It’s September and post-secondary students are settling into the fall term at colleges and universities all over Canada. As college instructors, we’ve taught thousands of students and we know that the first few weeks each year can be especially challenging for some. Despite talent and ability, young people often struggle to navigate the complex web of new relationships, independence and demands of student life.

In his recent message to parents of new University of B.C. students, university president and vice-chancellor Santa Ono had words of advice: “As your kids transition from high school to university, it’s time to let them navigate challenges on their own. They may stumble, but in doing so they grow.”

We agree. Many students who stumble will grow from the experience. As educators who regularly witness the stresses of student life, we suggest that friends and family look for small ways to provide encouragement as students find their way. Here are five tips we share with our students at the start of each year to assist them in becoming more independent:

Get organized. Time matters. A 13-week term flies by and students must focus to complete assignments and readings. We recommend that students block off specific study hours each week. Students should budget approximately 1.5 hours of study time for each hour in class.

Get known. People matter. Most instructors teach hundreds of students each term. We are more likely to get to know students who sit near the front of class, ask questions and attend our scheduled office hours. We have noticed that many students who connect with faculty seem more inspired to do well academically.

Get involved. Connections matter. Students should get to know their classmates. Joining a campus club, volunteering at campus events and participating in co-operative education programs are great ways to make friends and to gain valuable experience in the undergraduate years. In addition, many companies offer internships specifically designed for young adults. Start planning for work experiences early, keeping in mind that most summer internship recruitment takes place in the fall.

Get access. Resources matter. Universities and colleges provide many resources for students. Campus writing centres will provide feedback on written assignments. Career centres provide access to experts with practical ideas about honing resumes and LinkedIn profiles. We advise students looking for employment to clean-up their public social media presence and remove saucy photos they might not want to show grandma.

Get help. You matter. Life happens during the post-secondary years and there is no question that student life can be stressful. If things go sideways, it’s important for students to know that they can reach out to those around them, including instructors. Most campuses have teams of people trained to assist students. We encourage students to communicate with faculty and counsellors about their exceptional circumstances or hardships. We’ll try our best to make appropriate academic accommodations. For those students who are truly struggling, we remind students and parents that it’s okay to take a break. Looking in the back mirror, many of us can attest that we’ve all had different paths and that most were not a straight line.

If you have a post-secondary student in your life who you think might benefit from these tips, please pass them along. And, as Ono writes, “You will be amazed at how they soar.”


Caroline Dickson teaches human resources management and strategic management at the Langara School of Management at Langara College; Kevin James is on the faculty of Sauder School of Business at University of B.C. and the Langara School of Management at Langara College.