If you know what's going on outside the classroom, it doesn't take long to meet new people and find fun things to do.

What is a meal plan? Do I need one if I live on campus?

Meal plans are a way for students who live on campus to make sure they always have access to food. For most meal plans, you pay a fee at the start of the school year for a set number of meals you can cash in at cafeterias and restaurants on campus. If you live on campus, you’ll usually have to choose one of the meal plans offered by your school. The biggest benefit of meal plans is they make it easier to budget your money.

What is welcome (or frosh) week?

Welcome week, sometimes called orientation week or frosh week, is your first official week as a student on your new campus. It’s a time for you to meet your fellow new students in a fun, social and safe way (hazing rituals are not permitted). You’ll experience early-morning wake-ups, traditional cheers, games and events, and make lots of new friends — it will be a great week with lots to enjoy.

You should know: Frosh is a term meaning first-year students, which is why some schools use it to promote events for new students.

What is a students’ union? Do I have to join?

When you go to university, some of your student fees will go toward a students’ union or association. As a student, you’ll automatically become a part of the students’ union at your school. You’ll get to elect leaders (e.g., president and vice-president) who will represent your interests to the school administration. They will also organize events and provide services on campus to give you a positive and fun student experience.

Should I check out any clubs or societies?

University clubs and societies give you an opportunity to get involved in activities related to your interests. Schools often have clubs and societies that cater to your hobbies and interests outside the classroom — things like board games or cars or computers — as well as ones aimed at academic interests (for example, a History society).

These groups take on many different forms and even if there’s not a club for your specific interests, you’ll have the chance to create one and find out students who want to join.

How can I participate in sports?

If you play a sport, you’ll have a few options when you start university. There are varsity teams if you’re good enough, although what sports have teams depends on your school. If you’re don’t play varsity, most schools will still offer you the chance to play sports at an intramural level depending on what facilities are available. Even if the school doesn’t offer your sport as an intramural activity, someone from the student life department or students’ union might be able to help you find a local league to join.

How do I stay safe on campus?

Most universities have on-campus security staff who work to keep you safe and offer hotlines you can call in an emergency (it’s a good idea to program this number into your phone so you don’t forget it). Some schools have emergency phones located around the campus that you can use anytime you’re in danger or need help. If you live in residence, you will get keys or passes for your room and building, while student ID cards are also needed sometimes to attend events or access certain areas of the campus.

Should I be working while I go to school?

There are a few reasons you might want to have a job while you go to university. It’s a way to earn extra money you can put toward school costs and other expenses, and it can also reduce the amount you need to borrow and pay back after you graduate. Some programs might also offer opportunities to gain experience working in your field, or include work components in the courses you’ll take.

Remember that having a job will occupy some of the time that you’re away from class — time you can use to work on assignments, study for exams, socialize with friends, or kick back and relax. You can start school without a job and see how things go before you decide if you need one. You might find you only want to work during the summer when you’re out of school, or you might decide that you can handle working a few hours a week to earn extra money. Try to find a good balance between everything so you can stay on track in school and not get overwhelmed.

How do I get around in my free time?

Getting around depends on where you go to school and where you live during the school year. If you’re at a school in the city, there’s already a lot you can do within walking distance. Small-town schools can be like this as well, with many businesses located close to the campus.

Universities in cities usually offer a bus pass — paid for as part of your regular fees — that gives you another way to get around during the school year. If you have a car to commute back and forth to school, you can buy a parking pass from the university.

What are my options for getting food?

Most schools will have places to eat around campus — coffee shops, cafeterias, fast-food restaurants — and you can use your meal plan (if you paid for one) to get food in some of those spots. If you don’t live on campus, you can usually still eat at campus locations, but you should also check your neighbourhood for nearby stores and restaurants. Some places offer discounts if you show your student ID card, which is a good way to save money on food.

Should I get to know my school’s traditions?

When you take a campus tour, or when you’re at a school event, or talking to people who have graduated from the university, you might hear about annual traditions. These traditions can involve having current students attend an event or participate in an initiative that’s associated with the university. While traditions aren’t usually the reason to choose one school over another, they can often give you more insight into the type of environment at the university. An example of a tradition that is shared by most schools is homecoming/alumni weekend, where current and former students get together to celebrate the university.

What if I need a bit of help adjusting to university?

Most schools offer a number of different services that can help make the transition to university easier for students. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Campus health clinics, which can help you with your overall well-being. Registering usually only takes a few minutes.
  • Counselling and accessibility services, which are usually free for students. If you register early, finding support when you need it will be much easier.
  • Academic supports, such as writing centres and tutors, are available to help you stay on top of your work. Check with your department or the university library to see what’s available.

If you’re not sure what’s available, check the university website or speak to an advisor who can point you in the right direction.

What if I’m still feeling lost or having doubts?

After you spend a bit of time getting to know your school and get a feel for the university lifestyle, you might start second-guessing your decision. You might wonder if you’ve chosen the right school or the right program, and it’s important to know that it’s not unusual to have doubts. In fact, there may be many other students at your school going through the same experience. Sometimes the doubts don’t go away and you’ll want to know what your options are. Here are some people you can talk to if you’re struggling during your first month of university:

Doubts about your program

Speak with an academic advisor or career counsellor at your university. You can also talk to a faculty member or the head of your program’s department to see if you can figure out whether the program is right for you.

Doubts about the university environment

If you feel like your social life and your new school are not meshing well, or if you’re feeling homesick, or if you’re having other difficulties that aren’t related to your courses, you should speak with a first-year advisor or a person who works in the student life/student affairs office. If you have trouble tracking down a person, your students’ union should be able to help you find someone.

General mental or physical issues

If there’s something else bothering you, something that doesn’t feel quite right, you should speak with one of the university’s counsellors. Most schools have at least one certified counsellor on site, and if not, someone at the school can recommend a counsellor to you. It’s important to talk to someone if you’re feeling conflicted, if you’re having issues fitting in, or if you’re experiencing any other issues that can’t be handled by academic faculty or an advisor — otherwise, your well-being and your grades could suffer. If you take control and get the help you need, you’re more likely to make the most of your university experience.