The Differences Between High School Subjects & College Subjects

The Differences Between High School Subjects & College Subjects
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  • 0:01 High School vs. College
  • 0:21 Coursework
  • 3:50 Class Time and Study Time
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

This lesson discusses the difference between high school subjects and college subjects. General education requirements are considered, as well as expectations for study requirements.

High School vs. College - Overview

Hi. I'd like you to meet AJ. AJ is looking into going to college, but his only experience with school is high school, and he isn't really sure what to expect of college. Why don't you join AJ on his journey to find out what the differences are between high school subjects and college subjects?


The first difference between the two that AJ will notice is the actual coursework that he will need to take. Coursework refers to the subjects each student is required to take.

In high school, students are generally required to take three to four classes in math, science, English and social studies. Not only are they required to take these courses, but they typically have very little choice in what course within the subject area they can take.

For example, AJ knew that he had to take four math classes while he was in high school to meet his school's requirements. However, he didn't have a choice which math classes to take nor when to take them. He had to take Algebra I first, then Geometry, then Algebra II and finally Trigonometry. His schedule was set for him. Each course was worth one credit and once all the credits were taken, he was done with his math requirement.

However, in college, AJ will be allowed to pick whatever course he wants from each required subject area to complete his general education courses. General education courses are general courses covering a wide range of information that most colleges and universities require for first and second year students. Most colleges will require students to take a certain number of credit hours in each general education subject early in their academic year. Credit hours are the weight in credits given to a college course. Typically, a regular college course is worth three credit hours if the school works on semesters. Some schools, like the University of Washington, run classes based on quarters (meaning there are four terms in the year), and the majority of their courses are worth five credit hours each.

For example, if AJ were to decide to go to the University of Washington, he would need to take 20 credit hours (four classes) of Visual, Literary & Performing Arts courses. Remember, in high school, someone would have told AJ which exact courses he had to take, but in college, he can choose from an incredible list of options that suit his interests or maybe even match up nicely with his chosen major. In this subject area alone, he could choose from Art & Design, Concepts 3-D Art, Basic Photo, Intro to Drawing or anything from a list of more than a hundred other courses. And he only has to choose four from all of these titles!

After meeting general education course requirements, college students begin to focus on their major course of study. A student's major is the course work required to earn a degree in an academic field. Most majors require at least a few specific courses from every student in the field. In addition to the required courses, however, major courses of study include electives within the credit hour requirements allowing students great leeway in their course choices.

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