, away from my family and comfort zone. In the end, I found that being independent isn’t scary at all. You can make your own decisions and follow the path in life you set for yourself.

Tamara: I was worried about my school’s “party school” reputation because I am not really a party girl. In the end, those pressures did exist, but I had no problem  tting in. The thing about university is that there are so many people, you’re bound to find someone to relate to, and I found plenty.

Casandra: I was most nervous about not being fully prepared for the program and the competition within. In the end, there were some people who were more prepared, but some were also less prepared.

Q: What are some difficulties or challenges you have faced in university?

Tamara: I’ve gone through workload challenges, homesickness and roommate problems, and the answer is always the same: turn to your resources. I know a lot of people who never ask for help—this is silly. It doesn’t make you strong or resilient; it makes you sad and frustrated.

Rena: Living with roommates can be tough, especially if you butt heads. Learn to compromise. Everybody wants their own way, but sometimes you have to put yourself in your roommate’s shoes and give in. You’ll feel like the bigger person in the long run.

20% are most excited about the opportunity to reinvent themselves.

university 101 pie chart

Meet the panel

Casandra DeBartolo Rena GreenTamara Harduwar 

Casandra, 19, is a 2nd year Fashion Communications student at Ryerson University. In the future, she hopes to work in marketing or PR.
Rena, 20, lives in New York City and studies Journalism. She one day hopes to be a magazine editor.
Tamara, 20, is a 4th year Biology student at the University of Western Ontario. She hopes to continue research in the behavioural sciences field.


5 tips for the best university experience from our panel of experts

1. Don’t overpack; you won’t have that much space in your dorm.

2. Don’t spend money on new textbooks in the campus bookstore. You can borrow them from the library, buy them at a used bookstore or share with a friend.

3. Stretch yourself by opening up to new people and new opportunities. Now is the time to reinvent.

4. Take a trip to the career development centre. They can help you find an internship, write a cover letter and organize your resume.

5. These are the best years of your life— enjoy them.

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