How College Is Different From High School

Freshmen heading off to college are more likely to have a successful first year if they understand some of the differences between high school and college.

The biggest shift is in personal responsibility. In high school, you have teachers and parents to monitor your progress. High school teachers will remind you when homework or papers are due, and tell you what material to read each week. In college, it’s all on the syllabus, and it’s up to you to keep track of the required work.

You have much more freedom of choice in college. Even at small colleges, there are hundreds of courses to choose from, and while most schools have general education requirements, there are many ways to fulfill them, as opposed to high school, where the choices are extremely limited.

The freedom that comes with the looser structure of college life can be great, if you know what to do with it. Your classes will only meet two or three times a week, and some seminar classes meet for three hours once a week. Instead of having to be in school from 8:00 to 2:30 every day, you can create a schedule that works for you. If you’re not a morning person, you can choose afternoon classes, though as a freshman you may not be able to get the most desirable sections of a class. If you like getting your work out of the way early in the day, you can sign up for early classes. My personal preference has always been to choose classes based on the professor, because a great teacher makes any class interesting and worthwhile.

In high school, if you miss a class, you need a note to excuse your absence. In large college classes, the professor won’t know if you’re there, and your main concern will be getting the notes so you know what you missed in class. In small seminar classes, where participation is part of the grade, you do need to show up. When you’re absent in high school, the teacher will usually let you take a test the next day, but in college, it’s not always possible to schedule a make-up exam.

There are a lot more tests in high school. In college classes, you may have only a midterm and final exam. Without the feedback of frequent tests and quizzes, you need to make sure you’re keeping up and understanding the material. In college, one exam could be worth fifty percent of your grade. If you cheat on an exam, in high school you may get detention, but in college you could be expelled.

Most high school students don’t have much choice about which school they attend. But you’ve chosen this college, as did your classmates. So even if it’s a small college, there should be people who share some of your interests, and there may be a bigger pool of potential friends.

Friends are even more important in college because you don’t have your family around. In high school, you go home to your parents and siblings at the end of the day. In college, you live with your fellow students. As a freshman, you share a bedroom, perhaps for the first time. You don’t have home cooking, though most dining halls offer lots of choices.

The opportunity to choose is the theme here. You have so many possibilities in college, and all of those choices bring responsibility. It takes some getting used to, but the payoff, becoming a more independent and confident person, is well worth it.

Success Stories

  • Dan L., Agoura
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