First-year expectations


The transition from high school to university is an exciting time, but it also means adjusting to change.

It’s natural that you’ll want to help and guide your teen during the first 12 months of their university life – especially if takes a bit of time for them to find their feet.

So what’s the best way you can support your teen during their first year of uni?

It’s important to understand that due to Australian privacy laws, we are unable to discuss any student information with a parent or any other third party.

This means that parents can’t make enquiries to the university on their teen’s behalf, phone lecturers to get their teen’s marks, request information about fees, and so on.

The best thing you can do is guide your teen to the different support options they have available on campus, and encourage them to ask questions, get involved, advocate for themselves, and make the most of their time at UQ.

Keep expectations realistic

Before your teen starts university it’s important that they have realistic expectations about what university will be like.

Research has shown that there is sometimes a big gap between first-year students’ expectations and the realities of life on a university campus.

It’s important to remind your teen that university is about self-management and self-motivation, and that they have to be responsible for their own learning, time management and enrolment.

At the same time, students shouldn’t be afraid of asking for help when they need it – there are a lot of services on campus to support your teen and help them succeed.

Student Services runs free workshops throughout each semester about topics like time management, stress management, study skills, and assignment writing.

They also host frequent sessions where students can work through draft essays or assignments together with their peers.

High school vs uni

Students usually want to know what university is “really like” (or if it’s anything like the movies).

A simple answer is that a university is just a workplace full of academics, lecturers and professional staff who spend their days researching, applying for grants, writing papers, going to meetings, doing administration, and so on.

A university, of course, is also a place where students come to study – and this is usually what students want to know more about.

Academic expectations can be rigorous at uni, compared to school. It can be quite normal for students with top high school marks to sometimes struggle – but this can come as a shock.

If your teen’s marks do go down during their first year, encourage them to seek help from Student Services or some of the many resources UQ has to offer. Students who ask for a bit of help typically get back on track and do fine.

It will help if your teen understands how university is different to high school. Here’s what your teen can expect:



High school



A parent enrols a child in school. The parent is the primary point of contact. It is compulsory for a child to be enrolled at a school until they turn 16 years old.

A student is responsible for enrolling in courses each semester. The student is the primary point of contact. A student can choose to cancel their enrolment.

Class timetables

Fixed hours and days, usually Monday–Friday.

Students arrange their own timetables.

Roll call

Roll call happens every day. If a student misses class, a parent should contact the school to explain why.

Roll calls might be taken in tutorials, but they usually aren’t taken in lectures. Classes may have different attendance policies.  


If a student misses a day or successive days without explanation, the school will contact a parent. A teacher might set “catch up” work.

If a student misses a class, they need to catch up on work in their own time. In cases of serious illness or extended absences, the student must contact the University and consider withdrawing from the semester as soon as possible.

Class sizes

Usually about 30 students per class.

Lectures can be large, especially for first-year courses.


A teacher will read drafts of essays or assignments and provide feedback. Constant supervision is given in the classroom. Some class time is usually dedicated to assessment.

Lecturers and tutors don’t read drafts. A student is expected to work on assignments independently, usually outside of class. Students can ask specific questions about drafts, but aren’t coached through assessment.

Teachers vs academics

Teachers remind students about important dates and deadlines, ensure homework is completed, and monitor a student’s progress. Teachers also supervise classroom behaviour – and may intervene as appropriate. Teachers have usually completed an education degree at university.

Students have to keep track of important dates and deadlines, and monitor their own progress. Students are treated as adults who understand appropriate behaviour. Lecturers are subject-matter experts who have usually completed a PhD in their area.

Email and face-to-face communication

Teachers are regularly available on email to answer school-related questions. Students can email about what they are learning or upcoming assessment. There are opportunities for one-on-one time with a teacher in the classroom.

Lecturers have set office hours for meeting with students or for answering emails. Students have to direct queries to relevant sections of the University (e.g. questions about fees go to Student Fees section, questions about timetables go to the relevant School administration etc.)


Adjusting to university life

One of the most challenging aspects of being a new student can be overcoming feelings of isolation or loneliness.

These feelings are normal – a lot of first-year students report feeling out of place, especially if they’ve had to move a long distance to attend UQ, or if they don’t know anyone on campus.

Your teen might have to sit in large lecture halls without knowing anyone in the room – which is quite a change from high school.

Learning how to adjust to change is an important life lesson and there are a lot of opportunities on campus for students to meet new people and create new support networks.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Tell them about UQ Mates. This initiative connects students so they can meet new people, do fun things and share good times. A wide range of domestic and international students join, so there are opportunities to meet people from all corners of the world.
  • Encourage them to join a club or society. Clubs and societies cover everything from Harry Potter fans to religious fellowship to different UQ degrees. If your teen can’t see a club or society relevant to their interests, they can always start one and meet like-minded peers.
  • Remind them that a lot of students probably feel the same way – and while it can be difficult to put yourself out there, they might have to take the initiative to start a conversation, sit next to someone in a lecture, or just say hello. This might make a world of difference to your teen and the person they talk to.
  • Encourage them to take up a sport or activity. UQ Sport caters to all levels and abilities – your teen doesn’t have to be good at judo, bubble soccer, rowing, tennis, tap dancing, yoga, or whatever sport they choose. They just have to be willing to have a go.

It might also be worth reminding your teen that campus culture takes all kinds of forms – there’s no right or wrong way for them to participate in university life.

Some students like to attend classes and leave, while other students might spend their whole day at UQ going to class, studying, socialising or playing sport. 

The best way to participate in student life is the one that best suits your individual teen’s wants and needs.  

Support services

Students sometimes need help or advice with matters that affect their studies or their life outside of university.

Student Services offers free help, facilities or advice with the following areas:

Another source of help and advice is Student Help on Campus (SHOC), run by the UQ Student Union.

SHOC provides help with the following matters:

Remember that your teen’s first year at university is a time of new experiences and rapid personal growth – and the best support they receive might be reassurance and encouragement from you.


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