Balancing Student Life & Family

Welcome! As a University of Toronto student, we hope your academic life will be both challenging and rewarding.

You may find that there will be periods during a term when you do not seem to have the time to handle your family commitments and also make an assignment deadline. Your child may need to stay home from school because she/he is ill or you may have a parent who needs assistance with daily living activities as she/he ages. We also know there are some students who are responsible for a younger brother or sister.

Everyone's situation is unique but we hope the following suggestions will help you to complete your degree and manage those times when your family responsibilities become very demanding.

It is important that your professors, teaching assistants and lab instructors understand that you are a committed student and do not expect special treatment or different class requirements. To show your dedication as a student, you may wish to consider the following during the term:

  1. Your instructor will usually appreciate if you take the time to introduce yourself and let her/him know that you do have family responsibilities. You may wish to send an email or give your instructor a written note that explains you are serious student but may have family concerns that arise during the term. Here is a sample letter for a student parent to use, but it could also be adapted for other family situations. If you feel uncomfortable about approaching your instructor, you may seek the guidance from a staff member in the Family Care Office or your academic advisor. Student Life also offers some good advice on Talking to your Professors.

  2. If you must miss a class because your child is ill or another family member urgently needs your assistance, contact your instructor as soon as you can, explaining why you are not able to attend class. It is best if you can inform your instructor before the class and use the method of communication that your instructor has suggested.

  3. Plan ahead. At the beginning of each term, a course syllabus is provided and so you should know when all your mid-terms are scheduled and assignments are due. Try to develop a back-up system of childcare to help out when needed. Find out what community resources are available for elder care (a staff member at the Family Care Office can help you). Speak to friends, neighbours or family to create a support network. Register to use the Babysitting Bulletin Board in the Family Care Office. Arrange for childcare for evening mid-terms ahead of time. Book appointments early at your Writing Centre based on when your assignments are due so that you are not relying on the availability of drop-in appointments.

  4. Early on in your classes, try to identify a student who would be willing to share notes with you if you must miss a class.

  5. Speak up in class so that your instructor can see you are keeping up with readings and are committed to the class. Do all assignments in a timely manner.

  6. If you are unable to fulfill an academic responsibility, inform your instructor as soon as possible and keep him/her updated on your progress. For general information on the policies and procedures at the University of Toronto that pertain to evaluation and grading of students, please visit the Student Life Programs and Services website. On this website there is a section on 'Getting Help' which can help answer your questions if you are unable to complete a course requirement because of a personal emergency. It is also very important to read your division's academic calendar. The dates in the calendar include, for example, the last date when you are able to file a petition or drop a course.

  7. If you are facing difficulties with keeping up in a course due to your family responsibilities then talk to an academic advisor in your Registrar's Office sooner than later to determine your academic options, and speak to a staff member in the Family Care Office for potential additional resources.

These suggestions are useful if your family responsibility creates only a short-term absence. If you are in situation when you need to be absent for a longer time, you may need to speak to your instructor and/or academic advisor in your Registrar's Office to determine what can be done to handle your absence. For graduate students, you may wish to speak to the Graduate Coordinator for your department or your supervisor.

Lastly, having family responsibilities means you must be able to manage your time very well. If you are having difficulties with time management and study skills, visit the Academic Success Centre.