6 Ways College is Different from High School

On top of nerves and excitement, you probably have tons of questions about college. How is college different from high school? Which is better? We’ll shed light on the first question and let you answer the second! Here are 6 ways college is NOT like high school:

#1 Flexible Scheduling

In high school, you have a relatively fixed schedule and are (often legally) required to spend 6 to 7 hours a day in school. In college, you create your own schedule and typically have 12 to 18 hours of class a week at times you choose with an advisor. Fun fact: colleges are also usually on semester, trimester, or quarter systems.

#2 Specialized Studies

In high school, you sprinkled some electives into your schedule, but you still had a rigid program of study which required X, Y, and Z classes. In college, while you must still meet certain graduation requirements, your courses will focus on your area of interest. Colleges prioritize depth over breadth, and classes are taught by experts on the subject matter. The “how is this relevant?” question you might have had while learning about mitochondria in AP Bio may not arise, because your studies will reflect your academic and professional interests.

#3 Professors as Pals

In high school, your teachers might have reached out when they sensed you were struggling, but typically, you only interacted in class. In college, students are encouraged to visit faculty at office hours—not only for help, but also to discuss topics and long-term goals. Your relationships with your professors will become especially close if you research under them (which you absolutely should, if you plan to pursue a research profession), and it’s not unusual to meet with them to chat about Milton or quantum physics at the local coffee shop. Develop close relationships with your professors; they can connect you to unique opportunities and become key references for scholarships, jobs, and grad school applications.

#4 Finding New Friends

In high school, your friend group probably consisted of peers you’ve grown up with. In college, you’ll branch out and befriend classmates in your major and in your extracurricular groups. Your friends will be based on common interests rather than proximity (though you may end up living with them at some point). This also means that the social circles and reputation you had in high school will be reset; you can create (or find) the identity you want for yourself, and spend time with those who share your passions.

#5 Extracurricular Endeavors

In high school, you may have participated in a sports team, theater group, or science club, and typically met with your group every day after school. In college, there are tons of extracurricular activities to participate in—including several directly related to your long-term goals (i.e., Pre-Law Club, Model United Nations, etc.). These will help you gain leadership experience and develop your network, and you’ll meet—even travel—many times a week for projects and events. Get out there on Quad Day and learn more about groups and organizations at your college. Join ones that align with your hobbies and lifestyle, too. You might find that Quidditch team will become your biggest stress reliever in college!

#6 Freedom Isn’t Free

Your vision of college probably includes the golden word: freedom. Away from your parents for the first time, liberated from the deans and hallway bells constantly instructing you to get to your next class, and having the ability to skip school without a parent or teacher calling to check on you, you may view college as a place where you will finally find the freedom you yearned for in high school. However, with great power comes great responsibility. While you will rarely be forced to attend class or make wise personal decisions, you will certainly feel the consequences if you don’t—from failing classes to being expelled for poor judgment. Use your freedom wisely: balance your time and don’t waste it, consider the long-term ramifications of your actions, and attend class—even if attendance isn’t taken. Treat college like the privilege it is if you want to get the most of out of the experience.

Despite their differences, college and high school are similar in important ways. In both, you’ll have ups and downs, lose friends and make friends, and experience both setbacks and successes. In my humble opinion, college absolutely beats high school; you’ll find your footing and mature in ways you never expected. Make the most of these next four years—they’ll be the best four years of your life!