High School vs College

There are some distinct differences for success you'll discover between high school and college classes. Many have to do with levels of responsibility, course choices, academic expectations, grades, and testing. Being proactive and taking the initiative to ask questions leads to SUCCESS! Remember, no question about college is too small or unimportant. If it's on your mind we want to help you answer it!


In high school, time is structured by others: mostly teachers & parents, reminding you of due dates, your responsibilities and guiding you in setting priorities. In college, you manage your own time, balancing responsibilities and setting priorities for classes, homework, jobs, transportation, family, and fun.

In high school, classes usually meet daily one right after the other and your schedule is set mostly by others for the year. In college, classes meet one or two days a week, for 1 to 4 hours depending on the class. Each semester (usually 15-16 weeks long) you select your mix of classes with an advisor. The earlier the better to get your first choices! There may be large gaps of time between classes on a particular day and some classes are hybrid, meaning they will meet both in a classroom and online.

In college, you need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. A full-time college course load is 12 or more credit hours (usually 4 classes). Thus a full course load of 12 credit hours spent in class plus 24 - 36 hours of study time outside of class means college is a full-time commitment!


In high school, you are expected to read short assignments, often re-taught, in class. You may cover one unit at a time, with emphasis on facts and basic ideas. In college, you are expected to read and understand substantial amounts of assigned material which may not be directly addressed in class but will still show up on tests. College students are expected to think critically to find relationships between ideas and apply their learning to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.


In high school, you are given grades for most work, extra credit projects are often available, passing is a D or better, and courses may be structured to reward "good-faith effort." In college, some work may not be graded, extra credit projects are not given, passing may be a C or dependent upon the course/program one is in, and "results count"... good faith effort, while important, does not substitute for results in the grading process.


In high school, mastery is usually seen as the ability to reproduce what you were taught in the form it was presented to you or to solve the kinds of problems you were shown how to solve.

  • Testing tends to be frequent, covering small amounts of material, with teachers helping to review, organize study times, and coordinate test dates with other classes.
  • Make up tests are often available.

In college mastery is often seen as the ability to apply what you've learned to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.

  • Testing is usually infrequent, maybe only 2 or 3 tests a semester which may be cumulative, covering large amounts of material.
  • You, the student, are responsible for organizing the material to study for the test.
  • Make up tests are seldom an option but if they are, it's up to you to request them.


  • Be proactive and take the initiative to ask questions / find answers about whatever question you have.
  • Follow through on any necessary paperwork for admissions, placement testing, course selection, course registration, and financial aid.
  • Purchase textbooks / materials for classes.
  • Ask about what computer technology skills are needed for your particular classes.
  • Understand and complete graduation requirements for your specific program.
  • Seek guidance from your academic advisor.
  • Seek tutoring or other academic support when needed.

The material on this page is adapted from the Association of American College & Universities by Carol Despres.