Information for Parents

Many students are not prepared to enter a post-secondary institution or a university. University is different from high school in several ways, thus students need to be prepared to adapt their behaviours to suit their new environment and learning situation. About 15% of students have problems in their first year at a university due to a number of life circumstances or family issues. They drop out or fail in their courses. In these cases university may not be the right place for them at this stage of their lives, at least for the time being, until they are able to manage their lives outside of their studies.

Most of the differences between successful students and unsuccessful students originate in the differences between high school and university, such as:

  • Freedom: Students need to be old enough to take responsibility for what they do and don't do, as well as for the consequences of their decisions
  • Teachers/professors: Professors expect students to use their office hours if they have questions or need clarification on some topics
  • Testing: Mastery is seen as the ability to transfer what you have learned to new situations
  • Grades/grading: It is harder to earn a passing grade or to meet the course requirements


  • The course structures are often different.
  • There are fewer rules and regulations – but there are rules and regulations students need to know
  • There is a different level of personal responsibility for decisions and actions
  • The way of learning is different – the classes are larger, meet less frequently, but require more complex learning skills
  • There is a different level of competition because  students at university are often selected as being the best suited for their programs
  • Students are treated as an adult, responsible for the way you live, meeting expectations of others.

Most universities expect the following from their students:

  • To take responsibility for their own learning
  • To utilize resources and supports that are available to them such as tutoring or study groups,  tutorials, writing assistance, etc.
  • To read the university calendar for guidelines, deadlines, rules
  • To get good grades and study more than is required for success  in high school
  • To write well for every class

Some students have few skills to adapt. Many do not tell their parents about their academic problems. It is not lack of basic knowledge that affects many students but their ability to adapt to a changing educational environment. The key to success in university education is to be able to adapt to the changes.

Students who are successful adapt to many of the changes and challenges that university presents by

  • Being able to recover from 'shocks' to their academic selves (such as lower marks in their first few months, the need to study more independently, taking personal responsibility for getting assignments done on time...)
  • Seeking help to make these adaptations
  • Not depending on the advice of friends without checking it out for themselves

Adapted from: Kovach, K. University Preparations: Transition Strategies. University of Alberta. Retrieved 10/06/2011