A Year in the Life of a Student

Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Throughout the time that a student spends at the University of Guelph, they will experience many ups and downs, particularly in their first year. These ups and downs are completely normal and the University of Guelph has a plethora of resources to help students cope with their adjustment to university life.

Again, please keep in mind that each person’s experience is unique. Your family member may encounter some, none, or all of the following in their first year. Regardless, if your student identifies that they need assistance and are uncertain where they can go for help the Centre for New Students and the Wellness Education Centre are valuable sources of information/referrals to various supports on campus that specialize in offering emotional, academic, and social supports.

September

Orientation Week (O-Week) is generally a whirlwind of jam-packed days full of meeting people, learning to find their way around the campus and the city, , adjusting to living on their own, and adjusting to an entirely new culture if they are an international students. Many students have different O-Week experiences. The range can cover any of the following:

  • Participating in every activity possible and making many new friends.
  • Feeling that O-Week is not for them and finding their niche in non-programmed activities.
  • Feeling homesick or unhappy regardless of whether or not they are making friends and participating in activities.
  • For some international students, the week may be about trying to balance the excitement of meeting new people with culture shock, homesickness, new food, and shifts in the climate.
  • Shortly after O-Week, many students begin to realize that they must also learn to be students how to take notes, how to study for midterms, how to write essays, how to talk to professors, and the like. Getting into “study mode” at the start of the year can be challenging.
  • Identifying where on campus they can find food to accommodate their dietary needs, such as halal, kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.
  • Students with financial need may begin to think about accessing the bursary and work study programs and if they wish to work on or off campus while they study.
  • Sometimes the perception is that O-Week is primarily about socializing and partying; in fact, there is a great deal of academic orientation too. The University encourages students to sample a range of types of events and activities, with an emphasis on learning about community expectations, campus resources, involvement opportunities and academic life.
  • The Wellness Education Centre runs a variety of events through O-Week that encourages students to pursue a healthy balance across all aspects of their life. For instance, the Centre has partnered with Athletics to offer the “GryFIT” program which aims to increase participant’s fitness levels in each of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical. Students will be provided with opportunities to build on their skill sets and increase their resiliency and coping mechanisms; hopefully laying the groundwork to maintain their overall wellness through the rest of their academic career and beyond. 

October

  • The reality of university life begins to set in. With midterms and assignments around the corner, many new students begin to feel a little stressed at this point in the semester.
  • Lack of sleep and an unbalanced diet may be catching up with new students at this point as well.
  • For those students who haven’t already done so, they may be planning a trip home for the Thanksgiving weekend. During this time, many students realize how much they have changed in a short time and may already feel that their relationships at home have changed. As with everything else, students’ reactions vary quite a bit. Some find re-integrating into their ‘home’ life to be challenging and can’t wait to return to campus. Others slip right back into their hometown lifestyle and find it difficult to return to the challenges of university life.
  • For international students, this may be a time when they miss home the most and are looking to form a community with other students who are not going away for the holidays. They may make plans to go home over the winter break.
  • For those who go home, upon realizing how much they have changed or how much they value their independence at this time of their lives, it is fairly common for students to break-up with a partner who is still at home or at another institution.
  • Some students may also realize at the midterm point that they do not like their program or their classes. Some students may begin to explore other areas of study.
  • There are a variety of resources provided by the Learning Commons tailored to help students to manage their unique workloads. This includes Support Learning Groups that provide course specific support for students outside of classes to help students succeed in historically challenging courses.

November

  • Some students may experience some anxiety around their midterm grades. It is not uncommon for a student to find that they have a substantial decrease in their grades.
  • The fortieth class day is at the beginning of the month. This is the last day to withdraw from a course without an academic penalty and many students find themselves evaluating their progress, particularly in courses that aren’t going so well.
  • November holds the last few weeks of classes in our 12-week semester system. Students may start to feel anxious about the end of the semester as it quickly approaches, while deadlines for term papers and final exams loom on the horizon.
  • Some students may have found their niche on campus at this point, while others are still exploring options. Still others may be questioning whether or not they fit in at all. Some may be thinking about whether they want to return in the winter semester.
  • Around this time of year, some students start to think about their living arrangements for second year because they hear that their friends at other schools are doing this. Students may consider applying in the winter semester to live on campus again next year, or decide to look for a place off campus.
  • Students who commute from home to Guelph may begin to consider moving to Guelph instead while they are at the university.
  • Guelph has its own off-campus housing culture, and this is a great time of year to attend a workshop by Off-Campus Living to find out what off campus living is all about, but we encourage students to hold off on the search until the winter semester when there is an abundance of off-campus rentals coming on the market.
  • Students can drop in to the Student Support Network (SSN) to talk about the stresses that they’re experiencing with fellow students who have gone through the same process already.
  • An important event in November is “Mental Health Awareness Week.” Run by the Wellness Education Centre and SSN students can learn how to take care of their own well-being, as well as how to support the well-being of their friends and family members.

December

  • Students prepare for and write their final exams. This can be both an exhilarating and a stressful time. Students are excited to complete their first semester, while also anxious about their exams. Faced with impending deadlines they may pull ‘all-nighters’, forget to eat properly, make academic integrity mistakes and neglect their personal well-being. They are also likely to encounter exams with a large gymnasium full of hundreds of students for the first time.
  • Students living in residence are required to check out within 24-hours of their last exam or by noon on the day after the conclusion of the exam period (whichever comes first), or find temporary accommodation on/off campus if they will not be going home. They may leave some of their belongings in their room, but may not return until January. This can be anxiety inducing on top of their academic workload.
  • Once again, if students return home they may express a wide range of emotions. Some students will easily fall back into their routine with family and friends, while others may experience difficulties with changing relationships and dynamics with friends and family members. Some students may have a hard time when parents try to influence their sleeping and eating habits, as well as ask questions such as “what time will you be home tonight?” or “who are you going out with tonight?” In addition, international students may experience reverse culture shock and may have some difficulty readjusting to their home culture after spending some time in Canadian culture. They may also find that they miss Canada and the friends they’ve made.
  • Final grades will be released during student’s winter break.
  • Taking short breaks while studying will help students to be more productive and improve their overall health during this time. Various areas partner to offer Stress Buster” workshops throughout the exam period to help student to deal with exam stress in fun, interactive ways.

January

  • Some students may experience anxiety around their final grades. This may result in them questioning whether they can handle university life, or whether they are in the right program of study.
  • Many students are feeling more confident in the second semester — they know their way around campus and are establishing a reliable support system.
  • For others, it can be difficult to get back into studying mode in January as they are coming off of a break and are generally not as excited as in September. Some may already start planning trips home or away for reading week and the summer. Others may be considering whether or not they want to return to the university next year.
  • Students planning to move off-campus for their second year start to put their plan in place. There are decisions about where to live and who to live with – this could range anywhere from living alone or with 3 or 4 other students! Many first year students unnecessarily panic about finding a place off campus in the first few weeks of January. In reality the off-campus rental options increase as the semester continues because current off-campus students typically only give 60 days’ notice of moving out to their landlord.
  • Many campus organizations start recruiting during this time for the next academic year. Students who may have chosen not get involved in the previous semester may feel that they are now better able to accommodate the extra time commitment that extracurricular activities might involve.
  • Students begin to consider how they are going to earn money over the summer break. For students who are looking for a summer job, it’s important to start looking early as these can be highly competitive. For some students, it may be their first time working.
  • Check out the Academic Transition and Studying at University sections of this handbook (pages 7–14) for more information on the resources and services available to students who are having difficulty with the academic transition. Students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of these resources to help make the transition back into school as smooth as possible.
  • Students can apply for employment with the Residence Life Staff, run for election to student office or apply to become a Peer Helper. There are countless opportunities in the campus community to help them develop transferable skills that can help them succeed both academically and socially. Depending on the position, recruitment may continue throughout the semester.

February

  • Once again, students are back into the routine of the semester with midterms and papers around the corner.
  • Many more students begin looking more seriously for summer employment around this time, which may be another source of stress.
  • Reading Week also occurs in the middle of February. There are no classes during Reading Week. Student’s activities vary from trips home to a vacation with friends to serious studying.
  • Students will be required to select courses for the fall semester — this may cause some stress and anxiety regarding which courses to choose.
  • Students should speak with their Program Counsellors about their educational goals, course selection, and how to create their academic plan.
  • Students are encouraged to seek job-hunting related help from campus resources such as Co- operative Education & Career Services’ Recruit Guelph and Peer Helper programs

March

  • Once again, students may feel anxiety around the fortieth class day when faced with deciding whether or not they will drop a course.
  • Preparation for final exams commences again. Students may be experiencing feelings of stress and anxiousness, or they may be feeling more comfortable now that they have already experienced a round of final exams. In this case that your student is feeling anxiety remind them that have already made it through their fall semester exams and that this experience has likely helped them to develop an important set of skills for this time round.

April

  • Students will go through many emotions at this time. Many are preparing to return home for the summer which can bring feelings of sadness because they are leaving their new friends, as well as excitement to be returning home for a few months with friends and family. Often, this time is as emotionally charged as the first weeks in September.
  • Students will also have to juggle studying for their final exams, while also packing up their personal belongings to move out of the place they’ve called home for the past eight months.
  • Students living in residence must move out their belongings 24 hours after their final exam. In the event that they have an exam on a Friday afternoon they must leave by noon on Saturday. If students are moving off campus but not going home for the summer, this means that they may need to find accommodation and/or storage for a couple of weeks until their lease starts.
  • Those who had hoped to secure a summer job and have not been successful to date may be feeling pressure to do so.
  • Some students may consider enrolling in summer courses. The Office of Open Learning offers many courses by distance education, which is particularly helpful for students who will be unable to regularly come to campus. Summer courses allow some students to catch up if they dropped a course during the previous year, or if they are considering changing programs. However, many students also end up taking an extra semester or two at the end of their degree to catch up.

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