High School vs College: An Essential Guide for College Freshmen

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20 minutes
Updated Oct 21, 2021
High School vs College: An Essential Guide for College Freshmen

Your college years are going to be some of the most important years of your life and will be an important foundation for both your social life as well as your professional career to come. To make the most out of your college life, continue reading to understand the important differences between the requirements for high school students vs college students.

Time Management

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Class Hours

One of the first differences college freshmen are likely to notice how college classes are distributed. 

The amount of time students spend in class also differs between high school vs college. High school students spend 25 to 30 hours a week in class, while students in college spend only about half as much time in class, or even less.

Where, in high school, students go from one class directly to the next, in college, you will usually have an hour to several hours between different classes. In high school, the classes you take each school year are decided for you; in college, your class schedule each semester is mostly left up to you.

In high school, students' attendance is also very carefully monitored, and teachers and parents can be held accountable for students' absences. In college, while attendance may be monitored, it's up to students to decide whether or not to go to class, and it is only the student who has to answer for the consequences of skipping their classes.

This is because college places students' academic development - setting priorities on what to study and how much time to spend studying each - in students' hands, while in high school, it is mostly the responsibility of teachers and parents to set students' priorities and assess their development.

Extracurricular Activities

High schoolers are expected to give their full attention to their classes, as class time is where they are expected to do the majority of their learning. This is why high school students need permission from their teachers and advisors to participate in extracurricular activities, as these may get in the way of students' ability to focus during classes.

In college, whether or not to participate in extracurricular activities is left up to you. Depending on your courses for the semester, you should figure out if you have enough time to study for your classes and join any extracurriculars.

Succeeding in Class

succeeding-in-class

Study Time

How much time you're expected to spend studying is another major difference. While high school students are encouraged to study outside of classes, their classes are designed around learning in class. Students can pass their classes potentially without studying outside of class at all.

In college, you are going to spend less time actually in class than you did in high school. You are going to need to decide how much of your free time to dedicate to the assigned readings outlined in the syllabus for each class outside of your class time.

College professors expect that you've already read and understood the assigned materials on your own time. It is up to you to identify what you need to learn, and that skill is part of what you are expected to learn outside of your classes.

How you spend your free time between college classes is left up to you, and this is to train you how to set priorities and balance responsibilities. Ideally, you should give yourself 2 to 3 hours of study time for each hour of class. 

Homework

Both high school classes and college courses involve homework assignments. Homework is an essential part of your final grade in high school, but in college, your professors might not include your homework in computing your course grade.

College professors can assign homework as a tool for you to practice applying the knowledge they expect you to have learned. You might have a course where the majority of your grade comes down to only a few quizzes and tests.

Don't take this as a recommendation to neglect your homework. The importance of homework is usually stated in the course syllabus, and it can be a big part of your GPA. In that case, your college professor won't always remind you of essential homework assignments you've left incomplete past their due dates. Keeping track of reports and essays you need to submit for your classes is your responsibility.

Taking Notes

What your high school teachers write on the board is usually what you need to note down and focus on to get good grades, but in college, your professors might write everything down or nothing at all as they lecture; you're expected to identify and note down what is really important. A useful tip is to organize your notes around the structure of your syllabus.

Adjusting to College Professors

college-professors

Teaching Methods

High school classes are designed to ensure students learn the material in textbook readings. Teachers are trained in teaching methods that directly instruct students and assist them in understanding what is in the textbook readings. In high school, if you miss a class, your teacher is supposed to follow up with you and make sure you're keeping up with what you missed in class. Ensuring students learn is a high school teacher's full-time job.

In college, students' responsibility for their own learning is reflected in how professors teach. College professors may only teach part-time, with their attention split between teaching and their other responsibilities, including their profession or doing research. Depending on class sizes and their other responsibilities, professors might not have the time to follow up with each student. 

If you miss a class in college, it is up to you to keep up with what you missed. It won't always be enough for you to just read your textbook, as part of your professor's teaching method might be to go beyond the textbook, so make sure you reach out to your classmates, too.

Academic Assistance

Transitioning from high school to college can be difficult because of all the new responsibilities expected of you, but you aren't expected to know all the answers. Your college professors will usually be eager to help you, provided you show the initiative to ask for their help and the self-awareness to know when you need it. If you're struggling with a course and feel like you need your professor's help, here are a few things to keep in mind when reaching out to your professors:

  • Professors are busy with many responsibilities. Be considerate and reach out during their scheduled office hours.
  • Try to ask for clarification on specific problem areas that you have instead of asking general questions. This shows you've made an attempt to learn the course material yourself.
  • Consult your syllabus before asking for clarifications, as the answer you're looking for might have already been provided there.

Tests

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Purpose of Tests

Teachers in high school use tests to keep track of whether their students are properly learning what is being taught, so high school tests are frequent and cover only small amounts of material. For this same reason, students who miss tests will usually be offered the opportunity to take makeup tests.

In college, because what you learn is largely your own responsibility, tests are used to assess students ability to comprehend large amounts of course material, and you may only be given a chance to show your professor that you're learning what is expected of you 2 or 3 times throughout a whole semester.

Missing a test in college is a much bigger deal, and you are going to need to give your professor a valid reason for why you missed a test. Even then, makeup tests are not guaranteed.

Test Preparation

High school teachers will schedule review sessions during class leading up to important tests, while college professors may not help their students review at all. If your professor is lenient enough to assist your class with a review session, these will usually be scheduled outside of their usual class hours, and students will be expected to direct the review session with questions about what they do not understand.

Reviewing for a test and making sure you understand the assigned material is up to you in college. Your professors will let you know up to what topic you are expected to have studied; this can, and usually does, go beyond what topics they have actually discussed in class. Be sure to consult your syllabus, as well as your notes. Even better, reviewing with your classmates can help you identify concepts you may be struggling with.

Getting Good Grades

Depending on your professor, the breakdown of any one course's graduation requirements and the final grade you receive can depend on a combination of class participation, homework, quizzes, and test grades, or it might all depend on just a few tests and research papers.

Regardless of how your grades are computed, taking down effective notes, doing your best to attend your classes, and learning to work together with your classmates will give you the best chance to excel and to make full use of your college experience.

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I studied sociology and marketing at Europa-Universität Viadrina (Germany) and Universidade da Beira Interior (Portugal). When I was a sophomore, back in 2018, I decided to put what I've learned into practice, so I got my first job in digital marketing. I currently work in the content marketing department at Studybay, building strong, effective, and respectful communication between the platform and our clients.