College vs. High School

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When comparing schools, college v.s high school is quite different. As you go through school, middle school vs. high school does not change that much, but once you jump to college, there are a lot of differences that you may want to be aware of.

College vs High School

Understanding the differences and being prepared can make the transition from high school to college go a bit smoother for you. It can also help you create a schedule, budget, and plan ahead of time so you feel prepared to take on your college career on the right foot.

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How is college different from high school? Knowing the differences may help you prepare for college.

What’s the Difference Between College vs. High School?

hs students solving arithmetic sum

College varies quite a bit from high school. You will see major differences in the following areas:

  • Studying
  • Attendance
  • Teaching styles
  • Tests
  • Responsibilities

It’s important to understand these various points of difference between high school and college so you can be prepared to succeed.

Studying / Effort

While attending high school, if you participate and do your work, you will likely be able to maintain decent grades.

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In college, professors will expect you to take notes on your own and study throughout the entire semester. It is likely that you’ll be given reading assignments and you’ll have to process that information on your own. Before a test, you may have to study for days leading up to it in order to be properly prepared.

Classes and Attendance

Throughout high school, teachers and administration will carefully monitor your daily and individual class attendance. If you are absent, you will likely need to submit a written excuse.

In college, your professors may not even bother taking attendance. It will be up to the individual professor. It will be your responsibility to get to class and make up any missed assignments.

Teachers / Professors

High school teachers will typically approach you if they suspect you need extra help, and they will grade your homework and offer helpful feedback.

Most teachers write notes in front of the class so you can copy them throughout the period. They will also remind you of tests, assignments, and other important class items. In college, if you are struggling, it’s your job to seek out your professor and attend his or her office hours to get extra help.

Most professors lecture throughout the class, which means you’ll likely have to write as your professor is talking. Professors will typically give you a class syllabus at the start of the semester that tells you all the important assignments.

Comprehension

In high school, most tests and assignments rely on your ability to remember key information. In college, memorizing the information presented isn’t always enough, which is why professors do not spend their time writing notes down for you but rather lecturing. The goal is to have a deeper understanding of the material.

Your tests will likely be formatted to show your professor that you have a wider understanding of the topic instead of just reiterating information.

Tests

When attending high school, you will likely have tests regularly in order to test your comprehension skills. Tests typically cover a small portion of the curriculum material. If you miss a test, most teachers will allow you to make it up or make corrections if you do poorly.

When attending college, tests are less regular. You may have one test a semester and it may cover large portions of the material. Most professors do not offer review sessions and expect you to study the notes you have compiled and review them on your own. While it may be possible, most professors do not allow make ups.

Opportunities / Grades

Your final grades in high school may factor in test scores, project grades, and homework. Your teacher will likely also take into consideration class participation and attendance.

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In high school, you typically have the opportunity to do extra credit and make test corrections to bring up your grade before the semester ends. In college, your final grade is typically outlined at the beginning of the semester. Depending on the class and professor, your final grade may consist of one final exam, a term paper, or a combination of both.

Responsibility

college student preparing for the exam

In high school, teachers will remind you about upcoming assignments and exams and are regularly available to answer questions or offer feedback.

In college, you will be responsible for remembering assignments and exams, and choosing how much time you should allot to studying. If you’re struggling, it will be up to you to reach out to your professor for extra help or support.

Diversity

group of college students during break
In high school, for the most part, the people around you have similar life experiences. They grew up in the same area and had similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

In college, there will be a lot of diversity. You will meet people who grew up in small towns, people who are accustomed to the hustle and bustle of New York City, and people who have lived in all parts of the world. Everyone will bring to the table different life experiences, and unique opinions and perceptions, which can really enhance conversations in and out of the classroom.

Extracurriculars

In high school, you can try out for sports, audition for the school play, or run for student government. If you attend a larger school, you may have access to some niche activities, like a diving team or an environmental club. These are great opportunities to figure out what you’re good at and what interests you.

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In college, there are even many more ways to get involved. There are clubs and organizations for all kinds of unique interests like cigar enthusiasts, ballroom dancers, improv comedy troupes, and more.

Recognition

In high school, students’ success is often celebrated. Your school may hold regular award ceremonies to highlight mid and end-of-quarter accomplishments.

In college, there will be more students, and those students will have a more diverse range of experiences and education. Rather than focus on competing for accolades, take the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. With hard work and determination, you may also be recognized by your college or university at the time of graduation.

High School vs. College: Lifestyle Differences

Throughout high school, your lifestyle is typically determined by your upbringing and those within your social circle. When you start college, you may realize that a lot of those factors are completely different.

Dorm Life and Roommates

When attending high school, most students live at home with their guardians. You may share your space with your family and be very comfortable doing so.

If you are attending a college where you do not have the ability to live at home, you will likely be cohabitating with other college students. This may take time to adjust to as you’ll be living with strangers, to begin with, but those strangers will quickly become your support system throughout your college career.

This is a great chance to make friends and learn how to live on your own as an adult. It’s important to keep an open mind and be accepting of other students’ ways of life.

Financial

Throughout high school, your financial well-being likely wasn’t top of mind. Most students are supported by their families and do not have to worry much about finances. Your financial independence will be a big difference between college and high school.

In college, you will likely need to set up a budget that fits your need and lifestyle. Most colleges offer help from a financial aid advisor who can help you create a budget based on the aid available and your income. Depending on your situation, you may need to take on a part-time job to make ends meet while in college.

Health

Your health in high school will likely be monitored by your parents or guardians as you are under their care. They will be there to help you when you aren’t feeling well and provide proper meals.

In college, you’re likely living independently and on a budget, so it can become easy to forget about your health especially as you juggle a busy schedule. It can be a good idea to visit your school’s gym regularly and eat healthily. Eating healthy will keep your body and mind sharp as you focus on your education.

Peers

In high school, you likely see the same peers every day. and depending on the size of your school, you may know most if not all of your classmates. Some of your peers may blow off classes and not care about their grades making it difficult to find study partners who share your drive.

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In college, most of those around you will be there by choice, and will likely be paying to be there. You will find that more of your classmates are motivated and passionate about their future, and they will excite and challenge you academically. You will likely be able to find study partners easily that share your drive.

Personal Identity

In high school, there are many different groups within a social circle. Once you’ve found your group of people, it can feel daunting and can be difficult to cross over to a new group. You may also feel pigeon-holed by the reputation of an older sibling, or another family member.

In college, you get a fresh start, a clean slate. You can decide who you are, what you’re involved in, and who you hang out with. You can choose to hang out with multiple groups and find social activities that align with your passions.

Social Life

In high school, your social life may revolve around your local friends and community. You likely hang out with the same people every day and build lasting friendships by doing so.

In college, you will meet people from all different walks of life. You will meet new people within your dorm hall, in studying spaces, classes, at various activities, and more. Meeting so many different people can lead to a richer social life than the one you may have had before. You will be presented with many social opportunities, too. Most colleges offer activities and clubs for a wide variety of interests.

Time Management

While attending high school, you likely had a set schedule, and your family, teachers, and coaches determined much of your schedule. You may not have had to worry much about managing your time.

In college, you are independent and living on your own so time management will be key. It may be helpful to create a weekly calendar, set alarms, and ensure social events and school events do not overlap. You may also want to have an agenda to make sure you stay up on all of your assignments and their due dates.

High School vs. College: Admissions Requirements

When entering high school, the admissions requirements are typically based on your residency and ability to attend that specific school district. Once you reach college, the admissions process is a bit more in-depth and selective based on a number of criteria.

Typical High School Requirements

When enrolling at a local high school, the requirements are usually pretty simple

  • Vaccination records, if required
  • Proof of residency
  • Birth certificate
  • Completed registration form
  • Records from your previous school

Most local school districts have similar requirements but it may be a good idea to reach out to your local school district office for the exact requirements.

Typical College Requirements

College requirements vary from high school requirements as it is typically a bit more selective to get into college.

  • Standardized test scores, if required
  • Completed application
  • High school transcripts

College requirements vary from school to school. It is a good idea to check with the admissions office of the school you are interested in.

Is College Better than High School?

Group of high school students doing exam at classroom

Whether college is better than high school depends on your situation and experiences. In college, you will have more freedom and opportunities. You’ll be able to choose classes that interest you and set your own schedule, unlike high school where you have set high school subjects that you must take and schedules.

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You will also be able to start off on a new foot socially, meeting new people and engaging in new activities. But, keep in mind, that all that freedom comes with a lot of responsibility. The newfound freedom can be a lot to handle and it can be tough to make the right decisions.

Is College Easier Than High School?

highs school students during recitations

If you’re wondering, is college easy or is college easier than high school, it depends on you personally and how you adapt to the changes of college life. In college, you will know exactly what’s expected of you.

At the start of the semester, most professors will give you a syllabus outlining all of the reading assignments, exam dates, and paper due dates for that class. As a college student, you will need to devote a lot of time to your studies in order to get good grades. You will have to work hard to prove you have a thorough understanding of the course material.

Does High School Prepare Students for College?

high school students studying for exam

The question of does high school prepares students for college depends on how seriously you took high school, and your education. It’s best to consider your own personal high school experience. If you have taken or are currently taking honors, advanced placement (AP), or college-level courses, you may have a better understanding of the academic expectations of college.

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If you find yourself struggling in the first semester, whether you need to seek tutoring, withdraw from a challenging course or reconsider your major, be sure to reach out for the help you need. Every college offers support that is meant to help you succeed.

Adjusting to College

Teacher teaching economics to his college students

College is quite different from high school. Your high school education will prep you academically and socially. When starting college, you will likely learn to adapt to a new schedule and how to juggle various activities.

College is an opportunity to grow and learn, shape your future, and become who you want to be. With determination and hard work, you will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a student.

To take the next step in your education, you can start researching accredited schools and preparing yourself for the changes that come with attending college vs. high school.

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.