Strategies for Success at School

Students with family responsibilities have a lot on their plate! They all lead busy lives with school challenges and successes, and making time for family and community. When a problem arises — be it academic, family related, personal or professional — it is important to be prepared. In this section, strategies and insights on being student parents at U of T are shared.

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. Record all the dates on a calendar (electronic or hard copy) so you can clearly see what you are responsible for the term.
  • 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. 
  • If you are having difficulties with time management and study skills, visit the Academic Success Centre.
  • Read the information on re-writes and grade re-checks, extensions, exemptions, petitions and appeals for both undergraduate and graduate students. This can be found in the publication "Your Grades" on the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students & First-Entry Divisions website. 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.

Communication with Professors

  • 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 (DOCX) 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.
  • 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.

In the Classroom

  • This may be self-evident but good student practises include:
    • Speaking 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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 information on re-writes and grade re-checks, extensions, exemptions, petitions and appeals for both undergraduate and graduate students, please see "Your Grades" on the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students & First-Entry Divisions website. 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.

Visit Your Registrar's Office (Undergraduates and professional school students)

  • Introduce yourself to your Registrar's Office and inform an academic advisor that you have family responsibilities. Discuss how this fact may bring unexpected challenges in the course of your studies such as child care issues and financial emergencies. It is in your best interest to let them know about your situation as they may be aware of resources that could assist you.
  • 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.

Working with your Graduate Supervisor (Graduate students)

Visit the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) website for information on working effectively with your graduate supervisor. Also, read the Graduate Supervision Guidelines — Student Edition which will provide guidance when problems arise.

If you are facing difficulties with keeping up in a course due to your family responsibilities then talk to your graduate supervisor to determine your academic options, and speak to a staff member in the Family Care Office for potential additional resources.

You may wish to connect with a Peer Advisor within the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre (CRC). The CRC supports the U of T graduate community in taking steps to prevent, manage or resolve conflict.

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, you may wish to speak to the Graduate Coordinator for your department or your supervisor.