• Photo of a family on the campus of Florida State University during Parents' Weekend

College vs. High School

How is College Different from High School?

Researchers at the Cognitive Learning Strategies Project at the University of Texas at Austin surveyed students, faculty, and staff to see how college is different from high school. They identified six categories where college may be more (or less) than you expect. As you look at this list of comparisons, consider how they may apply to you. How will you respond to these differences? Talk with your family about these differences and how they will affect your lives. Seek out older friends who have been in college to see if they found these differences to be challenging and how they adjusted to meet this new learning environment.

For example, just consider the first two points. If the instruction is mainly by lecture and the readings don’t duplicate what is said, you can assume that you will need to pay very close attention to the lecture, take thorough notes and study them as well as reading the textbook.

College Academic Environment vs. High School

  • Instruction is mainly by lecture.
  • Readings complement but do not necessarily duplicate lectures.
  • There are usually more students on campus.
  • There are more social distractions.
  • Classes meet less frequently and for fewer hours per week.
  • There is less “busywork.”
  • The tasks often are less structured and less concrete.
  • Using the library effectively is more important.
  • Students are held responsible for what they were supposed to learn in high school and in other courses.
  • Class discussions often are aimed at raising questions with no clear right or wrong answer.
  • There is more emphasis on understanding theory.

College Grading vs. High School

  • Harder work is required to earn a grade of “A” or “B.”
  • Simple completion of work often earns a grade of “C” or below.
  • Many semester grades are based on just two or three test scores.
  • Exam questions are often more difficult to predict.
  • There are more writing assignments.
  • Essay exams are more common.

College Study Strategies vs. High School

  • Effective reading comprehension skills are more important.
  • Taking good notes is more important.
  • Few study aids are provided.
  • Identifying the main ideas is more important.
  • Effective communications skills are more essential.
  • Students must seek additional & supplementary sources of information independently.
  • Students must recognize the need for and initiate requests for additional help.
  • Students must monitor their own progress.
  • Paying attention in class is more important.
  • Studying is more important.

Support Systems in College vs. High School

  • Relationships with family and friends change.
  • There may be less contact with instructors.
  • There may be less individual feedback.
  • There is often more academic competition.
  • Behavior problems are not tolerated.
  • The environment is often impersonal.
  • Students often are given less direction.

Stress in College vs. High School

  • There is an increased workload and a faster pace.
  • Students are more independent and are held accountable for their own behavior.
  • It is more difficult to earn high grades.
  • An entire course is completed in 15 weeks or less.
  • Many students experience increased financial responsibilities.
  • Many students experience new and increased social pressures.
  • Students are expected to know what they want from college, classes, life, etc.

Students’ Responsibilities vs. High School

  • There are an increased number of decisions to be made.
  • More self-evaluation and monitoring are required.
  • More independent reading and studying are required.
  • Students are more responsible for managing their own time and commitments.
  • Students establish and attain their own goals.
  • Students must determine when they need help and locate the appropriate resources.
  • Students are more responsible to whoever is paying for their education (including themselves!).
  • Interest in learning often must be generated by the student.
  • Motivation to succeed often must be generated by the student.

Note: The preceding material is condensed from “The High School-to-College Transition” by C. E. Weinstein, K. Johnson, R. Malloch, S. Ridley, and P. Schultz, 1988, Innovation Abstracts, 10(21), Copyright by the University of Texas at Austin. Adapted by permission.