High School vs. College
The transition from high school to college is a tremendous paradigm shift for freshmen.
As parents, your understanding of these fundamental changes can support your student’s
ease of adjustment. Use the following table (High School Versus College) as discussion
starters with your student to help him/her prepare for these new expectations.
As you carefully evaluate the distinct differences between the high school and college
environments, you will likely appreciate why we strongly emphasize the importance
of student accountability and the need for students to show up.
In a nutshell, the high school environment enables what we call passive learning—the acquisition of knowledge without active effort. Quite often, we hear freshmen say things like “I made straight As in high school and I never
had to study!” or “I never had to read any of my high school textbooks” or “I plan
to get a job off campus, too, since I won’t be in class that long each day.”
In college, students are introduced to a new model of instruction called active learning—where
the responsibility of learning falls on the learner and requires active engagement
with the textbook material, instructor lectures and class discussions. The college
model of learning demands active engagement and participation with the learning materials,
class lectures, discussions and independent and group projects.
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High School vs. College
Setting for Learning
- HIGH SCHOOL: Most learning occurs in class. Students may study outside class as little as one
to two hours a week.
- COLLEGE: Most learning occurs outside of class. On average, students will need to study about
two hours outside of class for each hour spent in class.
- HIGH SCHOOL: Students attend class back-to-back for about 6 hours each day; 30-35 per week.
- COLLEGE: The student creates his or her own schedule. Classes do not meet every day. There
may be many unscheduled hours between classes. Class times vary throughout the day
and evening. The student spends only 12-18 hours per week in class.
Role of the Instructor
- HIGH SCHOOL: Teachers are directive and nurturing.
- COLLEGE: Professors are caring, but expect the student to be independent and to take personal
responsibility for learning.
- HIGH SCHOOL: Teachers do not keep office hours. Instead, they answer questions and offer help
to students in class.
- COLLEGE: Professors schedule regular office hours for the purpose of meeting with students
individually when extra help is needed.
- HIGH SCHOOL: The student seldom needs to read anything more than once—and sometimes listening
in class is enough.
- COLLEGE: The amount of reading assigned by professors may be large. The student must review
class notes and text material regularly. Preparation for exams typically requires
multiple reviews of all course materials. “Cramming” the night before an exam does
little to no good.
Presentation of Material
- HIGH SCHOOL: Teachers present the material at a slower pace, and the presentation is designed
to support the textbook.
- COLLEGE: Professors present the material at a more rapid pace and their presentation is designed
to supplement the text. Professors expect you to study the book on your own and then
they will add to or explain it.
Frequency of Test
- HIGH SCHOOL: There is frequent testing. Therefore, the student is required to master only a small
amount of the total course material for any single exam.
- COLLEGE: Testing is less frequent—sometimes just a midterm and final. Therefore, the student
must be prepared to demonstrate mastery of a much larger amount of material for a
- HIGH SCHOOL: High school grades may be derived not only from exams but also from other assignments.
Consistently good homework grades or extra credit assignments might be used to compensate
for poor performance on exams and raise your course grade.
- COLLEGE: College grades are usually derived from exams and major papers or projects. Typically,
there is limited opportunity (or none) to earn extra credit points toward the semester
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