What's high school like?

Your first day may be scary, but you'll learn your way around. Ask questions, focus on your studies, and participate in extracurriculars!

Getting ready

Before school starts, you and your parents will need to make sure you’re registered and placed at the right grade level. You’ll also need to pick your courses. In Ontario schools, there are many courses to choose from. Some are required (like English and certain levels of math) while others (called electives) are optional.

You’ll need a certain number of course to graduate and—depending on what you want to go on to do in college, at university or for a job—you may need to take specific courses. It’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with your new school’s guidance counsellor to talk about your options. He or she can help you to choose your courses wisely.

If you arrive in Ontario before the school year starts, you might be able to take part in a special program called NOW (Newcomer Orientation Week). This four-day program will introduce you to your new school. Many high schools, especially those in the Toronto area, also have partnerships with community organizations to help newcomer youth get settled at school and in the community. To find out if your school has a partnership like this, talk to your guidance counsellor.

Your first day

Some Ontario secondary schools are big, with many floors and confusing hallways. If the NOW program or another newcomer orientation isn’t available at your school, check with the guidance counsellor or a teacher to see if they can pair you up with a student who can show you around on the first day.

You should be assigned a locker where you can store your personal belongings safely, and you should be given a schedule with all of your courses and room numbers marked on it.

Someone should also go over the school rules with you but, if they don’t, be sure to ask! All Ontario schools have rules for attendance (which say students must be on-time and at-school every day—unless they’re sick, in which case a parent needs to call to let the school know).

All Ontario schools also have guidelines for student and teacher behaviour, to make sure that everyone feels safe and respected. Aside from that, though, each school will be a little different. You may want to ask about where and when you can eat, whether or not cell phones are allowed and what kind of clothing is considered appropriate.

What to expect as the year goes on


You’ll soon see that there are lots of great opportunities for students in Ontario schools. These include clubs and sports teams, which are all free to join. There will also be class field trips, student events and support programs (like tutoring).

Homework & Participation

You’ll also see that there’s a lot expected of you! For one thing, there’s homework. You can expect to have it nearly every night. And even though the teacher might not always check it, you do need to finish it. You’ll also be expected to participate in class by answering questions and sharing your ideas on different topics.

Consequences for Breaking Rules

If a student doesn’t obey the school rules, they may get a detention. This means that the student is kept after school hours and is usually told to sit quietly in a room for a specific amount of time.

If a student is involved in a more serious incident (like bullying or hurting someone, swearing at a teacher or vandalising school property) the principal may decide to suspend them. Suspended students are not allowed on school property for a certain amount of time, ranging from 1 to 20 days.

If a student is involved in an even more serious incident (like having a weapon, committing sexual assault or committing a robbery) the school board may decide to expel them. Expulsion has no time limit. A student can be expelled from their school, or from all the schools in their school board, permanently.

Parent-Teacher Interviews

Once or twice a year, your parents will be invited into the school to meet with your teachers. This is called a parent-teacher interview. It’s a great chance for them to ask any questions about how you’re doing and to find out how they can help you at home. If your parents don’t speak English, some schools offer interpreters. Your parents can also bring a friend with them to translate.

Don’t Forget to Reach out for Help!

Starting at a new school, in a new country, and maybe even speaking a new language, is a huge adjustment. Remember that school staff—from your teachers, to the principal and guidance counsellor—are there to help you succeed.

Your guidance counsellor will be your first stop if you need help choosing your courses, finding community programs or if you have a personal problem you want to talk about. If you need homework help, approach a teacher. And if you’re ever feeling unsafe at school (for example, if you’re being bullied) talk to the principal.