5 Ways College is Different than High School

What's the difference between high school and college?

Flickr User: Joe Wolf

There are many ways college is different than high school. Many are good, some aren’t awesome, but regardless being prepared is a recipe for success. While some people will try to scare you and make college seem impossible, we are here to inform and encourage. Yes, college will likely be more difficult than high school. That makes sense, right? However, want to know a secret? You can do it. And you can prepare by reading about the 5 differences between high school and college.


In high school, you have a pretty rigid schedule of classes that you must follow. In college, you will design your own schedule. There could be large gaps and even days you don’t have class. It is unlikely you will be in class as many hours you were in high school, but that doesn’t mean college will be easier. You will have to be responsible for how you use your time. You will have decided whether you are scheduling homework, studying, volunteering, work, or extracurriculars during the time you do not have class. Having a large amount of unstructured time can be tricky territory for many college students. It’s highly unlikely anyone around you will monitor your progress, so it is important to stay organized and plan out your time.


Your college course catalog will likely have hundreds or thousands more courses offered than your high school. In high school, you were on a four-year track taking many pre-determined classes you had little to no say in. Not only were the subjects pretty set in stone, but the number of courses is also likely mandated as well. In college, you are required to take 12 study hours to be considered a full-time student, which enables you to receive financial aid among other things. The highest allowed credits without incurring fees are commonly 18 study hours but vary by college and you may or may not need special permission to exceed this. These choices allow you to choose the type of courses you enroll in, how many credits you take, and ultimately how long your college career will extend.


As I stated earlier, college will most likely be more challenging for students than high school was. Part of this is certainly the rigor of the courses, but also the way you are tested and prepare. In high school, you have an ample amount of class time to work with classmates and ask your teacher questions. In college, many courses meet for only a few hours a week. This time is often filled with going over course information and lectures and does not necessarily allow time for discussion or questions (although this is not always true!).

This changes how your workload is affected. You will have the choice of attending office hours and asking any questions you may have, but again no one is going to be there to force you. You might have been given multiple exam prep sessions during class in high school, but a majority of your studying and comprehension in college will be done outside the classroom. Even though you spend less time in the classroom, you will probably need to devote more hours in college to your studies. This may feel overwhelming since you are doing a large chunk of it without instructor supervision. Preparing for this by planning a study schedule will help you stay up to date in class and not overwhelm yourself come midterms.


Getting help in high school and college can be different and similar. In high school, there was probably class time to ask your teacher questions or you scheduled a time to meet. In college, your professors will have set office hours where you can drop in and get the help you need. If those hours conflict with your schedule, most professors will be accommodating in setting up a separate time with you to meet. You can see how this is very similar to high school.

What is different and better about getting help in college is the resources. There are so many! And they’re often free. The most school will have designated centers by specific departments and usually an overall college program to help students who are struggling or just want to see if they understand it as well as they think. The programs provided are often peer tutoring, group study sessions, question and answer forums, and much more. Take advantage of these programs. They can only improve your understanding and lead to a better grade.


In high school, your social life was probably monitored by your parents to some extent. In college, you will be away from home and have almost complete control over your social life. With this freedom, you must learn to be responsible. As we mentioned before, you will have much less class time than in high school. You will have to decide wisely between social activities and academics. It is possible to make productive activities like your extracurriculars social activities by joining the right clubs where you make good friends. Learning how to be responsible with your time will be one of the largest factors for success in college.

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