What to Expect When Transitioning from High School Student to a College Student

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The First Year

In a way, college isn’t so different from high school. There are teachers and classes and tests, as well as plenty of activities, clubs, and sports to choose from. You’ll spend a lot of your time doing homework and projects, or putting them off by playing video games or watching movies. But college classes aren’t exactly like high school classes — nor are professors just like teachers.

And college isn’t just about class. For most students it’s their first experience living away from home, a big change requiring new skills and plenty of responsibility. It would be impossible to cover all the ways college is different from high school, all the things you’ll need to prepare for. But if you’re wondering what to expect when transitioning from a high school student to a college student, these are some of the key areas.

College Classes

Many new college students spend their first few weeks trying to figure out what to call their professors. It’s not Mr. Smith, it’s Dr. Smith, since nearly all college professors have a Ph.D. Many run their classes in a more informal manner and will let you address them by their first name, but play it safe and use “Dr.” unless told otherwise.

The reason many professors will let you call them by their first name is that college professors treat their students like adults. This can be freeing—who wants to be treated like a kid at 20? But it also means they expect you to act like adults, by showing up for class on time, turning in assignments, and generally conducting yourself in a mature fashion. In a way, the college student-professor relationship is more like an employer-employee relationship than anything else.

What this also means is that professors expect you to contribute in meaningful ways, to really participate in your own education. They don’t pretend to know all the answers. In fact, it’s perfectly fine to disagree with a professor or with your classmates, as long as you do so respectfully. Lecture classes are different by necessity, but most smaller classes involve a lot of discussion. The point isn’t just to learn facts, but to critique and question the ideas the professor presents. This can take some getting used to, particularly if you come from a high school where rote memorization is the norm.

Continue to page 2 for what to expect regarding responsibility, self-motivation, and study skills when you go to college.

Responsibility and Self-Motivation

You’re living on your own now, which means you’re going to need to start taking on some new responsibilities. Living in a dorm isn’t too difficult—you don’t have to pay for utilities or buy groceries or mow the lawn. But you do need to do your own laundry and shopping, learn to get along with your roommate, and in general keep yourself on the right track. No one is going to make sure you get up with your alarm, nag you to do your homework, or make sure you’re taking the right classes.

It’s all too easy in college to let the temptation to party too much or stay up until 3 a.m. every night get the better of you. So you’ll need to cultivate some self-motivation and make sure you stay on top of all your responsibilities from day one. The best way to accomplish this is to learn to plan ahead. Get in the habit of keeping a daily planner and scheduling your time a day or week in advance, and you’ll be ahead of the game come August.

Study Skills

Do you have good study skills? For many high school students the answer is no, because they’ve never had to learn them. This is especially true for incoming college freshman, who are usually the type who did well in school without too much effort. College classes are tough, though. You’ll be responsible for a lot of new and challenging information, often on subjects you know little about.

You’ll make life a lot easier on yourself if you spend some time cultivating good study habits. Learning how to read textbooks effectively, remember information without having to cram, and take good notes is essential. Learn to study by focusing on big picture ideas and meanings, because most college tests are less about memorization and more about making connections and proving you understand the material on a deeper level. And don’t be afraid to experiment—it may take some time to figure out what study methods work best for you.

Preparing for College

There are lots of ways to prepare for that first year of college. You can read books about college, or you can talk to friends and family members who have already been through the experience. But don’t worry too much. Every new freshman faces the same challenges, and there are plenty of places to find help if you need it. So relax. Now that you know a little about what to expect when transitioning from a high school student to a college student, you can approach this new opportunity with confidence.