For many students, the transition from high school to college can be extremely difficult. Why do some students succeed while others fail? Let’s take a look at some of the major differences I found between the high school experience and the college experience, and maybe figure out some of the reasons why students don’t adapt.
For many students, college is the first time they live away from home for an extended period of time. Students who live away from home begin to experience the adult world, including increased freedom and increased responsibility. Even for those students who don’t live away from home, there is significantly more independence in the college experience. Nobody enforces attendance at the college level. Some classes don’t even have an attendance policy! Unlike high school teachers, college professors don’t track students down looking for homework. They also don’t necessarily remind students of due dates, which is why the syllabus becomes important. It’s the student’s responsibility to follow along with the pace of the course, and to complete the necessary readings and assignments on schedule.
More Creativity and Out of the Box Thinking
While expectations in high school are high, they only increase as students enter college. To stand out from the crowd, college students have to make their ideas increasingly more creative, and that involves the difficult task of thinking outside of the box. Sometimes it may seem that there’s a formula to doing well in college, but as one professor said to me, “The thing that’s remarkable about a random group of A papers on the same assignment is how different they are from one another.” Students will be encouraged to find their own ways of thinking, to disagree with existing research and scholars, and to build strong arguments. Coming from high school, where a lot of learning is based on memorization and multiple choice tests, this kind of approach can be unsettling and difficult for new college students.
More Intensive Courses
College courses can last from three months up to six or seven, but ultimately they are more compressed than high school classes. A quick look at a syllabus will tell you exactly how fast-paced the course may be. A college anatomy course may cover the entire skeletal system in two weeks, which is intense on one level, or it may spend an entire semester on the skeletal system, which is intense in another way. In the first scenario, the anatomy course is intense because it covers a vast amount of material in one semester. In the other scenario, the course becomes intense because it spends a lot of time focusing closely on one small area of knowledge. In both cases, students are expected to perform at a very high level of thinking as opposed to the more leisurely pace of high school learning.
More Intense Assignments
While high schools seem to be increasing the amount of homework, the transition from high school assignments to college assignments can be very startling for some students. The high school 5-7 page final paper becomes the required weekly reading response. The 50 question final exam becomes the 200 question midterm. Assignments also ask more of students in college than high school. Original thought and argument seems difficult to muster, but students need to be able to do so for every class, and so a lot of preparation is necessary even for a simple class that doesn’t have homework. Making the shift from the high school mentality of no homework means no studying to the college idea of no homework rarely (if ever!) exists may leave some students feeling overwhelmed and overworked.
The twenty-five student high school classroom gives way to the 250 student lecture hall in college. Unfortunately, a bigger class size means that getting personal attention becomes less likely. However, students who are proactive can still get the help that they need. Professors offer office hours for students to come and discuss any concerns they might be having, and many large classes have TAs that can help with assignments or questions as well.
More (and Shorter!) Deadlines
Like the 5-7 page high school paper that becomes the weekly reading response, college deadlines tend to be shorter. Although there are some large deadlines that loom in the distance, college students will have many deadlines over the course of the semester that they need to keep track of. Remembering what to read, write, and study for five different courses can seem disheartening and impossible to the new college student, but in this case organization is really key. Knowing when big deadlines are looming is important, but each week should be filled out with the responsibilities the student has.
What are some other differences you’ve seen between high school and college?