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Many students, especially those who do not have a family member who has been to college, think college is pretty much like high school, only bigger. But there are other very large differences. Many students who did not do well in high school “blossom” in college. Others never get used to college life and do not do as well as they did in high school. Much of how college will differ depends on you.

To be prepared, it helps you to know what differences lie ahead. Though academic requirements and student life vary depending on the college you attend, there are basic differences that apply in almost every case.

Here are some ways you can expect college to be different from high school:


Because you will probably be over 18 years old in college, you will be treated like an adult.  This is because you will be an adult.  As an adult, you will have to make sure you do what you're supposed to do, you will be responsible for the way you live, and you will have to meet greater expectations from others.


In college, you will take on more responsibility for your decisions, actions, and lifestyle. This is part of being on your own. Professors and administrators will probably not give you a hard time about your clothes, your hair, or your general behavior (within bounds). But do be prepared to be held accountable for your behavior. There is no one to blame for not waking up on time, not eating properly, or not washing your clothes.


People will expect more of you and expect you to develop in your own unique way in college.  Some people will expect you to go beyond the minimal standard expected in high school, so you can grow and develop as a person.  You will also begin to realize what a great effect you can have on yourself and others.


Some subjects are taught differently in college. In high school, for instance, history may have been mainly names, dates, and places. You had to memorize facts and figures. In college, those facts are not nearly as important as why certain events and actions happened. In college English, less time may be spent on grammar and spelling (it is assumed you have mastered these) and more on writing creatively and criticizing literature. If you major in one of the sciences, you will find that in your junior and senior years, you may be designing your own experiments rather than doing exactly what everyone else in your class is doing. In foreign languages, you will be reading literature in its original language.

Be open to falling in love with a subject in college that you may have disliked in high school. Two-thirds of college students graduate with a different major than the one they had in mind when they started -- often because they found an old subject taught in a new and more interesting way.


Many classes will be organized differently from high school. Some will be big lecture classes followed by small discussion groups. Some professors will have you read books, write papers, and discuss both in class. Grading will be different, too. In some classes, you will have nothing but essay tests. In others, your entire grade will be determined by a single large paper or project. You may even have classes in which a group project is the primary grade.


In high school, you are often graded on whether you learn certain things. For example, there are standardized tests given to show that you have achieved a minimum level in certain subjects. In college, you are often graded “on the curve;” your grade is determined more by how well you did in relation to your classmates than on a minimum knowledge base. This means there is more one-on-one competition between students. For example, receiving an 85 percent on a test in high school may have automatically been a B. In college, if most people did better than that, it could be a C or C-.

You may have been in the top 10 or 15 percent of your high school class, but at college most of your fellow students were also in the top 10 or 15 percent of their high school classes and earning a high grade point average will take more effort.


High school is a place you go seven or eight hours a day, less than half the days of the year.  Many colleges are set up to be your home--you will eat and sleep there, make new friends there, even do your laundry there.  Therefore, chances are good that college will have an even greater effect on you than high school did.  In fact, it will be a time in your life like no other.

Source: Indiana Career and Postsecondary Advancement Center