Parents and students walking during SOAR (Summer Orientation to Academics and Resources)

Welcome, parents and guardians to the Queen’s University community. Your student is engaging in a journey marked by intellectual and personal growth that will shape the rest of their life.

Students have many resources at Queen’s to help them have a positive university experience, but they will look to you to provide much valued support and encouragement. One way you can provide it is to remind your student of the excellent resources, such as SASS, available to them at Queen’s, and encourage them to use these resources at challenging times. Our Academics 101 resource helps to explain the expectations, required skills, and available resources for first-year students.

At SASS, we support students’ academic growth by helping them develop skills in writing and learning. We do this via online resources and tools, workshops, and individual appointments. Our service is free, confidential, and highly supportive of undergraduate and graduate students in all programs and years. We help struggling students as well as highly achieving students. Please explore our website to learn more about how we can help your student achieve their academic potential.

Student Affairs also has additional resources available to students at Queen’s.

Please note: Confidentiality of academic, personal, health and other information about your student is strictly enforced throughout the University. Information can only be shared if your student has given specific written permission.

The Academic SystemIntellectual Development

Differences in academic system compared to high school

University is very different from high school, in terms of expectations, classroom routines, assessment procedures, and more.

Confidentiality of academic, personal, health and other information about your student is strictly enforced throughout the University.

  • Information can only be shared if your student has given specific written permission.

The typical week

  • may include 15 hours of scheduled class for an Arts student, 22 for a Commerce student or 28 for an Applied Science (Engineering) student.
  • There could be an entire day with no classJ.
  • Readings may range from none to several hundred pages weekly, and lab reports may take 6 – 10 hours to complete, initially.
  • The various professors structure their courses independently of other instructors so there could be lots of homework one week, and very little another.
  • All this adds up to more responsibility and independence in learning for the student, and the need to develop great time management skills.

Professors’ and Teaching Assistants’ (TAs) expectations

  • Students should come to class prepared, having down-loaded the web notes or skimmed the lab procedure or text.
  • Professors typically post email addresses or hold office hours when they are available to answer questions, and they expect students to seek them out if material is unclear.
  • Teaching or Lab. Assistants are often used in large classes, and are also available for help.
  • If a student does not understand clearly what is required in an assignment, they are expected to talk to the professor or TA before the assignment is due.
  • A key difference from high school: students usually must initiate contact and requests for assistance. Professors want their students to do well, and are typically approachable and willing to help
  • Self-direction, initiative and independence are expected.

The classroom experience

  • It’s new for nearly all 1st year students, with classes of 450 – 700 students in many courses.
  • Students learn to adjust to large lecture halls, little interaction with the professor during class, and 50 minute lectures spread across campus with 10 minutes to reach a new location.
  • The tutorials or labs scheduled in many courses are a great opportunity to connect with the TA and a lot of learning happens in this smaller more “hands-on” environment.
  • Usually, courses are about 15 weeks long (to earn 0.5 credits), and new courses start each term.

The assessment or grading

  • is largely based on tests and exams, rather than participation and projects, especially in 1st year.
  • Students may be evaluated through 1 or 2 essays; mid-term and final exams are frequently multiple choice format. Over 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years the assessment may change to more project-based, seminar and essay formats…or not!
  •  Participation is not usually considered as part of the assessment, nor is “effort” in learning the material, as the assessment aims to be fair to all. Many students experience a drop in grades in 1st year, compared to high school, of  5-15%.
  • Students with documented disabilities who require accommodations to acquire and demonstrate their knowledge are encouraged to contact Disability Services (613-533-6467 or and use the Disability Services tab.

The classmates of your student will also probably be different from those in high school

  • Queen’s students may be more similar to your student in their academic achievements, as Queen’s students are all bright and capable and often were the “top of the class” in high school. It is often a shock to students, as they suddenly see themselves as “only one of many” with perhaps outstanding performance in 1 essay or on 1 exam.
  • Queen’s students may also be more diverse culturally, socially, politically, religiously and in their activities than was the case in high school.

Use of computers and technology is integral to most courses.

  • The Queen’s Campus Computing Sales and Service store offers a full range of IT equipment and supplies (including ink!) at greatly reduced prices compared to commercial stores. Laptop rental is available.
  • There are public computing sites and kiosks on campus.

Intellectual development in the university years

Perry (1970) focused on intellectual development during the college years among American male post-secondary undergraduate students, and his extensive qualitative research has since been expanded to include female students. The work allows teachers to understand the stages of development in how a student learns, reasons and understands so that curriculum can be shaped accordingly.

“This central epistemology about knowledge and learning triggers parallel shifts in the learner’s views about the role of the teacher – moving from an Authority as the source of “Truth” to an authority as a resource with specific expertise to share – as well as the role of the student – moving from a passive receptor of facts to an active agent in defining arguments and creating new knowledge.”

Taken from

Generally, students engage in the following types of thinking as they proceed through university, and beyond. The time frames for this development are variable, but the typical progression includes:

In 1st and 2nd year dualistic thinking predominates, characterized by the belief that knowledge is absolute and knowable. The discussions you have with your student may reveal fairly fixed attitudes and opinions, which reflect an “all or nothing” or “right or wrong” style of thinking. With practiced in upper years at university. This development relates to shifting one’s level of thinking from memorizing and understanding to analyzing, applying and evaluating (Bloom, 2002).

In 3rd and 4th year, multiplistic thinking is developing. This involves recognizing that knowledge is diverse and uncertain. Your student may express greater interest in viewing an issue from many perspectives, or be willing to be uncomfortable with the new notion of “no single right way”. The deep questions of existence identified by Chickering suggest the ability of young people to engage in this complex, uncertain thinking.

Early in graduate school, students develop relativistic thinking in which the context or circumstances take on greater importance than previously, and the merits of potentially opposing views can be evaluated. Discussions with students reveal thoughtful evaluation, including opinions that may differ from family or cultural values and ethics.

As a mature adult in the upper years of graduate school or in the work-world, integrated thinking based on constructed knowledge may be achieved. The past experiences, personal awareness of priorities and values, and accumulated knowledge enable the individual to think in a rich and creative way and to accept the possibility of incomplete understanding. If the individual develops a world view or follows an approach to solving problems that is consistent with their beliefs, they demonstrate what Chickering refers to as integrity.

Perry’s ideas can be applied to help parents understand the changing way in which their student will think and understand their world. In particular, 1st year students often are confused by their growing sense that, compared to high school, they are less intellectually able to “learn it all”. This feeling of uncertainty can be discouraging but parents can suggest to their student that they are actually deepening their journey, and their uncertainty is an important sign of growth and development (assuming of course that the student is demonstrating appropriate effort and engagement with their courses).

Over the years at university and as students continue to develop intellectually, they will shift from a sure sense of certainty in what they know, to one of recognizing what they don’t yet know, to understanding that they will never know for sure, and then growing into the perspective that they make their own meaning based on their knowledge base and moral/ethical position.