What to expect in your student's first year at the University of Waterloo

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Your student’s first year at university is a time of many new experiences. Below are some of the first year milestones your student may experience and ideas for supporting them throughout the year.

 


From admission to move-in day

May

As your student wraps up their final months of high school, they may be distracted from thinking ahead to starting university. Remember to enjoy these last months with your student — the summer will be full of excitement and preparation for when they start at the University of Waterloo in September!

Parent perspectiveWhen your student shares their “I got in!” moment with you, you may recall their very first day of school or even daycare. You have been there along your student’s journey to get here.

  • You have been part of your student’s education for a long time. When they started school, you probably met all of their teachers and perhaps felt confident that they would educate your child well. You might have attended parent-teacher interviews to check-in, been involved in parent councils, or maintained regular contact at school pick-ups. You may have known how your student performed in school, including the tests they prepared for or larger projects they worked on. You might have even helped with an assignment or two.
  • You’ve taught your student healthy habits. You’ve made sure they ate food that was good for them, or taken them to the doctor and cared for them when they were sick. You’ve probably kept a general awareness of how they’re feeling when it comes to their well-being.
  • Your student might have played a sport, competed academically, or become involved in other extracurricular activities. You likely took the lead coordinating schedules, carpools, and dinner times. In addition to coordinating, you were also cheering them on and getting to know the other children and their parents.

These are just a few examples of how you might have supported your student as they grew into the young adult they are today. You’ve been the go-to person in their life, providing advice and support as needed, and celebrating their accomplishments along the way. Now, they’ve been successful in their application to the University of Waterloo!

It has been quite the journey, for both of you.

Each student and parent has a unique relationship, and you might feel some nerves throughout the summer on behalf of your student. If you think back to when they first started school, you might have experienced some separation anxiety. This new beginning may bring up similar feelings, which makes sense. You want your student to do well, trust that they’ll make good decisions without you there, and hope they come to you with their concerns.

Student perspectiveFor some students, thinking about what university will be like may cause a little stress to mix in with the excitement. They may wonder if university is for them, or experience the imposter phenomenon. You may hear them say things like, “what if the University made a mistake accepting me?” (we didn’t!), or debate whether they really want to study in their chosen program. If your student is leaving home to attend Waterloo, they may also be wondering about their friends who won’t be going away with them.

Next steps

  • Will your student be living on their own for the first time in September? Talk to them about daily life skills such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry.
  • Reassure your student that you’re proud of them for all the work they did to reach this milestone moment.
  • We know that students are more likely to succeed in university when they know what to expect. Does your student understand the differences between high school and university?
  • Co-op tip! Encourage your student to find a job or to volunteer throughout the summer to start building their résumé. Students in a co-op program will find this especially useful when they begin preparing their applications later.

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July

In July, your student can expect to begin hearing from Waterloo about how to prepare for their first year. Waterloo Orientation sends online resources to incoming students throughout the summer, and there are welcome sessions at Orientation for students and families.

This time in the summer is when a shift will begin in your student’s responsibilities. They are now responsible for their decisions, such as where they’ll live in September, how they’ll prepare over the summer, and depending on their program, what classes they’ll take. Soon they’ll become more responsible for their grades, lifestyle choices, career path, and personal achievements.

There are many ways you can choose to approach this shift in responsibilities. We recommend that you explore what a coaching role can look like in your relationship.

Start to check in with your student in July to understand how prepared they’re feeling for September.

Next steps

  • Ask your student if they have received any emails from the University. How they are feeling after receiving this information? What questions do they still have? Brainstorm together how they can find answers to their questions and encourage them to reach out to their academic advisor.
  • If your student applied to live in residence, they may receive their room assignment, which can be both exciting and nerve-racking. If you’re helping your student move in September from outside of Ontario and plan to stay overnight, you cannot stay in residence with them. Book your own accommodations well ahead of time as local hotels book up early. You can also check-out Waterloo Residence's Parent and Family Guide to learn more about supporting your student in residence.
  • If your student will be living off-campus, encourage them to clarify their move-in date and process with their landlord. They can also connect with the Off Campus Community for support and resources from off-campus dons throughout the year.

Financial expectations

When it comes to finances, try to have an open conversation so your student feels comfortable coming to you with questions and to get support as they develop these skills.

  •  Talk with your student about financial literacy.
    • Work together to assess monthly financial needs or savings goals.
    • Discuss how to use a credit card responsibly.
  • How will your student finance their education?
    • If they plan to apply for student loans, discuss how they feel about taking on debt. You can help them review the pros and cons of provincial loans, grants, and student credit lines. How do they plan to manage their loans?
    • If you’re providing financial support to your student, what does that look like? How will you provide it (i.e. paying bills directly, transferring money to your student)? Does this financial support come with any expectations for your student? For example, who will manage tuition fee due dates, how much notice do you need to be able to provide financial support? These are important conversations to have ahead of time.

If you plan to pay for some or all of your student’s tuition, reflect on what that means for you. Students sometimes feel pressure to stay in a program that they’re unhappy in, because their parents pay for their tuition. Your student is more likely to be successful in an academic program that they find interesting. But often, students don’t want to disappoint their parents. Talk with your student about your expectations, and about what they can do if they’re concerned that their program is not a good fit. A good start is usually to talk to their academic advisor or a campus career advisor.


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August

As August begins, you and your student might start talking about what to pack for university. Helping your student plan for their move can feel like an easy way to contribute and get things done on time, but keep in mind that it might be a stressful topic for your student. If your student doesn’t feel a sense of control over their upcoming move, it could intensify the nerve-racking feelings that come with such a significant change.

Some students thrive on creating to-do lists and getting organized, while others may not have thought that far ahead. We encourage you to try to step back and let your student lead. If they’re interested in your help, work on a packing list together. Consult with them before you purchase anything for their residence room. Encourage your student not to pack everything they own for campus – they can always grab more of their things if or when they need it. For example, if your student will be coming home over Thanksgiving, they can pick-up their winter wear then rather than try to bring it all now.

Student perspectiveEven if you live locally and your student is not moving out of the house, there’s a good chance that they have friends who are moving away in September. August is the “last time” they’ll all be together: the last time they go to their favourite places together, the last movie night, the last road trip. Your student may also want to spend more time with you, or you may want to get more one-on-one time with them.

Thinking about the upcoming move may bring up a lot of mixed emotions for your student. They may express feelings of excitement, pride, or uncertainty. They may feel concern over whether they’re making “good” decisions or perhaps experience the imposter phenomenon. On the other hand, they may affect an overconfident approach to upcoming changes and be shocked when it is harder than they expected.

All of these feelings are typical. It’s helpful to know they might be coming and that they can range greatly from person to person. Instead of trying to protect your student from experiencing these feelings, be a resource they can share their thoughts and feelings if they need to.

Next steps

  • Communication Plan: Make a plan with your student for checking in with them throughout the first weeks of September. How often will you communicate? Who will initiate conversations? Many students prefer to communicate by text or email so that they can reply in their own time, between classes, or after a campus event.
  • Getting prepared: If you live locally or will be in the area, your student can come to campus during business hours (8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday) in the summer to: pick-up their student card from the WatCard office, visit AccessAbility Services to arrange academic accommodations, book a tour, or get any additional questions answered.
  • Motivation: One of the major contributors to success in university is motivation. It may be impacted by how interested your student is in their program and any anxiety they may have about academic performance. Their first year will likely be broad with many foundational classes, but this is generally when students start to figure out what they really want to focus on studying. Ask your student what courses they’re taking in their first term, and which ones they’re most interested in. How are they feeling about their first year of university?