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Center for the First-YearExperience

High School vs. College

  High School College
Personal Freedom
  • High School is mandatory and free (unless you choose other options).
  • Your time is usually structured by others (parents and/or teachers).
  • You need permission to participate in co-curricular activities.
  • You need money for special purchases or events.
  • You can depend on your parents and teachers to remind you of your responsibilities and help you set priorities.
  • All correspondence is addressed to your parents. They read it and tell you what you need to know.
  • Guiding Principle: You will usually be told what your responsibilities are and corrected if your behavior is out of line.
  • College is voluntary and there are costs involved.
  • You manage your own time.
  • You need money to pay for basic necessities.
  • You will be faced with many moral and ethical decisions you have not previously faced. You must balance your responsibilities and set priorities.
  • All correspondence will be addressed to you. You must read all your mail, as you will be responsible for its content.
  • Guiding Principle: You are now responsible for what you do and what you don't do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions.


  • Every day you proceed from one class directly to another.
  • You spend six hours a day - 30 hours per week - in class.
  • The school year is 26 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters and some do not.
  • Most of your classes are arranged for you.
  • Teachers carefully monitor 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.
  • Guiding Principle: You will usually be told in class what you need to learn from assigned readings.
  • 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 final exams. The summer semester is condensed into 10 weeks, plus one week after for final exams.
  • You arrange your own schedule with the help of your academic advisor. Schedules may seem lighter than they are.
  • Some instructors may not formally take attendance (most will), but they are still likely to know whether or not you attend.
  • Classes will have anywhere from 10-25 students.
  • You must budget money for textbooks that usually will cost more than $200 per semester
  • Graduation requirements are complex and differ by degree and major. Review degree requirements in DegreeWorks early and often with your advisor. It spells out the requirements that apply to you.
  • Guiding Principle: It’s up to you to read and understand the assignment material. Lectures and assignments proceed from the assumptions that you’ve already done so.

Teachers & Faculty

  • Teachers check your completed homework.
  • Teachers remind you of your incomplete work.
  • Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class.
  • Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to  impart knowledge.
  • 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 into your notes.
  • Teachers communicate 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.
  • Guiding Principle: High school is a teaching environment in which you acquire facts and skills.
  • Instructors may not always check completed homework or even collect it, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests.
  • Instructors may not remind you of incomplete work.
  • Instructors want and expect you to attend their scheduled office hours.
  • Instructors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of specialization.
  • Instructors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed.
  • Instructors may not follow the textbook. Instead, 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.
  • Instructors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify important points in your notes. When professors write on the board it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes, and, therefore, good attendance, are a must.
  • Instructors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics.
  • Instructors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when assignments are due, and how you will be graded.
  • Guiding Principle: College is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned.


  • You may study outside of class as little as zero to two hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute preparation.
  • You often need to read or hear presentations only once to learn all you need to know.
  • 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.
  • You need to study at least two to three hours outside of class for every hour in class – this equates to anywhere between six-45 hours of study time outside of class per week.
  • You need to review class notes and text material regularly.
  • You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing that may not be directly addressed in class.
  • Guiding Principle: It's up to you to read and understand the assigned material. Lectures and assignments are based on the assumption that you have done this.


  • Testing is frequent and usually 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.
  • Guiding Principle: Mastery is usually seen as the ability to reproduce what you were taught in the form in which it was presented to you, or solve the kinds of problems you were shown how to solve.
  • 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 only have two or three tests in a semester.
  • Makeup tests are seldom an option; if they are, you must request one.
  • Instructors in different courses usually schedule tests without regard to the demands of other courses or outside activities.
  • Instructors may or may not offer review sessions. When they do, they expect you to be an active participant, one who comes prepared with questions.
  • Guiding Principle: Mastery is often seen as the ability to apply what you've learned to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.


  • Grades are given for most assigned work.
  • Consistently good homework grades may 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.”
  • 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, generally speaking, cannot 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 graduate only if your cumulative college-level course work GPA is a 2.0 or higher.
  • Guiding Principle: Results count. Though "good faith effort" is important in regard to the instructor's willingness to help you achieve good results, in the grading process, it will not substitute for results.

How to make the transition to college:

Adapted from web page content by Southern Methodist University