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Transitioning from High School to College: Five Major Differences

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The transition from high school to college can be overwhelming and frustrating— especially if you incorrectly assume that it will be just like high school, only bigger. There are quite a few differences between the two, and I’m not talking about the ability to join sororities or the number of keg parties on the weekends.

Some colleges require incoming freshmen to participate in orientation weekends or even semester-long orientation courses to familiarize them with different aspects of the campus and college life. These can be helpful tools, but as long as you’re willing to familiarize yourself with the changes and ask for help if you need it, you should be fine!

Five Major Differences between High School and College

1. Classes. High school students spend seven or eight hours per day in class. They arrive as the first bell rings to signal the beginning of the school day, and they leave when the final bell rings to signal the end of the school day. High school classes are held one immediately after the next, but college doesn’t work that way! College classes are held at various times throughout the day: some start at eight AM, others start at noon, some even start in the early evening and run until 10 PM!

High school meets five days a week. Once you’re in college, you might have four hours of classes on certain days of the week but six hours of classes on other days. You may have two classes that meet back-to-back, or one class at 8 AM and one class at 4 PM. Your schedule will change every semester, and conflicts can occur if two of your required classes meet at the same time.

2. Grading. In high school, your teachers probably gave out homework assignments which were graded, and those grades were probably averaged in along with your test scores and various projects to come up with your final grade for the class. In college, professors may mention doing certain exercises as “homework,” but those assignments are done for your own benefit, not for grades. The majority of your final course grade in college is based on your test scores, although research papers and group projects may carry some weight as well. Grading systems can vary from class to class and professor to professor.

3. Instructors. High school teachers provide you with make-up work if you ever miss a day of school, and if you miss a test on a day that you’re out, you’re allowed to make it up. Once you’re in college, though, your professors will not let you make up any missed exams (unless you miss class due to some sort of emergency, such as a death in the family, which is documented with the college.)

High school instructors may get concerned if your grades are falling and ask you if you understand things or need assistance, while college professors figure that your grades are your responsibility. High school teachers are typically available to discuss assignments or answer any questions before or after class, while college professors normally arrive to class two minutes before it starts and leave as soon as it is over.

4. Attendance. Attendance is taken in high school; in fact, most high school teachers take attendance at the beginning of every single class to ensure that you didn’t leave school halfway through the day. Your parents were probably notified of your absences. Many college professors never take attendance, particularly if the class has a hundred students—and classes that meet in lecture halls usually have that many! Professors often don’t care if you show up for class or not, but it’s important to realize that if you miss anything important it’s your own fault! Pop quizzes might be given regularly as a means of preventing students from missing class, and I even had some professors that did take attendance in order to count it as a small percentage of our overall grade, but that was rare.

5. Responsibility. During high school, your teachers and parents were more involved in your life than you might have realized at the time. You needed parental permission to participate in extra-curricular activities, and your parents probably paid for any necessary uniforms or fees. Teachers would remind you of due dates for upcoming assignments, of offer to help you study if you stayed after school one afternoon. In college, things are your responsibility. If you want to play a sport or take part in any sort of group, you need to bring in your own money to pay for things. Professors rarely remind you of due dates because you’re expected to be adult enough to remember, and professors expect you to approach them should you need assistance—not the other way around.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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