• The Road to College
  • Thinking It Through

Six Ways College Is Different from High School

Student in front of National Taiwan University

It's hard to know what college is really like until you get there. But here is a list of some of the differences between high school and college that you can start thinking about now.

1. Time in college is managed by you, not the school.

One of the biggest changes for new freshmen is the amount of "free" time they have. In college, you may have three classes one day, and none the next. You might be tempted to kick back, but it's up to you to balance studying and coursework with socializing and other pursuits.

2. College professors expect you to learn and think independently.

Another change from high school to college for new freshmen is being responsible for learning course material on their own and adjusting to less hand-holding by professors. Many college professors may assign material not covered in lectures or class and may also expect students to speak and debate key points in front of the class.

3. Cramming at the last minute doesn't work.

Some high school students are used to succeeding with last-minute studying. But exams in college are generally given less frequently and are often more difficult, covering more material than high school tests. College exams often require in-depth and thoughtful answers that demonstrate your mastery of the content. As many freshmen learn the hard way, this means you need to consistently keep up with your studies and coursework and not wait until the last minute to study for a test.

4. Your social life is wide open.

You may feel like a bird let out of a cage when you arrive on campus. You’ll meet many new people—and you’ll be able to do what you want when you want. But with this new freedom comes the responsibility to set priorities and boundaries, including balancing studying and course work with non-academic pursuits.

5. You'll be sharing a (very small) personal space with a stranger.

Even if you're used to sharing a room with a sibling, living with someone you’ve never met can be a challenge. You'll need to negotiate everything from "lights out" time to what's considered “personal space” and "neat." Your roommate may not be your best friend. However, a roommate can be a familiar face as you settle into college.

6. From money to moods, you'll be responsible for taking care of yourself.

Like many students facing a new and unfamiliar experience, you might hit some rough patches in college. You may be shy about making friends or disappointed in your grades. From over-spending to over-indulging, many students get to a point during their freshman year when they may need to assess their priorities and in some cases, make some changes. Most colleges provide various resources to help students assess their priorities and cope with college life from health care professionals and counselors to academic and career counselors. But taking steps to get on track will be up to you.

Many freshmen report that the independence they face as college students takes at least a few months, if not the entire school year, to get used to. But once they get past this initial adjustment, most students find their niche and embrace their newfound independence.

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What's Next?

Find out what college life is really like. Explore our Road to College Student Stories, which follow real students through their years at college.

Find practical advice for freshman yeat at College Money Matters, which offers tips on managing your financial life.