10 Differences Between High School and University

By now you should know that life at university is extremely different from what you used to know in high school. They’re literally worlds apart and when one comes freshly from high school, one realises that there are differences that go way beyond not having to wear a uniform at university as opposed to high school. I have compiled a list of some of the differences between university and high school. Some are good and liberating while others are neither bad nor comforting, considering the sense of security one feels in high school.

1. Individual attention

It is quite fair to say that in high school, teachers are there behind every student to provide them with the necessary means to do well academically while at the same time encouraging them to participate in extracurricular activities. However, for the three years I’ve been at university, it has taken me a relatively short time to understand that everything is in my hands. Literally, no lecturer is going to ask, “Why did your marks drop? Is everything okay at home?” You’re the one who needs to make sure you get your ducks in a row. Attend those lectures and get those A’s because whether you get an A or a B or a C, you can even get a Z (if that even exists) and they will not give a damn. Bottom line, discipline is a must have at university. And to be fair, you cannot blame lecturers as classes go up to 500 students as opposed to the 20 pupils in high school.

2. Classes do not start at the same time for everyone 

Remember how waking up in high school was such a mission? Whenever I slept really late on a day before school, I would agonise at the fact that I had only just about four hours to rest because school was starting so very early. No class should ever start at 7.25AM. That’s a crime, just saying. Yeah, in high school, there is a set time for every first class. Everyone starts their day at the same time and everybody leaves at about the same time, depending on extracurricular activities, etc. However, in university, you have the liberty to go on campus only when your first class begins and that varies each day depending on the courses you take.

3. Textbooks can be costly

In high school, most books are provided at little to no cost. Most are found in the school library and getting hold of a copy is usually hassle-free. That does not apply to university where you actually have to budget for textbooks as they can shake your wallet up a little bit. You can always re-sell your textbooks once you no longer need them. There are many platforms such as Pimp My Book and Quillo that facilitate such activity. But please let me warn you that you won’t always sell your textbook at the same price you bought it. I once sold my textbook at Pimp My Book for R50 while I had bought it at R250. True story.

4. You choose your courses

In high school, you have to learn all subjects whether or not they will help you in your career. Maths is that compulsory subject everybody has to take and for my family, maths literacy was a no-no. When I got to university, I could finally choose which courses I wanted to do. FREEDOM!!

5. Friendships

High school is a little community of its own where everyone knows everyone and where one can make genuine friends a lot more easily. At university, you are more likely to know people as acquaintances and not always as friends you can trust.

6. Everything on fleek?

In high school, many people want to look “cool” and popular but once you get to university, you reach a point where you really do not care what others think of you. At first you might always have your makeup and outfits on fleek at those 8AM lectures but honey, it is only a matter of time until leggings become your best friends.

7. Attendance is not always compulsory

In high school, everyone is obliged to be present at every class whereas at university, attending lectures is strongly encouraged but in most cases, not mandatory. That’s where discipline – as mentioned earlier - becomes important.

8. Time management becomes an art

In high school, time does not seem to go by that quickly but at university, time FLIES and turns into this precious treasure you have to take very good care of. The library would no longer be a place to enjoy a good book but rather a second home where there is just too little time and too many readings, assignments, and tests to prepare for. Manage your time carefully.

9. You set your own reminders

In high school, there is always a small section on the board dedicated to things that pupils have to do such as homework, deadlines for projects and so on. At university, it’s the student’s responsibility to remember deadlines and everything they need to do, hence the importance of keeping a journal or notebook with all those important dates highlighted.

10. Catching up on work is up to you

In high school, when you are absent and can provide a medical certificate, the teacher is most likely to brief you on what you missed. However, at university, it is entirely up to you how you catch up. In that case, try and borrow notes from a kind and compassionate classmate.

Bonus: Diversity

Lastly, it is very important to understand that university is a lot more diverse than high school where most people came from your hometown. At uni, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who come from various countries and continents, will surround you. At the University of Cape Town alone, about 102 countries are represented. This means that you might be required to come out of your comfort zone a little bit and interact with people of various backgrounds. This will then enrich your knowledge of various cultures and countries, so meet as many people as you can!

There you have it! A list highlighting some differences between high school and university. However, do not fear the drastic change. Rather embrace it and allow it to mould you into a person who adapts to change in order not just to survive but to thrive in the tertiary environment.