transition from high school to postsecondary, students laughing at coffee shop

How To Transition From High School To Postsecondary Education


By Ingrid Wang

The transition from high school to postsecondary is a daunting one—it signals the continuation of your education journey, the culmination of your hard work in school, and the start of adulthood. Sometimes it entails moving to a new city, living on your own, or saying goodbye to high school friends. In most cases, teachers will no longer hold your hand and guide you through every step and parents will no longer be there to monitor what time you sleep or wake up or get your homework done. Basically, YOU are there to look after yourself. With greater choice and freedom comes greater responsibilities. Here are five tips to help you transition from high school to this world of novelty, excitement, and trials.

Tip 1: Prepare Yourself For The Huge Academic Leap

Not everyone will adjust to postsecondary school in the blink of an eye. Many students from public high schools, like myself, can feel anxious or underprepared for the workload and demands of college or university. However, there are steps we can take to prepare for the “academic leap” during the transition from high school to postsecondary.

Take advantage of whatever opportunities your high school and community offer that allow you to challenge yourself academically.

This might mean a rigorous course load, such as AP (advanced placement), IB (international baccalaureate), or college courses during high school. Similarly, it might mean participating in community workshops, networking events, or talks, or taking courses out of your comfort zone from online platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and Khan Academy, or even a full course load during your last year at high school (though don’t overwork yourself!). Also, you could take learning into your own hands and hone a new skill during the summer. For example, playing a new instrument or speaking a foreign language. Any form of learning that exercises your mind will help you prepare for the challenges of postsecondary material.

Whether you’re just beginning or nearing the end of your high school career, the best favour you can do for yourself is to develop and maintain a strong work ethic in both your personal and academic commitments. A strong work ethic will help you get into the habit of setting schedules and deadlines, prioritizing tasks, and managing your time effectively. It is a practical solution that gets you used to intense lectures, tutorials, and seminars.

What does a strong work ethic include?

  • Ask for help—from teachers, peers, and academic advisors—when you need it
  • Prioritize important or urgent tasks and never leave them until the last minute
  • Note down all the key dates, events, and deadlines in a single place the moment you know about them 
  • Organize your course material (digital or paper) on a regular basis so you don’t risk losing them when you need to review for exams
  • Spread out your school, extracurricular, and personal commitments to ensure a school-life balance
  • Acknowledge when you’re in a slump and seek active ways to better your mental health and boost your motivation through other means (like exercising or baking)

Tip 2: Manage Your Finances 

Once you head off to postsecondary, you will be in charge of your own finances—tuition and ancillary fees, textbook costs, transportation pass, meal plans, and much more. Your financial well-being is just as important as your academics. Additionally, how well you manage your finances can directly impact your mental health and by consequence affect your ability to focus and perform well. Postsecondary serves as the crucial transition from high school, where you are a full-time student, to an independent, responsible adult. Therefore, start early on your financial journey to relieve some of the stress that might come up during the year.

Keep a detailed budget.

Customize your budget or use an online template to assist you. While many students use google sheets or excel to calculate their income, savings, and expenses, I prefer a tangible budget on paper instead. While digital spreadsheets certainly make calculations easier, paper budgets are often easier to visualize and edit. Give both a try and see what works best for you. Create a budget plan for the year and, from there, break it down into manageable monthly or weekly budgets.

Here are some things to consider adding to your budget as a student:


  • Job: salary, wages, commissions
  • Other income: scholarships, grants, bursaries, financial aid, allowance


  • Short-term savings: travel, entertainment, other
  • Long-term savings: house, car, retirement, emergency, education


  • Academic expenses: tuition, incidental and ancillary fees, textbooks and supplies, residence, meal plans
  • Living expenses: rent, transportation, insurance, food, utilities, loan payments
  • Personal expenses: toiletries, clothing, entertainment

Tip 3: Build and Maintain a Social life

For most freshmen, the number of classmates that they’ll recognize from high school are few to none. While this might be discouraging, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people and form new friendships and connections. 

If you’re heading to a large university—like, for instance, the University of Toronto, York University, or Université de Montréal—it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated in your first year. This is due to a large number of people in your introductory lectures. A great way to navigate these schools and find friends is to join smaller communities within it. Find people that share similar interests or hobbies by joining a club or council on campus. Connect with upper-year students. Many schools assign first-year students to “mentors” (upper-year students) who can help and answer questions.

As more and more schools are moving online this semester, it’s increasingly crucial to find new avenues for making friends. Therefore, actively participate in virtual school events—like first-year orientation, socials, and Q & A sessions with other students—and communicate with your mentor, friends, and peers. Be engaged in your local community by attending workshops, volunteering, or working a part-time job.

A healthy, balanced social life can make this daunting new process much more enjoyable and much less stressful. In this tough and uncertain time, having people who can provide encouragement and feedback will ensure that you feel supported. 

Tip 4: Take Advantage of Resources and Opportunities Once You’re There

Though you may have already made ample preparations during your transition from high school, there are so many resources and opportunities to discover once you’re there. Familiarize yourself with the resources offered at your college or university. Even if you don’t think you’ll need a particular resource right now, it’s better to know they’re there so that when you do need it, you can access it.

Key resources and opportunities to take note of:

Academic success: 

  • Student success centres
  • Career preparation & co-op offices
  • College registrars and professor office hours
  • Writing centres
  • Private study rooms and library services


  • Disability services and accessibility centres
  • Information technology centres
  • Computer labs

Health and well-being: 

  • Mental health, wellness, and fitness centres
  • Walk-safe programs
  • On-campus clinics


  • International student centres
  • Study abroad programs
  • Peer mentorship programs
  • Student discounts on groceries, transportation passes, art supplies, etc.
  • University book sales, on-campus used bookstores, online student book exchanges

Tip 5: Don’t Forget About Your Health!

And last but not least, take care of your health! This is something that you do in the so-called future when you’re “less busy” or when you “have more time”. However, your health should be a priority. Learn to say “no” to commitments that you won’t have time for. Also, communicate with TAs and professors ahead of time if you know you have something coming up or have difficulties managing the workload. Not all professors will be lenient with deadlines, but it’s good to reach out.

As a student, it’s easy to relegate your personal health to the end of your to-do list. However, it’s important to stay emotionally and physically healthy in order to fully enjoy long-term success and happiness. Health should not be viewed as a secondary concern but as an integral part of your academic, personal, and even financial goals. Your mental and physical health should play a sizable role in your daily life, even as a busy student. 

Also, here are some ways you can assess your own wellbeing: 

  • Write down your strengths, weaknesses, and potential improvements in your current lifestyle
  • Try out a 30-day challenge of implementing a new, healthy habit into your daily life 
  • Set annual and monthly goals in regards to your wellbeing
  • Keep a journal that records changes in your health, diet, and/or exercise habits
  • Find a friend to keep you accountable or work together towards a common goal
  • Use apps to note progress in lifestyle changes that you want to work on (e.g. sleep quality, meditation, fitness, diet, etc.)

Moreover, keeping in mind these five tips will help you maintain a healthy, balanced, and productive lifestyle that will guarantee you a smooth transition from high school to postsecondary. Check out Choosing Where To Apply next!