5 Ways College is Different from High School


The transition from high school to college can be a rocky one due to the many differences between the institutions. Prepare yourself for the changes and expectations that await you by considering the five significant ways that college differs from high school.

High School vs. College Learning Experiences

Although the classrooms may look similar, the college and high school learning experiences are quite different from each other. Your academic performance in college is much more dependent upon your sense of personal responsibility than it was in high school, beginning with class sizes, content, and instructional materials.

#1: Class Size and Content

Some of your college class sizes may be comparable to your high school classes. However, many colleges use lecture halls, where a professor or teaching assistant may conduct a class for a few hundred students at a time. Some of your professors may not require that you attend every class. So, it'll be up to you to resist the temptation to skip class.

Most college courses are completed in a semester, which is half the academic year. Nonetheless, you'll cover more material in one of your semester-long college courses than you would in a whole year of a high school class devoted to a single subject. A lot of the real work is done outside of the college classroom, during which time you'll need to devote about two hours of study time for every hour you spend in class.

In high school, class lectures and homework are usually drawn from a single textbook. In college, you may use different or multiple sources, which may not always include textbooks.

A college student works on her term paper, which will comprise most of her semester grade.

College professors rarely employ drills and quizzes to gauge how well you're learning the material. Your course grade may largely depend upon a single term paper, perhaps in combination with a final exam.

#2: Class Schedules

Each college course is worth a certain number of credit hours. A 3-credit course may be scheduled two or three times a week, for a total of three weekly classroom hours, as opposed to the daily subject classes typically found in high school.

Although you'll spend less time in the classroom, a college course involves much more unscheduled time for studying and completing required reading. So, you'll need to develop an effective plan for managing your studies.

#3: Curriculum Focus

The objective of a high school curriculum is to provide you with a basic foundation of knowledge. High school classes rarely prepare you directly for your chosen career; most of them are mandatory with limited choices for electives.

As a college student, you'll decide which courses you want to take. After fulfilling the lower-level general education requirements, you'll be able to choose from dozens of highly specialized courses related to your major. For example, in high school, you might take ''Algebra I'' or ''Algebra II.'' However, a college mathematics curriculum may include courses like ''Linear Algebra'' or ''Algebraic Structures.''

Most of your college courses will be determined by your major and minor, which are typically based on your career goals. Most college courses are designed to give you a background in your chosen field of study and provide you with the entry-level education and skills you'll need for your profession.

#4: Student Population

Unlike high school, your fellow college students may be a little younger or even somewhat older than you are. While your high school was most likely populated by students your own age from your local neighborhood, colleges are usually composed of a more heterogeneous student body.

Colleges offer a more diverse student body than most high schools, as seen in this group of students.

College is a fantastic opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, as your fellow students may come from various parts of the country and the world. You may even have the chance to increase your cultural understanding by spending one or two semesters abroad via a foreign exchange program.

#5: Costs and Expenses

Public high school tuition is considered ''free,'' as it's essentially funded by taxpayers. By comparison, attending college is associated with significant costs. Besides tuition, you may need to budget for books, meals, and housing.

Many students apply for financial aid to help them afford college tuition. If you receive student loans to defray your tuition costs, you'll be financially responsible for paying those loans back once you graduate.

College students often apply for student loans, requiring more financial responsibility than high school.

Student loan repayment could affect your financial future. Options such as student loan forgiveness may make the financial burden easier to bear.

The High School-College Transition

As you can see, there are many differences between the typical high school experience and what you will encounter in college.

To smooth the transition from high school to college, take advantage of's Guide to College Planning.

By Michelle Baumgartner
April 2018
college freshmen

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