10 Major Differences Between High School & College

After months of nervous anticipation filled with studying College Confidential and avidly investigating professors on CULPA, you finally arrive on campus. During NSOP week, everyone runs around, embracing their newfangled freedoms gleefully. But as soon as classes begin, it can become very apparent that college is truly different in every way from high school. Here are 10 of the biggest differences you may face:

  1. 1. College classes do not meet with the same frequency as high school classes.

    Eight classes every single day was the standard for many of us that attended American high schools. However, the scheduling system becomes very different in college. Classes typically meet only two to three times a week, as opposed to the standard five-day calendar. Additionally, courses will only last one semester as opposed to the two semesters which is typical for high school. Generally, class duration is one hour and fifteen minutes, so you may only spend three hours “in the classroom” per day. In addition to your classes, many courses require mandatory recitations held by TAs to review, reiterate, and discuss the material. Recitations typically occur later in the afternoon, after most lecture classes have ended.

  2. 2. You won’t have assessments every single day. 

    In high school it may not have been uncommon to have a physics, calculus, and Spanish test all in the same week. Fortunately, in college the major assessments and grades will be far less frequent. However, this means that it is crucial to invest a great deal of thought and effort into each assignment because each one carries more weight. Most classes will have between three and five grades for the entire duration of the course. Your performance on those assessments will greatly determine your grade. 

  3. 3. Extracurricular activities meet at all times of the day.

    Are you used to marching band happening right before school? Or cross country happening during your last class period? No longer will these activities be linked to your school schedule. Most clubs meet in the late evening, but team activities may meet in the early morning before classes. Ultimately, this allows you to become as involved as you would like and to explore many different things! 

  4. 4. You must learn to manage time on your own.

    There will no longer be any parents or teachers holding your feet to the fire about work. It is truly up to you to decide how and when to work. Professors also will seldom remind you about what chapters and materials to read, so you must be attentive in class to supplement your learning later. The good news about this is that you can study whenever you want! 3 a.m. (although we do not endorse or suggest this)? Sure! 7:30 in the morning? A little better! You can even sleep in until noon and decide to take all afternoon and evening courses!

  5. 5. Class options are much more varied.

    Do you want to take a class about dinosaurs? What about witches? Astrology? As compared to the generic high school offerings of biology, algebra, and English, there are hundreds of interesting courses offered for students at Barnard, Columbia College, SEAS, and General Studies. The courses truly cater to the interests of everyone and you are sure to find at least one class that can appeal to one of your quirks!

  6. 6. You will be reading every night. 

    In high school we were used to daily worksheets and the occasional reading assignment. This is a stark contrast to college. You will be reading (either from a textbook or novel) almost every single night. The expectation is that you will come to class prepared to analyze and investigate this material with your classmates, so it is vital that you actually invest the time into reading these texts.

  7. 7. You will earn a lot of independence.

    Again, your parents will no longer be around to enforce rules or curfews. And while you may get some suspecting glances from the lovely Barnard security guards, no one can tell you when to go to bed. As wonderful as this sounds, do not let this newfound freedom distract you from your true purpose of attending college. Go out and have fun, but also remember to come back and crack open the books!

  8. 8. You must learn how to live with a roommate.

    For many people, this can be the hardest part of transitioning to college. All of a sudden you have to live day in and day out with someone you’ve never met before. Their habits may be very different from yours and you both have to learn how to respect one another’s lifestyles. The best way to go about this is to remember that they don’t have to be your best friend. As long as you can both agree on some courtesies, everyone will be fine. The key to any successful roommate relationship is the principle of respect — that means no blasting music or blow-drying your hair at the crack of dawn.

  9. 9. There are many food options available everywhere. 

    In high school, you either brought your lunch or had the lame meals that your school was willing to make in the cafeteria. This will no longer be the case! Barnard and Columbia have multiple dining halls that cater to all different tastes. You will soon learn about the great rivalries of John Jay versus Ferris and JJ’s versus Hewitt. The dining halls do an excellent job of trying to bring in diverse meal options from international foods to American classic comfort foods. Plus, you will have the freedom to explore the thousands of restaurants off campus. After all, New York City truly is the mecca of cuisine. 

  10. 10. It may be hard to stand out, but that’s OK.

    Many of us were stars in our high schools. We were the captains or presidents of clubs and organizations, made the best grades in the school, and were actively involved in volunteer groups. In college, though, you are all of a sudden in a conglomerate of some of the brightest and most hardworking students from across the world. You will not always be the smartest or most talented person in the room, and that’s OK. Instead of wasting time trying to be the best at everything, try to focus on yourself and find what makes you happy. At times, we are all small fish in a big pond!

As time goes on, each of these differences will become natural. Some of them will bring great satisfaction as compared to high school, while others may take a little bit of time to get used to. Just remember that everyone adjusts differently and there is no right or wrong way to transition into college!