In this article we take a look at college vs. high school. What changes and differences do you need to prepare for as you make the transition from high school education and lifestyle to a college education and lifestyle?

High school is just another four years after middle school or junior high and college is just another four years after high school, right? Wrong! Things change in high school and there are more things at stake than there were before. Read on for more about the differences between high school and college, and why taking on the college challenge might be a good idea.

Class Time and Free Time: A New Balance

According to the advice that University of Buffalo gives its incoming students, its typical for a high school student to be in class for 35 hours a week, moving through the day from one class to the next, and have 5 hours of homework per week. On the other hand, a college student taking a full load has about 12 - 15 hours of class a week and will require at least 30 hours (and as much as 45 or more) of homework.

This means that rather than the bulk of educational time being spent under a teacher's supervision, the bulk of educational time is at the student's discretion. And the point is that time management suddenly becomes a skill of enormous importance in college.


There are several factors that increase responsibility in college besides the student's control over educational time. One is the cost. In high school, most students and their families were enjoying the free public education system. In college, most students and their families are investing thousands of dollars a year (and maybe tens of thousands). So there's a lot more at stake in the student's performance .

In addition, if a student is not living at home, he or she also becomes immediately completely responsible for laundry, purchasing books and school supplies, nutrition decisions, and - once he or she is 18 - will, by law, be the recipient of financial communications from the school, banks holding student loans, etc. This is a huge transition from living at home with parents who do what most parents of high schoolers do: feed and clothe them and pay all reasonable expenses: take them to the doctor when they're sick, etc.

Another responsibility is one that many students have been longing for: more choice about the classes they take. While every major has requirements, students may feel relief and excitement about working with their academic advisor to build a course schedule. They may also enjoy the mastery of being in charge of so many more aspects of their personal lives.

Teacher vs. Professor

High school teachers and guidance counselor are there to teach students, yes, but also have the explicit goal of helping students to grow up and learn to take on the responsibility they'll have after high school, whichever path they take. Professors and academic advisors in college, on the other hand, have an academic function. Period. Students may become close to some of them. But in general, the relationship is quite different, and the professor is working under the assumption that the students will take responsibility for doing homework, remembering when there are quizzes, etc.

Class Style

Many high school classes have 20 - 30 students. Sometimes a student can kind of hang out and let the other students do the work. In college, classes are apt to be larger (150) or smaller (8). In the large classes, if a student doesn't understand something or needs assistance, it will take more effort to get help. And if you don't show up, unlike in high school where they take attendance, no one may even notice. In the smaller classes, there's nowhere to hide: not participating is not an option. In either case, the playing field has changed, and students need to learn to cope.

Testing and Grading

The weekly quiz to make sure students are keeping up that teachers use in high school are less likely to appear in college. Tests may be fewer and farther between, or the course may have two papers and a final. With less credit given for class participation, there may be only a few select occasions for students to show what they've learned and how they've understood. And this means that the student needs to make the most of each opportunity. 

Another thing about college is that work handed in late without a valid excuse is less likely to be tolerated. And there's not much opportunity for extra credit either. Also remember that a semester has fewer weeks in college.

The Value of a College Education

A United Stated Department of Education study in 2006 found that a people older than 25 who held a bachelor's degree had a median income of $46,440, while high school graduates without further training had a median income of $27,380. An older study by the Institute for Higher Education found that those who graduated from college were more likely than those who did not to have more savings, a greater variety of hobbies, more professional opportunities, and made better consumer decisions.


US Department of Education: Digest of Education Statistics: “Table 372. Distribution of earnings and median earnings of persons 25 years old and over, by highest level of educational attainment and sex: 2006” -

Eric Digests -

University of Buffalo Advising: High School vs. College -