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How is college different from high school?

Understanding some of the important differences between high school and college may help college-bound students achieve a smoother transition.

Personal FreedomClassesTeachers vs. ProfessorsStudyingTestsGrades

PERSONAL FREEDOM
HIGH SCHOOL
  • High school is mandatory and free (unless you choose other options).
  • Your time is usually structured by others.
  • You need permission to participate in extracurricular activites.
  • You need money for special purchases or events.
  • You can count on parents and teachers to remind you of your responsibilities and to guide you in setting priorities.

Guiding principle: You will usually be told what your responsibilities are and corrected if your behavior is out of line.

COLLEGE
  • College is voluntary and expensive.
  • You manage your own time.
  • You must decide whether to participate in extracurricular activites. (Hint: Choose wisely in the first semester and then add later.)
  • You need money to meet basic necessities.
  • You will be faced with a large number of moral and ethical decisions you have not had to face previously. You must balance your responsibilities and set priorities.

Guiding principle: You're old enough to take responsibility for what you do and don't do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions.

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CLASSES

HIGH SCHOOL

  • Each day you proceed from one class directly to another.
  • You spend 6 hours each day -- 30 hours a week -- in class.
  • The school year is 36 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters and some do not.
  • Most of your classes are arranged for you.
  • Teachers carefully monitor class attendance.
  • Classes generally have no more than 35 students.
  • You are provided with textbooks at little or no expense.
  • You are not responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate.
COLLEGE
  • You often have hours between classes; class times vary throughout the day and evening.
  • You spend 12 to 16 hours each week in class.
  • The academic year is divided into two separate 15-week semesters, plus a week after each semester for exams.
  • You arrange your own schedule in consultation with your academic adviser. Schedules tend to look lighter than they really are.
  • Professors may not formally take roll, but they are still likely to know whether or not you attended.
  • Classes may number 100 students or more.
  • You need to budget substantial funds for textbooks, which will usually cost more than $200 each semester.
  • Graduation requirements are complex, and differ for different majors and sometimes different years. You are expected to know those that apply to you.
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TEACHERS VS. PROFESSORS
HIGH SCHOOL
  • Teachers check your completed homework.
  • Teachers remind you of your incomplete work.
  • Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistance.
  • Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class.
  • Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to assist in imparting knowledge to students.
  • Teachers provide you with information you missed when you were absent.
  • Teachers present material to help you understand the material in the textbook.
  • Teachers often write information on the board to be copied in your notes.
  • Teachers impart knowledge and facts, sometimes drawing direct connections and leading you through the thinking process.
  • Teachers often take time to remind you of assignments and due dates.
COLLEGE
  • Professors may not always check completed homework, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests.
  • Professors may not remind you of incomplete work.
  • Professors are usually open and helpful, but most expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance.
  • Professors expect and want you to attend their scheduled office hours.
  • Professors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of research.
  • Professors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed.
  • Professors may not follow the textbook. Instead, to amplify the text, they may give illustrations, provide background information, or discuss research, about the topic you are studying. Or, they may expect you to relate the classes to the textbook readings.
  • Professors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify the important points in your notes. When professors write on the board, it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes are a must.
  • Professors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics.
  • Professors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when it is due, and how you will be graded.
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STUDYING
HIGH SCHOOL
  • You may study outside of class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation.
  • You often need to read or hear presentations only once to learn all you need to learn about them.
  • You are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in class.

Guiding principle: You will usually be told in class what you needed to learn from assigned readings.

COLLEGE
  • You need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class.
  • You need to review class notes and text material regularly.
  • You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class.

Guiding principle: It's up to you to read and understand the assigned material; lectures and assignments proceed from the assumption that you've already done so.

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TESTS
HIGH SCHOOL
  • Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material.
  • Makeup tests are often available.
  • Teachers frequently rearrange test dates to avoid conflict with school events.
  • Teachers frequently conduct review sessions, pointing out the most important concepts.
  • Mastery is usually seen as the ability to reproduce what you were taught in the form in which it was presented to you, or to solve the kinds of problems you were shown how to solve.
COLLEGE
  • Testing is usually infrequent and may be cumulative, covering large amounts of material. You, not the professor, need to organize the material to prepare for the test. A particular course may have only 2 or 3 tests in a semester.
  • Makeup tests are seldom an option; if they are, you need to request them.
  • Professors in different courses usually schedule tests without regard to the demands of other courses or outside activities.
  • Professors rarely offer review sessions, and when they do, they expect you to be an active participant, one who comes prepared with questions.
  • Mastery is often seen as the ability to apply what you've learned to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.
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GRADES
HIGH SCHOOL
  • Grades are given for most assigned work.
  • Consistently good homework grades may help raise your overall grade when test grades are low.
  • Extra credit projects are often available to help you raise your grade.
  • Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade.
  • You may graduate as long as you have passed all required courses with a grade of D or higher.

Guiding principle: "Effort counts." Courses are usually structured to reward a "good-faith effort."

COLLEGE
  • Grades may not be provided for all assigned work.
  • Grades on tests and major papers usually provide most of the course grade.
  • Extra credit projects cannot, generally speaking, be used to raise a grade in a college course.
  • Watch out for your first tests. These are usually "wake-up calls" to let you know what is expected -- but they also may account for a substantial part of your course grade. You may be shocked when you get your grades. If you receive notice of low grades on either an Early-Term or a Mid-Semester Progress Report, see your academic adviser.
  • You may graduate only if your average in classes meets the departmental standard -- typically a 2.0 or C.

Guiding principle: "Results count." Though "good-faith effort" is important in regard to the professor's willingness to help you achieve good results, it will not substitute for results in the grading process.

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