5 Ways College is Different than High School

Gone are the days of teachers holding your hand and parents helping you with projects. Get ready for Adulting 101.

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August 9, 2016
  • back-to-school goals

5 Ways College is Different than High School

If you’re heading to campus this fall, you’ve probably had everyone tell you how college is different than high school. But what exactly do they all mean? It’s just school, right?

While your goal in both high school and college is to learn skills that will someday help you in a career, they’re completely different experiences. No matter what your major is, college may be a rude awakening – or totally up your alley.

Here are some of the major ways college is different than high school.

1. Time in Class

college is different than high school

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

While high schoolers average about 30 hours per week in class, most college students only spend 12 to 16 hours in a classroom each week. Sounds great, right?

For some, it is. However, professors expect college students to spend much more time outside of class studying, taking notes and learning on their own. Some students prefer this method as they can take things in at their own speed, but others long for their high school teachers explaining every point in the textbook.

Sometimes this change takes a lot of getting used to. It also means that you may have a lot of free time where you can join a club on campus or start playing a sport. Time management and knowing yourself is key.

2. Courses You Take

college is different than high schoolOne of the major differences between college and high school is that you are much more in charge of the curriculum at university. Not only are you taking classes that pertain to your chosen major, but you can often opt for classes that relate specifically to your interests. No guidance counselor is handing you a schedule without your input in college.

Picking classes also means you can make decisions regarding your class times. Perhaps you concentrate best in the morning – you can pick a schedule where your classes are all done before lunch. Conversely, if you’re not a morning person, you can choose classes that take place later in the day. You can even spread your classes out over the week or get them all done in three days. It’s all up to you, so experiment to see what works best.

3. Responsibility

college is different than high schoolIn college, you are responsible for your own actions. Instead of getting a detention for being disruptive in class, you’ll simply be kicked out (which only hurts you in the end). Instead of having your parents called when you got caught cheating on your homework, you’ll face disciplinary action.

College is also different than high school because your parents will not be around to help. Mom and dad won’t be reminding you to do your homework or help with a project. In the same way, teachers won’t know you as personally. If you’re having trouble understanding a lesson in college, you have to seek out help from a tutor or your professor yourself. They won’t hold your hand along the way.

4. Friendships

college is different than high schoolIt’s likely that you knew almost everyone in your high school classes. This likely won’t be the case in college, at least not at the beginning. In fact, you’ll be lucky to know one person in your classes sometimes! You may have to take initiative in forming study groups or start conversations to get to know your classmates.

You’ll also want to make friends outside class. This can be tough in college because everyone is on their own schedules and has their own passions. Try to meet others who share your interests by joining a club or playing a sport on campus.

5. Motivation

college is different than high schoolCollege is different than high school in that everyone wants to be there. They are paying a lot of money to get a good education, whereas many in high school slacked off and just did what they had to do to graduate. You’ll find that you may no longer be the smartest person in your class and that people are much less concerned with being “cool.” Being surrounded by motivated people will only help you in the end!

There are lots of things to consider while choosing your path after high school, from the right school to the right program to the best electives to take. Choose a path that will prepare you for a job you will love.

While many who choose college are nervous about the transition because of the many ways college is different than high school, most quickly find their way. After making some friends, getting used to your classes, and finding your way around, you’ll be happy to call your campus home.

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By | 2018-01-16T16:13:31+00:00 August 9th, 2016|Education, Featured, How do I get there?, Real World|2 Comments


  1. Merve August 22, 2016 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Stephanie, I love STEMJOBS and your blog. High schools and college have a very broad range of cultures and qualities and you are making some outlandish generalizations here. This article portrays high school and college that is far from the norm of today. Detentions went out 20 years ago, classroom disruptions are not the norm and college students do not dictate much of their schedules for a particular major. Many high school programs have community based student-choice programs with learning happening outside the classroom. Interviewing college students in STEM programs or at least having them read your transcript before you publish it might give a better picture for giving advice to high school students.

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