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College Advice

High School and College Differences

DormEssentials May 11, 2020

Whether you’ve just graduated high school or made the decision that you’ll be going to college, you’re probably wondering: ‘what are the biggest high school and college differences’? What should I expect or prepare for? What should I bring?

In this blog, we cover the biggest high school and college differences in terms of the nature of the school work, but also the biggest differences in the life style and freedom college provides. College is one of the most exciting and enjoyable school experiences, primarily because of how much growth you will find in having complete control over your day, activities, and actions. So what are the top high school and college differences? The answer is academics, lifestyle, and cost.

What are the high school and college differences in academics?

Class Structure

In high school, the class attendance is very much mandatory, and you will be going from period to period from the start to the end of the day. The teachers will teach primarily based on a text book and standardized tests. The teachers were also very politically correct and didn’t necessarily have a perspective. The class time during high school was usually around 6 hours, with breaks for lunch of course.

In college, class attendance is always optional (aside from test days and in person turn ins, of course). You may miss attending, and the only negative effect is a possible participation or pop quiz grade. The (teachers) professors, may have a few books they use, but will also routinely bring exercises or stories from outside the book. The professors generally bring a perspective or a opinion to consider. In college, the average class time is based on units, and can range from 12-15 hours per week. It’s important to note that you will be creating your calendars and picking from a number of time slots. Do you prefer morning or night classes? Wednesdays or Fridays? There is no fixed time period of back to back classes, rather, you need to pick non conflicting classes to take distributed through the week. We do recommend clustering some classes together, so you can have a period of focus and school without too much commuting. Finally, some schools will be semester based, while others move to a quarterly system.

Test & Assignment Structure

In high school, it is very common to take tests on a frequent basis (ever chapter or month). As a result, test scores can be averaged over multiple attempts for a better grade if you mess up. Assignments in high school are almost all mandatory, and will need to be turned in. Reading assignments are usually checked with quizzes. While grades of a D are passing in many cases, GPA is mainly required to get into a preferred college.

In college, most teachers adhere to a two test policy for the entire semester, which is a Midterm and a Final. These will be cumulative of a number of chapters and will general have a high impact on grade. These tests are also usually longer in duration, approximately 1.5-2.5 hours. Studying for midterms and finals can become stressful, so we advise following good study tips. There may be additional smaller quizzes or tests, but the midterm and final will have the largest impact. Assignments in college range from group projects to problem sets and individual writing. Many classes will assign reading and questions, but will not actually have a turn in required. This allows the student to decide to take on the extra practice for the test or not. Grades of a C or better are often required, sometimes even a C+ if it is a major specific course. GPA is abit less critical, but it is impactful primarily for graduate school.

What are the high school and college differences in lifestyle?

Time Management:

High school: In high school, your time is relatively fixed and decided for you. Class starts at a set time in the morning, meaning when you go in is dictated by when the bus arrives, your parents drive you, or you drive yourself in for the morning. Lunch is at a fixed time during school, and you either bring something, money, or get cafeteria food. When class is over, you head back home at which point you may have a specific extracurricular (music, sports, etc.). Your dinner and bed time may still be set by family members.

College: In college, you are the master of your time. This becomes a major decision point for students because there are four primary categories we’ve identified college students should spend their time on.

The first and most important category of time is health. Core to spending time on health means finding appropriate sleep, and ensuring to exercise and work out. With so many other opportunities for activities, sleep might be hard to justify. It is key to try to get at least 7-8 hours to stay focused in class and to have energy to party. Physical activity is also key to both physical and mental health, so we encourage you to check your local school gym, join an intramural, or just go run. The next category is one of the main reasons you are going to college, which is the academics. Time is spent between class, homework, and studying. Ultimately, you will be your own manager however so it will be up to you to decide how much effort you need to put in for each class. Social life is another major segment of time in a college lifestyle. Unlike high school, there will be weekly, if not nightly, opportunities to engage in activities related to partying, relationships, or just socializing casually with something like board or video games. Lastly, we also start bringing up the concept of work. While some may work during the semester to help pay builds in student work or gig economy jobs like uber and instacart, getting career relevant internships in your later years will provide crucial to landing a job after you graduate.

Your Living Quarters:

High School: In high school, your living quarters are generally the home you share with your parents. This means that the general rules around when and what you can do are set by them. In addition, you generally have a room that you keep to yourself or with a sibling. Food is generally readily available.

College: You must learn to share a close and confined space with someone else. Not only will you have one or more roommates, but you will learn to share communal living quarters and bathrooms. As you will find, there will inevitably be disagreements, whether its on bed time, who ate what food, how clean the dorm should be etc. Resolving issues is a big piece of dorm living. That being said, you’ll probably find much more joy and fun than you will disagreements living so closely with newly made friends. You’ll have to adapt to the environments of those around you in your dorm, such as if its too noisy for your liking. Another big change for many is in terms of laundry. You will need to bring your laundry to a shared laundromat, where you will pay and run your clothes through the cycle. While there is no direct overwatch from parents, you will have a resident advisor on the dorm floor which also provides oversight and conflict resolution.


Cost is the last consideration that is very different between college and high school. In college, you will have high costs for everything from dorm living, to the classes and the books you will need. Due to the added costs compared to high school, It will be more important to get additional financial assistance from a scholarship or by landing a part time job. You also need to factor your food and other living expenses that you may have gotten for free when at home.

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