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Similarities and Differences Between High School and College

written by: William Springer•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 8/26/2010

Is college just grades 13-16, or is it a whole different experience? We discuss how high school and college are alike and how they differ.

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    Welcome to College!

    Going from high school to college is a big step. Nobody chases after you to make sure you get to class on time. You schedule your own classes - and oh, the homework!

    However, high school and college are also a lot alike - particularly if you took challenging high school courses. Let's take a look at the similarities between high school and college, as well as the differences.

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    You Still Have to Take Math Classes...

    Being an undergrad is a lot like being a high school student. While you get to choose the classes to take each semester, rather than submitting a list of requests and hoping you get what you want, there's still a list of specific courses you have to take to graduate. Yes, you can take classes outside of that list, but they may not count toward your degree.

    Classes are pretty similar to high school. You show up, hopefully pay attention, and get assigned lots of homework! Some teachers even take attendance, although most don't. Since you (or your parents) are paying for you to be there, it's assumed that you'll probably show up, and if you don't...oh well, it's your money!

    Community college classes in particular are just a little harder than high school classes, and may even be a bit easier than Advanced Placement classes! Someone who was a decent student in high school and is reasonably organized should have no trouble with the first few years of college. Just be sure to get (and use) a planner!

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    ..But You Get to Schedule Them

    Probably the biggest change between high school and college is getting to decide when to take classes. Not a morning person? Start your classes at noon! While there are definitely limits - many classes will only have one time slot available - classes that many people need to take, such as freshman Composition, often offer multiple sections, allowing you to choose the one that best meets your needs.

    Another change is getting to choose how many classes you want to take. While the number of credits required for full-time status varies from school to school, generally a full load is fifteen semester hours, and most undergraduates take between twelve and sixteen. Most classes are three or four credits, with science classes that have labs often being five; as such, a full load is generally four or five classes. A quarter is 2/3 of a semester, so if your school uses quarters rather than semesters, multiply the above numbers by 1.5; 4 semester hours would thus be equivalent to 6 quarter hours.

    What many people have trouble with is the amount of responsibility that college students are expected to take for their own education. Teachers generally won't try to track you down if you don't show up for class, and the homework to class time ratio is a lot higher; classes generally meet two or three times per week, and students are expected to spend several hours studying for every hour spent in class. Additionally, many classes (aside from math) don't have regular homework assignments, which means the few assignments they do have are that much more important to the final grade; in some classes, the exams are the entire grade! Classes often have strict prerequisites, so failing a class means pushing back taking an entire string of classes. Additionally, courses in your major generally require at least a C to pass. Expectations get higher as your progress. For graduate students, a C is a failing grade!

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    Organize, Organize, Organize

    The biggest change in your education is not between high school and college, but between college and grad school; college can really be considered to be grades 13-16. The largest challenge for students is remaining organized. College students have a lot more flexibility and responsibility than high school students, and need to be prepared for that.

    There really are a lot of similarities between high school and college, but college should be a good experience for one reason: You get to study what you're interested in, be that repairing cars or solving equations. What could be better than that?